First signs

Look towards the base of any wall and there are the first signs of better weather. Spring is not too far off now. Not too far off even in Yorkshire.

Let’s hope it’s a sign of better times for all.

It’s amazing what an a mobile phone camera can do. Coping with really dark and grizzly early morning weather. Almost looks light. Wonder if it could do anything transforming this muppet into something more approaching George Clooney.

Suspect not…

Wonder if George would have sworn in a broad Yorkshire accent when he looked at the latest school email. Soon we can book a slot for the 4 minute online teaching – parent discussions. 3 full email pages and 4 attachments to explain how to book slots and what can and can’t happen in those slots. It took me far longer than 4 minutes to to wade through that lot.

The fundamental problem with the option selection process is the teacher – pupil relationship. Some of the teachers do seem to understand that additional support system be needed for Hawklad. Sone even try to provide that support. But others don’t seem to get it. Maybe it’s down to time pressures, maybe it’s down to not having the chance to develop a relationship with Hawklad, maybe they don’t care. Like everything in like, just like with say parents, with teachers – you get good ones, you get ok ones and you get not so good ones. You get teachers who will get a child and you get teachers who won’t get a child.

That link is vital to any pupil. It’s vital to a pupil with Aspergers, Dyslexia and ADHD. School can’t confirm which teacher and which teaching assistant will cover each class over the upcoming two years. Pick an option and then it depends on which teaching team you are eventually allocated. 4 minutes isn’t enough to bottom that discussion out.

Not much you can do in 4 minutes. Well it’s long enough to walk to some walls and see the first signs of Spring.

Visibility

It was a dreadful few hours weather wise. Just so cold and wet. Really grey. Well this is Yorkshire. Really poor visibility.

Next week it’s a big schooling week. Hawklad has to pick his subject options for the final two years of secondary school. He has to do Mathematics, English and Science. But then he has to pick 4 further subject options. Two of those are really easy. History and Geography are definite selections. I think he would spend all his time on just those two if he could. But what about the other two?

Now here the problems start.

First off – will he actually return to mainstream classroom teaching? I’m not betting that he will.

Then

Our pandemic lockdown has resulted in basically zero direct teacher input on Hawklad. Apart from the occasional test result, the teachers have no grasp on things like his current state of writing and reading. What help and support he needs. What he needs for the exams. They haven’t seen him directly work since February last year. A lot will have changed in that time. Equally we have little idea what the teachers actually think of Hawklad’s position. One page summary reports issued three times a year basically tell you nowt.

So we are selecting options feeling like we are doing this in the blind. Because of the pandemic we haven’t had an Education and Health Care Plan Review meeting since May 2019. In that time virtually everyone one of the multi disciplinary team has left…. These are big decisions being made with so little visibility. The school are offering video chats with teachers but these are strictly limited to 4 minute per child. That’s 4 minutes to discuss performance, concerns, issues AND future options. It just feels a mess. It’s a mess for teachers, for parents and most importantly for the children. It’s another area that the Pandemic has found a way of undermining. No point looking for help from the Government, the PM can’t even manage to comb his hair never mind support real people. So like most things these strange times it feels like we are winging it. Winging it with so little visibility.

4 minutes

Grim afternoon in Yorkshire.

So the schools will largely remain shut until at least the 8th March. Key worker parents can still send their kids into the classrooms. So it’s another 6 weeks of the full school online system. That means more structured lessons and class work. Hawklad has definitely noticed a difference. No being forgotten about. Actually getting some marks back and a few comments. That helps.

Hawklad hasn’t been in a classroom since the start of March. Apart from a few brief emails he has had no direct conversations with his teachers in that time. In fact those emails are often not from the teacher but the class teaching assistants. Without feedback he just can’t gauge progress and teachers can’t assess any learning issues.

It’s no better from a parenting point of view. The last face to face meeting with teachers was back in 2019. The school reports are issued at the end of each term. A one page sheet comprising of scores for behaviour, attendance and expected final attainment. No narrative from teachers. I’ve tried sending direct emails to teachers but with little real impact. So do the teachers have a grip on Hawklads learning needs. Do they really know what’s going well and whats not going well. That really matters.

