Archive for April, 2009

pointless rules….

I had to chuckle the other day having a conversation with my godson over the ‘coat-wars’ which were taking place at his secondary school. Like many senior schools, the school blazer is compulsorary wear.Even to the point where the child has to keep it on ‘at all times’ and only remove it with the teacher’s permission-even if it is 30C in the classroom…

On no account must the child walk across the school gates unless they are wearing said item. During the winter many of the children wore coats to school and then changed into their blazers. During the snow some children tried to enter the school gates wearing their home coats and then change once inside the building. The school’s response to this ?   instigate the ‘coat-police’ who promptly confiscated any ‘home coat’ which was not zipped into a school bag the instant a child put a toe across the threshold-and wouldn’t allow the coat to be returned for a week !!

What point does this serve ? What does it usefully teach the children-apart from an example of facisim in action. The head teacher later issued a decree that although the children could wear summer uniform (ie polo shirts) during the summer term, they still had to wear their blazer and of course you may not wear a jumper and a blazer….

It would be laughable if it wasn’t so pathetic.

Ken Robinson in the Guardian

Fertile minds need feeding
Are schools stifling creativity? Ken Robinson tells Jessica Shepherd why learning should be good for the soul

A bit late commenting on this article, but I missed it when it was first published.

As always lots of very good observations by Sir Ken

“All children start their school careers with sparkling imaginations, fertile minds, and a willingness to take risks with what they think,” he says. “Most students never get to explore the full range of their abilities and interests … Education is the system that’s supposed to develop our natural abilities and enable us to make our way in the world. Instead, it is stifling the individual talents and abilities of too many students and killing their motivation to learn.”

Then The Guardian, ever obedient to the idea of the alternative viewpoint, finds someone to claim that all is well and UK schools are doing a wonderful job, with lots of “initiatives aiming to put creativity into the curriculum”. Doesn’t that phrase just make your blood run cold?

Anyway on to the end of the article and

“Robinson is right, [Anna Craft, a professor of education at the University of Exeter and a government adviser on creativity] says; it’s not that we need to “tweak the recipe - we need a new recipe”

Would it be too bold to suggest that the HE community has already found that recipe?

“Bringing this about might take a mass protest of pupils walking out of school because it’s just too irrelevant, she says. But in the end change has got to happen”

This I feel is what we’re already seeing. Part of the mass protest is truancy of course and has been going on for a long time but now there’s the increasing popularity of EHE, parents as well as children are saying that school is “just too irrelevant” or not good enough, or too damaging. Ms Craft’s conclusion, that change has got to happen, is probably right in the long term but in the short term what I suspect we’re going to see is the government fighting the symptoms (trying to put the breaks on EHE by regulating it to death) rather than facing up to the underlying condition.

Mixing with all ages is a good thing

I know this because the government is going to throw £5.5 million at schemes which promise to bring the generations together - Drive to break down age barriers. Just as well we have the likes of England’s Minister for Care Services, Phil Hope to tell us that “getting people of different generations together is a good experience for both” because otherwise I’m sure we’d never have figured that out for ourselves.

OK, turning down the sarcasm a notch I guess we can quote him next time we have to answer the ‘S’ question and point out that when our children mix with all ages they aren’t costing the tax payer a penny.

UK Government v the family

In England, they came first for the single parents on Income Support, And I didn’t speak up because my husband works;

And then they came for the Home Educators, And I didn’t speak up because I send my older children to school;

And then they came for the Independent Midwives, And I didn’t speak up because my children were born in hospital;

And then . . . they came for me, because I have a child under 5 at home . . . And by that time there was no one left to speak up.

It’s all too easy for the government to pick us off, one minority group at a time. Single parents were easy, they just had to fill Joe Public’s mind with images of council estates, unmarried teenage mums, chavs and hoodies, multiple generations of the unemployed and count on nobody to think of the tragically widowed or families split by violence and abuse. If you’re a single parent it must be a character flaw and you deserve to be forced out to work and your children into wraparound state care.

Now come the Home Educators, well they’re a bit weird aren’t they? and it’s only right that they should be monitored isn’t it? I’ll come back this.

Also under attack right now are independent midwives[1] who are to be forced to take out professional indemnity insurance to practice. That might sound like a good idea until you discover that there IS NO professional indemnity insurance available to independent midwives. They are going to be legislated out of existence. Good luck to anyone thinking about a home birth!

