My Peregrinations

Winging my way through life

A private road to O levels

A lot has happened since I last wrote about the girls, but the biggest changes have been for Girl #1, who has officially withdrawn from her school and will be taking her O levels as a private candidate next year. The primary reason for us withdrawing her from school was her being bullied by a group of girls she thought were her squad.

Having a squad is a big thing when you’re in a girls’ school. All the girls belong to one squad or another in their class. Without a squad, a girl is rudderless and becomes a prime target for bullying. But bullying happens within squads as well. Girl #1’s squad had six girls, three of whom decided earlier this year to start bullying Girl #1. At first, it was jokes at her expense. Then, it became gossiping and exclusion. While all this was going on, the other two girls in the group did nothing. When it escalated to physical bullying, Girl #1 decided she’d had enough and came to us for help.

We alerted the school. The teachers responded very promptly and validated Girl #1’s claim of being bullied as they had noticed the three girls’ behaviour. (One wonders why the teacher who saw this happening didn’t do anything to stop it.) After having put up with the bullying for nearly 10 months, Girl #1  insisted that she no longer wanted to be in school. It was enlightening for us to learn that the reason for all the episodes of self harm that she had had from the beginning of the year were due to her not being able to cope with the bullying, and not because of her OCD. It was equally illuminating for us to realise that sometimes, it’s hard to draw the line between normal joking around between friends and bullying. We scheduled a session with a counsellor for Girl #1. She felt better after talking through her feelings, but remained adamant about wanting to leave school.

After some research, we offered Girl #1 the option of taking her O levels as a private candidate. You may wonder why we didn’t just transfer her to another school. For one, transferring to a new school in Secondary 4 is almost unheard of. We would have to find a school willing to take her, and that offers the subject combination she is doing. She would have to adapt to a completely new environment, with new rules and routines. In a meeting with Girl #1’s school administrators, they admitted that this would be a challenging thing to attempt. We also asked people we know who are teachers for advice, and all felt that going the private route would be preferable to switching schools at this point.

It’s not a path that’s well-trodden or one that we know others around us to have taken. It’s also challenging because it’s a jump from the Secondary 3 Normal Academic syllabus to O levels next year. But we feel reasonably sure that Girl #1 will be OK as she is a self-motivated and independent learner. She will be offering five subjects at next year’s O levels – English, Mathematics, Geography, Science (Biology, Chemistry) and Literature – and attending a preparatory course at a private school. She is definitely not going to junior college, so she only needs five subjects for polytechnic admission. The bonus is that she no longer needs to do Chinese.

Between now and the end of the year, her job is to catch up on the Sec 3 Express syllabus. After comparing the Normal Academic and the Express syllabi, we realised that she has to learn a couple of new topics, and some additional content on topics she has already covered in school. For Literature, she has to start on the drama text. She’s chosen to read Julius Caesar – not the easiest, but the one she likes most. She has created a daily timetable for herself and is going through the content, and we’re enrolling her in intensive revision courses for Geography and Science to help her get a firm grounding in the Secondary 3 work before the prep course starts in January. Since she’s not strong in Math, we’ve also hired a retired MOE teacher to tutor her once a week at home.

I recognise that we are privileged to be able to provide Girl #1 with this option. It’s not cheap, but it’s what we can do to ensure she continues to receive an education without the added stress of bullying.

The school, meanwhile, has been taking steps to address the bullies’ behaviour. I don’t know what those are, but I hope the girls stop bullying the other girl, and learn the error of their ways. None of the girls has attempted to keep in touch with Girl #1 after her last day in school – not even the two bystanders who were actually good friends with Girl #1. So much for friendship.

It was recently reported that Singapore has the third-highest rate of bullying globally, though the Minister for Education (Schools) Ng Chee Meng downplayed the scale of the problem. It’s easy to reduce the issue to statistics. The reality is that children’s lives and futures are at stake. Not every family is able to put their kids in a private school if the mainstream school doesn’t work out. Bullying leaves lasting damage on a child’s psyche, and the education ministry needs to do a lot more than lip service to prevent it from happening.

College Hall, London

I’ve been back from London for a few weeks now, but haven’t found time or inclination to write about my trip. I very nearly didn’t go, as we had a scare with one of the girls on the evening of my flight. But we managed to sort things out, and I left on the encouragement of the husband and a good friend, both of whom said I should just take the time away to recharge.

The Malaysian Airlines flight to London was pretty uneventful. I made my KUL-LHR connection without delay and was glad that I had paid more for an upper deck seat on this leg, as there was more legroom, and the cabin was much quieter with fewer people seated in the section. I was seated next to a teenage girl who spent most of her time watching movies and sleeping, and she did not move from her seat at all for the duration of the flight. The only one doing any moving about was me, because I felt stiff and wanted to prevent oedema. I managed to watch a couple of movies, including Hidden Figures, which I’d wanted to catch when it was showing in Singapore. Caught some decent shut-eye, too.

