Time for punishment

After weeks of rain the clouds finally parted and reassuringly the sky is still blue. The sky is blue and the ground is still muddy.

Since it’s a day with a name that ends with DAY – it must be a day for another school moan. Don’t worry it will be the Christmas holidays soon and you will get a break from the rants – hopefully.

Next week our dyslexic son has to sit TWO spelling tests. One for English and one for DRAMA. That’s DRAMA. So to develop any Performing Arts talents he has to learn to spell words like

Melodrama, Exaggeration, Facial Expressions, Placards, Stock Character….

I guess when he wins his first Oscar in his acceptance speech he can thank these Spellings…..

Then we have the English Spelling Test. The weekly spelling test. This week he has 15 words to learn. Including such beauties as

Advertisement, Similarity, Persuade, Exaggeration, Testimonial, Alliteration….

All the class (regardless of individual spelling ability, regardless of dyslexia) have to spell the same words. The expectation is that you will get 100%. All it takes is a bit of effort. Hang on we need to raise the stakes just a bit higher. Anyone not getting at least 10 out of 15 exactly right will get a Negative. Four Negatives get you detention and much shame. It also rules you out of the end of year trip to the Fun Park/Zoo.

For F*#@ Sake.

This new penalty rule was introduced minutes before today’s test. One unfortunate student received his punishment. Our son managed 11 so survived. As he says he had to guess the ending of most words and was largely lucky today. But he’s a nervous wreck. Having seen this weeks words he’s convinced he has no chance. How can this be part of modern teaching. Oh I forgot our Government wants to return to Victorian values. Well they can all bugger off back to Victorian Times and leave us in peace.

On a side not I see our Prime Minister is avoiding being asked difficult questions so he has started sending his Dad to do some of his interviews. I’m not making this up. Well today a member of the public phoned in and basically said Johnson was like Pinocchio. His Dad then said mockingly “the British Public couldn’t even spell Pinocchio if they tried”. Well let’s try – Pinocchio.***** up yours you posh snob.

So what do we do. We have the weekend to think about it. I’ve offered son the day off if school insist on him sitting the test. At the moment he is saying that he will have to sit the test. He doesn’t want to be picked out as different. But that’s the problem with the current approach to handling dyslexia in the classroom. It’s the same as with Aspergers and the classroom. The approach is so fundamentally wrong.

Assume the child is low attainment.

Resist providing proactive support

Deliver one standard teaching programme for all kids – no variations

Put the onus on the child to put a hand up and ask for help – in front of all the other kids

Child doesn’t put the hand up so assume everything is fine

Watch child struggle in tests and class work

Confirm assessment that child is low attainment

One final thought. It’s ok to penalise the kids but what about those leading us. Our School Minister – Remember him he’s the lovely chap who thought kids having time off for bereavement was like “an extended holiday” – was asked a grammar question he was expecting school kids to get right. Guess what the numpty got it wrong. So maybe he should get a negative and be barred with running our schools. That is one punishment I can agree to.

More rain

And still it rains. And rains. And rains.

And still it rains at school.

French Homework is to complete a crossword. A French Crossword. Marks will be deducted for incorrect spellings.

Dad I can’t even do a crossword in English never mind French. I can remember the sounds but I can’t spell the words. The Teacher knows this but just says I have to try harder.

And we have more…

Drama Homework is to complete an acting related Word Search Game. Really. Very early on his previous school it was identified that he could just not do Word Searches Tables. The Psychologist who looked into this established that for some reason he was not able to visualise letters and collections of letters if they were printed diagonally or backwards. On top of this his dyslexia just made identifying words difficult. As this was stressful for him it was strongly recommended that his education did not use word based games. Fast forward a couple of years and his current school now requires him to do word searches as it’s the set task for the class.

I can see the point of a French Crossword for some kids but how is a dyslexic kid expected to complete this. Has our school system become so inflexible that we can’t just vary the teaching programme a little for each individual child need. Clearly not. The Government is committed to this Factory/Production line model of education. That’s for State Schools. Private Schools have more scope to flex the teaching programme. Unfortunately many can’t afford to go Private. But that won’t bother Boris and his buddies. As long as the chauffeur driven car turns up and the expensive wine keeps coming.

Ok I can see the point of a crossword for French for some BUT… What is the pigging point of a word search for Drama. I guess it’s all part of the Government’s drive to make every kid spell correctly the defined key words. Spelling is given a higher profile that actually understanding what the word means. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe the best way to develop the next Orlando Bloom, Keira Knightley, Anthony Hopkins, Robin Williams, Whoopi Goldberg and Tom Cruise is to focus on spelling. Oh hang on a minute these have dyslexia as well. So no I don’t see the point.