Next, and they’re already laying the groundwork for this, next will be all those stay at home mums who do not bundle their children off into nursery school as soon as they turn three. Well, it’s not normal is it? Wanting to raise your own children when you could be handing them over to professionals who have the training to do the job properly. You could even call it abuse! In fact, you really should start them off in a nice daycare from two years old at the latest so they can be conditioned to fit in at nursery. Anything else is over-protective, stifling their independence, there must be something wrong with you. Oh, and that poor Baby P, well he wasn’t even two when he died so we’re sure that you won’t mind us sending someone round regularly from the day you get back from the hospital (see above) until you see sense and hand your child over to direct state supervision. We’re sorry but you see you just can’t be trusted, it’s nothing personal.

Are you offended by that last paragraph? Or just think it’s ridiculous, the government just wouldn’t DARE! Maybe you think branding good and loving parents, about whom nobody has ever raised the slightest concern, as potential abusers because they chose to raise their own children is outrageous? Well, yes, I agree, utterly outrageous, but that’s just what they’re doing to home educators right now. The list of potential abuses trotted out by Children’s Minister Delyth Morgan when the current review of Home Education was announced was truly staggering, not just the typical physical abuse, but sexual abuse, domestic servitude, forced marriages, I think at a later point someone even came out with trafficking and flat out slavery! Simply to educate your child at home, whoever you are and whatever the reason, apparently puts them at dreadful risk.

Of course there are human rights laws aren’t there, and the presumption of innocence? It would be nice to think that those might stop them, but no, they’ll cry “child abuse!” They’ll say that no loss of freedom and privacy is more important than saving just one innocent child, how could anyone with a heart disagree? Only, and this is the dirty little secret, demanding the right to come into YOUR home, to examine YOUR children, maybe even without you present is going to save exactly how many children from abuse? Think about it for a moment. If your children aren’t abused then those visits achieve nothing, except to cause you stress. They will also tell every child this - I can’t trust my parents because the lady/man from the council has to come to our house to make sure that they aren’t hurting me. To me that actually sounds like abuse in itself, destroying the trust between child and parent, intervening in and damaging perfectly normal, healthy families. If the government so totally inept that nobody has realised what they’re doing, or is it intentional? It would hardly be the first time that a state has attempted to destroy families, turning children against parents, just Google “Hitler Youth”.

As promised, back to home education. If you don’t do it, or know people who do it you might have some ideas about it that don’t really square up with the reality so here’s a quick Q&A.

Q 1) You don’t have to be monitored? How’s that then? - That’s correct, we don’t and here’s why. The law says that it is parents who are responsible for providing their children with a suitable education. Not the state, not the Local Authority, not the schools. This is why parents can be jailed for allowing their children to truant. In theory parents could face prosecution for sending their child to a school where they don’t get a suitable education (failure to deal with bullying, failure to provide for SEN, just generally being a generally failing and rubbish school). Schools are monitored because they are being employed by parents, via tax payer money in the case of state schools. Parents of schooled children need to have some idea that the school they are employing is at the least safe and reasonably successful. A parent who home educates doesn’t need tests or reports to tell them how their child is learning because they see it for themselves. Nobody else has any business asking for tests or reports because it’s not their responsibility. They, the schools, the Local Authorities and the government are answerable to us, not the other way around. We don’t work for them.

Q 2) But how does the government know that you are teaching your child what they need to know? - See above, it’s not any of their business and I don’t think they have the first idea what my child ‘needs’ to know anyway. The National Curriculum, ever changing at the whim of the latest political fashion? I think not. No, as a parent I care much more about my child getting a good education than any politician or civil servant ever will. Their only concern is the percentage of children achieving government specified targets and look at how well that’s going! The government rates success at the end of compulsory schooling as five or more GCSEs including English and Maths at grade C or higher. Last year 52.8% of school children did NOT mange even that[2]. Phrases including ‘glass houses’ and ‘own house in order’ spring to mind.

Q 3) So all home educated children get five or more GCSEs including English and Maths at grade C or higher then? - No. That’s how the government measures success and a lot of home educators don’t think it’s a useful measure. Since our children don’t have to take exams they only do so if we, or they decide that doing so is useful. So you’ll find some HE students taking GCSEs (often early), others skipping them in favour of A Levels and OU courses, and others following careers where they don’t need those kinds of qualification, for example by setting up their own businesses.

Q 4) What about SATs then? - What, those tests that the teaching unions want scrapped? See above, we don’t need tests to tell us how our children are doing.