The flight landed at around 6am, and I cleared immigration quite quickly as being on the upper deck means I got off the plane before the rest of the passengers in the lower deck. I had 2kg of Australian honey in my luggage, which I’d bought for my sister because it’s not easy to find in the UK, so I went through the “goods to declare” customs channel. There was no one there, but there was a red telephone in a corner with instructions to lift the handset and wait for someone to answer. A grouchy voice came on the line and told me that I did not need to declare the honey, and that I should just walk through the green channel. So I did.

After that, it was a simple matter of buying an Oyster Travelcard at the convenience store next to the entrance of the Tube station, and taking the Tube in to the city to get to my accommodation.

I don’t believe in spending too much on accommodation while travelling, so I always try to find the best bang for my buck without sacrificing too much in the area of privacy and hygiene (read: decent bathrooms). I know some people have hangups about staying in places without en suite bathrooms, but I feel that if I can use the toilets at my gym with no issues, I can stay in places with shared bathrooms – as long as reviews say they are clean.

I’d booked a single room with no en suite at College Hall, which is quite centrally located in the Bloomsbury area of London. The hall is served by three Tube stations – Goodge Street, Euston Square, and Russell Square on the Piccadilly Line. I took the train to Russell Square, because it meant not having to change trains from Heathrow. It did involve a slightly longer walk to get to the hall, which was a bit bumpy because of cobbled roads. Note to self: Next time, you’re travelling with a backpack.

It was too early for me to check in, so I left my luggage in the front desk’s store room and headed out. Here are some pictures of the room and bathroom, taken later.



The room was pretty basic, but it had a washbasin and a cupboard with a personal safe. Plenty of room for just one person. It had a radiator, but no air-conditioning. But it can get chilly at night in August, so opening the window just a crack made it just right temperature-wise.

College Hall: View from my window

This is the view from my window. I couldn’t take a better picture because the window cannot be opened fully – I think it’s to discourage people from jumping from it. Below the window, near the floor, is an safety anchor for rope rescues. They think of everything!


The bathroom was also basic, but spotless. So spotless, in fact, that if not for the fact that the toilet seat was occasionally left up, I might have been the only person on the floor using the bathroom. I later learned that most of the rooms in the hall have en suite bathrooms, which explains why the shared ones were not more heavily used.

College Hall breakfast

The hall’s dining room is located in the basement, and breakfast is served every morning from 8am to 9.30am. It’s a pretty good breakfast – eggs, ham, bacon, hash browns, beans, breads, cereals, yoghurt, fruits, and decent coffee too.

UCL Building

College Hall is located smack in the middle of a university campus, so it’s surrounded by faculty buildings. I liked this, because it made me feel like a student again. I’ve always wanted to go overseas to study, but have never had the opportunity, so I pretended I was a UCL student for the few days that I stayed in the hall.

I paid S$310 for four nights in a single room (shared bathroom) with breakfast and free WiFi, and thought it was a very good deal. The only thing that could be improved is the lumpy mattress, which was so thin that I could feel the springs. Other than that, College Hall is a pretty good choice if you’re budget conscious, and still want to stay in a central part of London.

An uneventful doctor’s appointment.

Girl #1 saw her psychiatrist Dr A today. He was happy to hear that she feels that her OCD symptoms are non-existent, and that she actually did fairly well in school considering that she’d missed several weeks of the first semester. Since she appears to be stable on her current dose of fluoxetine and is happy with where she is, he will see her in three months’ time.

However, he did write a referral to the endocrinology department for her. She’s been reporting hair loss, feeling cold all the time, having dry skin…basically all the symptoms of hypothyroidism except for the weight gain. Girl #1 last had her TSH levels measured in June last year, at which time they were normal, but Dr A says there’s no harm in having an endocrinologist take a look at her again. There was one day last week when she was so cold that she could no go to school, and her body temperature was between 35 to 36 degrees Celsius, which is definitely not normal. Below 35 degrees Celsius is considered hypothermia!

I pointed out that her issues could be either due to thyroid problems, anaemia, or simply the continuing side effects of fluoxetine, and that sometimes it’s hard for us to decide whether it’s a true problem, or her just being dramatic as some teenagers are wont to be. Dr A agreed, but said that the approach should be to do due diligence, and if everything turns out normal, to assure her that her concerns are being addressed or managed and that she should continue with daily activity as usual.

On balance, I think it was a good review. Let’s hope the next three months are OK and that the endocrine doctors are able to give us some answers when we do get an appointment to see them.

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