We just set too many of our kids up to fail. They see other kids repeatedly praised for great spelling or neat handwriting while at the same time they are just told to try harder. How demoralising is that. A phrase you hear often is that kids with learning difficulties have to try super hard just to keep the perceived learning gap from widening. DAMM RIGHT THEY DO. Too many kids are forced through the same stereotyped classroom hoop. Never given a chance to demonstrate their unique skill sets as these are not in the areas deemed valuable by the Government.

Too many kids have been failed by our society. It’s not as if our society is particularly successful or sustainable on the back of this. This has to stop. When it does stop and we start allowing all our kids to grow – just take a few minutes to think how good this world will become. That is a hope worth fighting for. That is a hope worth voting for.

Let’s spell out Monday

An entire weekend without seeing any evidence of other humans. No post. No phone calls. No dog walkers. Villagers hidden away in warm dry houses. On the walks not even one passing car or stray rambler. Helps when many of the roads are closed with overrunning roadworks or floods. Great fun in the pouring rain trying to play tennis on the pavement. Very cramped in an area probably not big enough for table tennis.

Sadly the relaxing weekend goes to quickly and dreaded school looms. A temporary change in school bus routes means more strange faces and much larger buses are running. No guarantee when the bus turns up. An absolute nightmare for a kid with Autism. If only that was the only thing.

Another heated discussion with school and the authorities. Both reassuring us that measures have been put in place which ensure compliance with government requirements and allows all kids a fair chance of performing well. Yeh right. Keep the Government happy – Sod the kids in effect…. Clearly certain parties need to lookup the definitions of all and fair. So this weekend our son’s homework basically is all about writing out three times all his spelling mistakes and unclear handwriting attempts. That’s going to expand his mind and boost his confidence!!

Then to cap it off he has to revise for an English Test. The test is an old school Spelling one. Learn 20 words.

Language

Presented

Sherlock

Through

Evidence

It’s the same spelling test for all in the class. No extra time or help for any child. Again maybe it just me and my cabin fever. If it is please just delete this post. But how is this fair. On what planet is this supposed to have any positive impact on any child with dyslexia and autism. Designed to fail AGAIN. For all the required words our son can give definitions for and provide alternative examples of how to use the word correctly in spoken English. But this is not important apparently. Not what school and the government wants. The focus is on getting all kids to just spell by learning parrot fashion a list of predefined words. If you can’t do this then you are low attainment. A failure. A faulty item.

Education is filled with really good, dedicated and caring teachers. Yet they are increasingly told how to teach and to focus on a narrowing range of objectives. Objectives not about the interests of the child. It’s all about Satisfying the Government. The agenda is that money should go to fund tax cuts for the rich rather than on unimportant things like school budgets. To make sure this happens Schools need to follow the tried and tested factory model. Increasingly large production runs which help drive down costs. Eliminate natural variations and reduce choice. Children just seen in terms of inputs and outputs. Push them through the system. Those who don’t fit are labelled a problem and discarded as surplus to requirements.

I will tell you where the staggering stupidity and the real problem lies. It’s in those leaders pushing this dogmatic crap and equally on those who choose to vote for them. Shame on you.

So we move on into another uncertain week filled with too much anxiety for someone so young. Let’s hope a few Muppet and Spider-Man movies can briefly lift the mood. Even a bit of no space tennis might help. But surely the countless thousands of children who suffer deserve so much more than this. The really do.

The Golden Ticket

It’s amazing what you come across on a daily basis. You get good discoveries that just make you go ‘wow’. The ones you can look at for ages and get a sense of wonder.

Then you get other discoveries which make you go ‘wow’ for entirely different reasons.

Today I came across a headline in one of our so called better newspaper – The Times.

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Pupils lose out as £400m schools funding diverted to special needs

Children have been losing out because millions of pounds earmarked for their education has been siphoned off to pay for special needs education, an investigation by The Times has found.

A surge in pupils categorised as having special needs has led schools to lay off staff, increase class sizes and cut back on subjects as councils raid mainstream education budgets to fund support for them.

One headteacher said that the funding reforms introduced in 2014 created a new education, health and care plans that were seen by some parents as golden tickets”

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Don’t try to read the article as you have to pay Murdock for the pleasure. No free news here. Where do we start with this article from the Rupert Murdock stable.