I guess I must not be the only parent asking for a chance to directly speak to some of the teachers. School is now going to run an online parents evening. You can book a slot with a teacher. One problem. Each video call will be time limited to 4 minutes. After 4 minutes the call will automatically end. That’s not much time at all. Especially as it’s almost time to pick which subjects Hawklad will study for the final two years. Yep that’s a lot to discuss in just 4 minutes. Anybody who knows me will understand that it takes me about 4 minutes to just say ‘Hello my name is Kermit the Frog’.

Rollercoaster

The next bit of bad weather is blowing in. Yes that lake has sneaked in again…. Admit you will miss it when it’s gone.

The online schooling system is kicking back into life. Will it bring more support for Hawklad? Well if it’s like the last lockdown then it will certainly become a lot more structured. The day will follow the school timetable. The pupils need to sign in at the start of the lesson and work through the online tasks. A teacher ot teaching assistant is online to help and monitor work. Pupils then have until 7pm to complete all tasks and submit them. Failure to do so gets an automatic negative.

So on the bright side the chances of Hawklad being missed are reduced. But then the downsides. Increased timetable pressures. Often it feels more like monitoring than support. Lots of checks of work being submitted on time but often no feedback after that. Oh those pesky interactive video sessions. He hates them. I’m not far behind him on that. It just doesn’t suit him.

On top of that the one teacher who seemed to understand this has now left. Will someone else step up to the plate?

So here goes then. The rollercoaster is back in operation.

No surprise

Most definitely a nice change today….

So the end of term school report has arrived. When I say arrived I mean an email appeared informing me that the report was available online. After 3 hours of trying to get the app to work finally a unique set of parameters opened up the report. Fifth cup of decaf, third chocolate bar, complete packet of biscuits, the clock striking midnight and me threatening to hurl the laptop out of the window. All this worked.

So is the report a surprise! Sadly not. It’s as expected.

  • Just grades, target grades, performance and behaviour grades. A mass of numbers and seemingly random letters. Absolutely no narrative from the teachers.
  • No information on areas of weakness or plans of action.
  • No test scores. No work feedback.

Almost feels like one of those automated factory production cards. Cold, faceless, uncaring. So what do the numbers and letters tell me. Hawklad is still seen as low attainment. The work I’ve seen in a number of subjects not reflected in the expected final exam grades (another 2 and a bit years time). A subject where his last teacher told me that he knows the subject better than the teachers is marked as just about squeaking a pass. Another subject in which he regularly gets 100% on the online teaching app tests is listed as an expected subject fail. A handful of subjects listed as expected passes (most just the lowest pass grades). Bizarrely one of which is a subject the school want him to drop as they are not prepared to provide any additional help. No mention of why some of his expected grades are falling. No mention of what action is needed to reverse that.

No surprise at all really. For children like our son the approach is to set the bar low. No need to invest in potential then. Then any results at the end are seen as a real bonus. Evidence that the education system is clearly working 🤯. What that really means is too many are left to stagnate. Too many are let down by the system.

So yep no surprise at all.

Curve ball

Definite curve ball from school today.

I have wrote about the problems Hawklad has been having with French classes at school. The way the subject is taught just don’t suit him. Dyslexia complicates the learning process. Being at home adds to the difficulties.

I have been trying to get the school to modify the teaching approach in this one subject. Even switch the language to one which better suits him and one he is more interested in. Basically met with a brick wall. Then today’s curve ball.

The school doesn’t feel that he will be able to pass exams in this subject due to his learning issues. So they are now recommending that he drops the subject completely. Undertake no language learning at all. He would use the French class time to work on his other subjects.

So rather than try other learning routes they just want to ditch the subject. I’m kind of speechless. Will let Hawklad decide what happens next. BUT my initial take is that

…..Sadly it reflects the lack of flexibility in the UK teaching system. It also reflects the general approach schools take with those pupils who have learning disabilities.

