Sarah Vine’s recent article (16th July) in the Daily Mail under the heading of ‘The school summer fair? It is a fete worse than death!’ bemoaned sitting in the heat in a school car park making smoothies to sell. Interestingly her larger complaint was
the random members of the public who turn up. These mostly consist of very fierce old ladies at our school with fantastically stiff hair who think the children are all the most appalling brats (not wrong there); or newly arrived, stratospherically rich foreigners (the school is just around the corner from Kensington Palace) and their rail-thin wives. For them, our school fete is a bit like visiting a zoo. A mixture of fascination and horror, plus a chance to buy some useless tat. They don’t quite hold up lace handkerchiefs to their noses, but not far off.
Social class, national, and generational differences are on show here. These ‘outsiders’ are not part of this school, nor, it seems do they wish to be. They are assumed to view the children, and presumably by extension, their parents and teachers, as too badly behaved, too poor, and too different to provide anything other than a spectacle. Perceptions of difference and how that affects the development of social relationships between adults and children at diverse urban schools is what our project seeks to explore.
We too have recently been to one of our case study school’s summer fairs and saw quite a different picture: an ethnically and socially mixed crowd, packed into a small school playground, lots of varied food stalls, and stalls selling second hand books, toys, clothes, plants, jewellery, cakes, a bouncy castle, face painting, henna painting, table tennis, games of goal scoring and water balloons. There was music, and kids everywhere. A sociable, noisy, festive occasion, which involved large numbers of the school’s parents and children.
As anyone who has ever been involved in a voluntary group will know, the bulk of the work tends to get done by a small number of people, and Parent Teacher Associations (who generally organise such fundraising events as summer fairs) are no different in this regard. Developing an active membership , representative of the wider population of the school is something PTAs, like school governing bodies, often struggle with. PTA involvement most of all requires time, a resource unevenly distributed throughout the population. Schools also vary hugely in their capacity to raise money. The school described above charged a £2 per family entry fee, a secondary school within the same borough but located within a much more affluent area, charged £7 per adult/child for entry to their fair. Some PTAs see their role as strictly fundraising, others take a broader view, planning events that may not make much money but provide an opportunity for parent/carers, teachers and children to mix informally, and for friendships, or at least acquaintanceships, to develop.
We have finished collecting data at our third case study school now, but still have re-interviews with parents to do. The data is all being entered into NVivo – a slow process, but one that will pay off once it is completed. We have talked about the project at a conference on Superdiversity at the University of Birmingham’s Centre for Research Into Super-Diversity (IRIS), which was a great meeting point to catch up with other people’s current work in the area. Carol delivered a paper in Hannover, Germany, at a conference on parenting in June, and Humera, one at a social psychology conference in France in July. In August, Sarah will be at the Royal Geographers Society Conference in London, talking about the spaces of friendship, and we will be at the British Educational Research Association conference at the Institute of Education, University of London, in September, talking about what schools can and do to support children in their friendships. In October we will return to Germany for a conference on the role of the middle classes in urban restructuring. Our priority for the summer is to turn some of our conference presentations into papers!