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Tree tale gave me the pip

Sometimes, I think school is the last bastion of honesty and integrity. Like good parents, we encourage children, right from nursery age, to become caring, thinking human beings, with a strong sense of social responsibility.

Right now, it's pretty hard. I'd hate to be a secondary schoolteacher in a citizenship lesson, attempting to persuade a class of teenagers that our democratically elected leaders had moral integrity. Like most of the population, I feel intense anger about it all.

And call me over-sensitive, but I felt the comprehension in this year's Year 6 Sats test didn't help. The booklet the children had to read was about a little boy called Norman who'd argued with his parents and taken himself off to live in a tree house at the end of his garden.

The booklet consisted of letters written to Norman by his family and friends. There are indications that he wrote back, so presumably he'd stormed up the tree complete with a pad of Basildon Bond and a handful of biros.

The first letters are from Mum and Dad. Dad wishes him all the best for his exciting new life and understands that his decision to leave the family is a serious one.

Mum is grateful to him for explaining all the things she and Dad got wrong, and says his advice is very helpful. Good bit of middle-class psychology here: pander to your child's every whim, pretend he's a miniature adult instead of a little boy and - get this - even allow him to lug a television up the tree.

Good thing health and safety officers weren't in the neighbourhood, although they could explain that Norm wasn't in danger of electrocution, since electricity isn't normally found up trees. If things go on like this, though, I've a feeling Supernanny might be on the way.

Then comes a sour little note from his sister. She's nicked his bedroom!

Ha Ha, she says, Mum and Dad said I could have it.

This is followed by a formal letter from his class teacher, undoubtedly taking time out in the evening from targeting and tracking to advise him on life skills he'll need in his leafy retreat.

It seems his parents popped in to see her, explaining that Norman wouldn't be coming to school any more because he was now living in a tree. Mind you, perhaps that's not so strange. A parent once came to see me asking if I could have a word with Andrew because he kept climbing into wheelie-bins.

Turn the page and we meet Grandma - visually, because there's a photo with her letter. And a miserable old harridan she looks, too. She witters on about how lonely she is, how her grandchildren don't visit often enough and how Norman's father hasn't written to her for ages.

Frankly, if she were coming for lunch I'd be up there with Norman. She's certainly unlike any grandparent I've ever known. I'd always thought grandparents were over-generous, cuddly and adored by their grandchildren.

Still, Norm has one good friend. Alfred writes and says how totally cool living up a tree is, because he won't have to wash or brush his teeth. Presumably he doesn't realise he'll have to keep his distance after a couple of weeks because Norm will stink like a polecat.

And then he says "Can I have your bike?" What a friend. I'm amazed he doesn't ask for the PlayStation as well.

It all ends well. Mr Precocious comes down from his tree because - wait for it - he's won a competition about solving the world's problems and he's off to Washington to meet the President of the United States.

Before he does that, let's hope he gets sent to bed with a severe wigging and no supper.

Mike Kent is headteacher of Comber Grove Primary, Camberwell, South London.


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