Reviews

I want to start this by apologising. With being largely house and garden bound, I don’t get out much. Haven’t got out much since March. So I don’t get to that many different places. That’s why you tend to get the same views in my photos, over and over and over again. One day they will change. Thankfully the changing skies try to help out a little.

Isn’t it nice when you look at reviews for something you are looking to buy and they all agree. It gives you a level of confidence about whether to spend your money or not. But when are we that lucky. Normally it’s five camps of reviews

  • The greatest thing since sliced bread, unbelievable quality,
  • It’s useless, the wrong size, wrong colour, doesn’t do what it’s supposed to do and falls to bits with days,
  • It’s ok but I’m not really sure,
  • Clearly reviewing the completely wrong item,
  • It’s a present for someone so it’s not been used yet……

How can people see the same thing in so many different ways. You end up being even more confused than before.

I’m looking to get a language app. Hopefully one which both of us can use. So covering German and French. I have an old one which is great for learning German words but is rubbish at actually developing my conversational skills. So I’m looking for one that can actually start to make me fluent. Son needs one to help with his homeschooling. So he can learn French. Improve his vocabulary and spoken work. In an ideal world it would be dyslexic friendly as well. So not much to ask for then…..

Rosetta Stone was mentioned by a few people. Yes it’s expensive but it covers both languages and is supposed to be quite dyslexic friendly. So let’s see the reviews. Well it’s either brilliant or useless. Fantastic for building conversational skills or maybe it’s only good for learning individual words. Worth every penny or a complete waste of money. The reviews were no help at all. I guess it depends on the person and what they need. So I’m none the wiser.

So you have to be careful with reviews. Certainly school reviews.

I remember someone asking me about son’s last school. I think I said ‘it’s very nice just a bit rubbish. Disorganised but it’s heart is in the right place’. Bit harsh but I thought it was fair.

Well I looked up the reviews for my son’s current school and it seems to get mostly really high approval ratings. As a parent that would certainly encourage me to send my child there. But then you drill down further. Yes lots of very positive reviews from parents. Comments like

  • Great school,
  • Very good on discipline,
  • Learning focused,
  • Gets results,
  • Responsive,
  • Good teachers,
  • Child enjoys school,
  • Great headteacher.

Still looking great and then you look at the small number of negative reviews. Something then strikes you. All those comments come from parents with something in common. Every single negative review was from parents with children who had special educational needs. Aspergers, Autism, ADHD, Dyslexia, Dyspraxia, Oral and Written Language disorders. Suddenly the comments changed. Now the language was

  • Useless if your child has an Education and Health plan,
  • No support,
  • Teachers don’t care,
  • Unresponsive,
  • Too quick to write kids off who need support,
  • Might as well teach at home,
  • Had to take our child out from this school,
  • Child is stuck in the bottom set and the school is seemingly happy to keep him there,
  • Child is so unhappy.

Sadly this is replicated in too many schools across the UK. It shows the overall school system priorities. Demonstrates the values of the Government. As a country we let down too many with additional educational needs. It shouldn’t be like this.

Sometimes reviews don’t lie.

It’s wet

It’s definitely wet today. Pouring down and very cold. All rather depressing so let’s take the time to look at a bit of nature’s colour.

Do you ever have those conversations. Those conversations where the words seem to head in one direction but actual the conversation clearly ends up in a totally different place. Ever so frustrating.

I’ve spoken to school about Hawklads enforced school at home project. I thought I had explained to school that although it’s kind of working it was far from ideal. In particular

  • He is getting absolutely zero feedback. He is submitting work but getting nothing back. The other kids are clearly getting marks and comments back. That’s clear from some of the teacher comments on the set work tasks. But those comments are always aimed at other pupils. If he doesn’t get feedback then what is the point.
  • Have the teachers forgotten that he is dyslexic. Comments like ‘if I don’t get round to sending you tasks for the lesson then just read a book on the subject’ don’t really help….
  • Have the teachers forgotten that he has difficulty in hand drawing. He struggles with fine motor skills. I can’t believe the number of times the set task is to hand draw something – unbelievably that is currently not Art.
  • Some of the subject teachers are still completely forgetting about Hawklad. No subject material at all has been made available.