Q 5) OK, you’ve convinced me that you know what you’re doing, but what about the other kind of parents, you know the ones who only home educate to avoid prosecution? - The first thing you have to ask yourself here is, how much of a bad thing is that really? If a child hates school so much that they are truanting to the point of parental prosecution then there is something badly wrong at/with the school and they probably aren’t learning anything even when they are there. That isn’t to say that the Local Authority shouldn’t offer support to those children. Note the words OFFER and SUPPORT. If a parent has de-registered their child out of desperation they might well welcome something like NotSchool so their LA ought to be making that option known to them along with any other resources, help and contacts that they can offer.

Q 6) Well, but what about real cases of abuse? That’s what the HE review is about isn’t it? - The same child protection system applies to home educated children as everyone else, and if it actually worked there would be no problem. It’s pretty clear that it doesn’t work well, or even at all, a lot of the time but that’s not a home ed issue. Time and again abuse cases go to court and there are serious case reviews and they always conclude that procedures weren’t followed, individuals and organisations failed in their duties. The children were known about, often seen by multiple professionals, on at risk registers, not hidden, not unknown. Abuse is a red herring that the government used to justify this review.

[1] http://www.independentmidwives.org.uk/
[2] http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/education/7673319.stm

One year in…

Over the Nut Clusters the other morning we reaslised that it was a Very Significant Day. It was exactly one year since we had begun Home Edding. I mentioned this to A who paused, mid mouthful and looked up-’ Oh yeah-cool ! Don’t come into the lounge for a while will you, as I’m making a movie’.

Right that told me. It’s been quite a year I mused whilst clearing the table. A had attended our local Catholic Primary school where I also worked. It was a small, one class per year, friendly school and we had no problems with it. Other than the usual battles over A’s behaviour and constant chatter and the school refusing to accept our suggestion that A was dyslexic. He was happy enough there until the final year and the business of choosing a secondary school.

As anyone who has been in the system will know, the final year of primary is all about the SATS. Yes the very same ones that the Government are now talking of scrapping. It is a very boring year for the children.  By now the SEN teacher had confirmed that A was indeed dyslexic- not that 20 mins one-to-one once a week was making any noticable difference. When I asked what extra help A would be entitled to during the SATS I was told extra time. When I pointed out that would make no difference, if you can’t read a word it makes no odds how long you stare at it. I was told that his reading ability was not sufficently bad enough to warrant a reader. Having been told that hs reading ability was that of a 9 year old, ( he was 11.5) I wondered how bad did you have to be ?

The thought of secondary school and all the homework and the travelling involved began to depress us more and more. He was never going to cope. Then some friends of ours invited us over for a visit to their place in the south of France, on the Spanish borders. As we had already made plans to visit Portugal we thought why not do both.Then why not travel in term time when it is both cheaper and quieter. A doesn’t actually need to do these SATS. I could teach him at home. It was a heady thought. !He already had a place at secondary school, we could always turn it down later on….

So I went to see my boss, the Headteacher and said that I would be resigning and leaving at the end of term and taking Alex with me. She welled up with tears and blew her nose loudly and then said- ‘have you thought about this-oh but of course you have ? !   What a marvellous opportunity to travel-A will love it !’ Needless to say not quite the reaction we had expected !!

So we spent the summer travelling around in Europe and had a fantastic time. The autumn came and A’s friends went off to various secondary schools and we decided to keep going down the Home Ed path.  Finally because he wasn’t being made to read -he would read. We have no reading scheme, no set book that the entire class is reading. A reads his science and maths books ( which doesn’t count as ‘real reading !) and pores over the Argos catalogue, the Guiness bookof World records, the mobile phone manual, computer games instructions or whatever else he is into.

The abject fear of words has gone. He is happy, well adjusted and several years ahead in subjects like maths and science which he has always enjoyed. Because he didn’t go to secondary school he has time to continue with after school activities like Film club and Trampolining. He doesn’t spend hours of an evening doing homework and neither do I anymore !

We have made lots of new friends over the past year and met many people on the same journey. I have had the chance to organise activities and trips ( something I never thought myself capable of ) and I have learnt how to negotiate for discounts too !

My mother in law, accusing me of being over- protective and not exposing A to the unpleasant side of life said’ We all have to experience bullying so that we  know how to deal with it.’ I didn’t deign to reply to such a purile remark. As the months passed I found myself less and less bothered by other people’s opinions of what we were doing. People’s reactions ranged from admiring to downright hostile to plain envious.

It’s been a huge learning curve for all of us and we are still only at the start of our journey. I think the Home Ed road is one which will become more travelled. I only wish I had known that I could have started our journey earlier.