Anyway the school seemed very supportive, so surely job done. Clearly not as the school responded with an email basically saying that they were happy that things where going so well. They will keep going with the current approach and they hoped that we would keep in touch…..

Sounds like it’s time for me to most definitely stay in touch with them right now.

Where did that go – The Sequel

The quickest sequel ever. Only a few hours ago I wrote about where did the summer holidays go! Where did the first 6 months of lockdown go. It’s ending for many but not for some. Not for us. That got me thinking, which is dangerous🤪🧐

What has changed for Hawklad and me over those 6 months.

So for Hawklad the following have been the big changes…

  • His fears about health and illness have gone through the roof. Just exploded. He is wracked with anxieties and the need to wash is never more than a few minutes away.
  • His social anxieties have become more prominent. He is more inward looking, and less likely to interact with others. As a result he had become more isolated.
  • He is more aware of the world.
  • He is more aware of Aspergers.
  • He is more aware of the incompatibilities between the outdated world and those who are on the spectrum.
  • His reading has really come on. In his words – ‘more of a part time dyslexic now’. The irony that happened without direct school teaching.
  • His available world has shrunk. The days of school, trips to the beach, a hill walk, an outing to a historic site, a visit to a friends house – they all seem a distant memory. Most days he can’t even get to his own front gate.
  • He has shot up. Now taller than his Dad.
  • He has become thinner. Need to watch that.
  • He became a teenager. Almost instantaneously he suddenly found movies like Dumb and Dumber, Bill and Ted and anything by Will Farrell hysterical.
  • He has a truly shocking hairstyle. Dad is great at doing them and he has so much hair to mess up.
  • He can now talk about his mum without so much sadness. Much more about being proud of her.
  • He sleeps much less now.
  • He is becoming more clingy. Needing more reassurance that I’m in the house somewhere.
  • Many of his personal traits, those that are often identified as being Aspergers, have become more pronounced. More marked.

So many things have changed for our son. Changes in circumstances, physical changes, changes in personality. Some of these changes could be down to the lockdown but it could also be a natural development. It’s a difficult time for him, to be a teenager. But add in Aspergers and it can be such a disorientating period. Trying to find a fit between the complex world and the need to find personal identity. Finding that sadly Aspergers is still not widely seen as being socially acceptable. What to do? Try to confirm or be himself. All this at a time when he may become more inwardly looking and less likely to talk to about his emotions. Potentially troubling times ahead. Maybe that’s the next theme for our journey. We shall see.

Soon I will try to do a similar list for me. What’s changed for this Kermit the Frog.

Monday

Got to just follow a trail. Hope it leads in the right direction.

So the school reopens a week today. Most kids will return. Some won’t. Our son will not be able to return at this stage. How long will he be out of school. Weeks, months, permanently – no idea. So we have to work on the assumption that he will return at some stage. So with minimal help from school and nothing from the authorities, who do we try to keep him on track with his classmates. To ensure that if and when he does return that he has not fallen behind.

The plan is to get the class timetable from school. That will form the basis of the learning each day. We won’t stick to the class timings but will try to focus on covering the subject matter. First call will be any lesson notes that are posted in the school system. Ensuring we do any work assignments that might be posted as well. I will ask each teacher to at least provide an indication of what topics will be covered and the copies of any handouts that are provided. Then it’s Dad trying to be teacher, looking for relevant videos and resources on the internet. All work completed will be emailed to each teacher at the end of the day. Any gaps we will make up with stuff son wants to cover.

If this school at home project extends further then I will supplement gaps with buying online teaching packages.

We are lucky that my work has basically dried up. Not much until 2021 at the earliest. The positive is that frees my time up to focus on being a teacher. Maybe I need to dress like a teacher?

That’s the plan. What could possibly go wrong.