  • Am I missing the point here but surely SEND (Special Educational Needs and Disability) kids are pupils as well. My son is a pupil surely. Not according to this newspaper. Clearly The Times would like to scrap inclusion and go back to the good old days where too many kids where denied the opportunity of mainstream education. The Times journalists have an underlying principle to most of its commentaries. Well if I don’t need that support so why should we be paying for it.
  • This article is likely to cause some parents to start resenting and blaming SEND kids for school problems. It’s pouring fuel on the fire of resentment and bullying. Basically what this article is saying is the those SEND kids are robbing Normal kids. It is deeply irresponsible and distasteful journalism.
  • The article doesn’t mention the 1500 SEND kids who are unable to find a mainstream school that will accept them. But it according to this journalist – that doesn’t matter as they are not pupils.
  • Blaming SEND kids for the £400m short fall in school budgets is lamentable. Clearly according to The Times this countries crisis in class sizes and falling teacher numbers is purely down to SEN kids. Let’s not mention that school budgets have been severely squeezed as a directly consequence of Government funding cuts. Let’s not mention that this Government introduced a new assessment system but refused to fund that change, That’s the very Government this newspaper supports whole heartedly.
  • This country has had a crisis in SEND school funding for years. It is chronically underfunded, it has always been chronically underfunded. Recently it has been subject to further Government cuts. No mention of that then.
  • A surge in pupils categorised as having special needs. It makes it sound as if suddenly parents are inventing SEND symptoms. This country has an estimated 350000 kids with a learning disability. Most experts say this is a fraction of the actual number. So many kids go through education without having a learning disability diagnosed. For too many years we have failed to address this educational crisis. This is going to get worse as a direct consequence of Government Policy as the criteria for SEND diagnosis is becoming stricter – purely to save money and not based on any health grounds. This is at the same time that funding cuts are resulting in longer wait times for an actual diagnosis to take place.
  • Finally ‘a golden ticket’. Really. In our case it’s the reverse of the article. The funding which has been awarded to our son for his learning disabilities is being used to part fund Teaching Assistant support for the whole school. The article also fails to reference that most SEND parents are already paying for additional care and educational support. This so called Golden Ticket only covers a fraction of the true cost of support.

Once again journalism gives us an insight into the deep rooted problems we have in society. The media reflects the current views of our so called Governments. It shows how far we have to go. How difficult this fight is going to be. I will leave the last word to my old Dad. He would call The Times ‘excellent toilet paper’. Thats all its good for.

Not Great anymore

Donald Trumps Wall appears to have started in Yorkshire. Here it’s probably to separate the privileged few from the many.

In my country professions like Teaching, Policing, Nursing, Clinical Specialties once we’re highly respected. This respect was reflected in pay and pensions. Unfortunately times have changed. Or should I say Government Priorities have changed. The argument was that low taxes was the new king. Low taxes on the rich and the money generators started to dictate thinking. The Government started to pick fights with various professions. A deliberate attempt was made to erode public confidence in areas like teaching, health and policing. Then the money generators messed up and we had the financial crisis. Suddenly austerity was needed. But again it was austerity for the many while protecting the few. So the Many and the Public Sector took the hit.

Government introduced competition into all areas. Suddenly contracts were awarded on best value for money. Best value rapidly became defined as the cheapest. As a result the workload on services increased. Quality levels dropped. Providers repeatedly changed. Unfortunately on top of this the pay and pensions of hard working professionals were also squeezed.

When people find their wages and pensions squeezed three things can happen

  • They buckle down for less money but their standard of living is eroded,
  • They become disillusioned,
  • They leave the job.

The Government trots out the argument about the cosy public sector life. The country will be better when everyone works in the good old private sector. Let’s not forget that our Prime Minister said of his own position

‘My Cabinet Ministers salary of £141,000 is not enough for me to live on’

When he said those wise words he was living in his rent free £20M Ministerial Mansion…. one rule for the few and a completely different rule for the rest of us.

A kid with Autism needs above all stability. Continuity in care. Trust is a commodity which takes along time to develop. But those key qualities have been destroyed by Government Policy. This year every single Teacher and Teaching Assistant changed for our Son. We have had to start again trying to build up the so important knowledge base of his particular educational needs. His Paediatric Care Provider has changed and we wait for his new clinicians. Wait is the buzz word. Appointments have gone from 4 times a year to twice a year to once a year. Not sure what the definition for a Year is. We recently received a letter saying that due to the change of provider the next appointment will be significantly delayed. He has had the same Physio for 4 years. But she quit her role. Then the next Physio left after one session. Another Physio then left before the first session. Currently we are waiting another a Physio to be appointed. He had access to a brilliant Clinical Psychologist but she retired and was never replaced. He started work with a Speech Expert but after 2 months she left the profession and the service was cut. He started a programme to work on his optical muscles but the service was cancelled with responsibility passed over to Education. Education refuses to provide that programme. I could go on…

So while our PM moans about his falling living standards the many are picking up the pieces. That’s modern Britain. It’s not Great Britain anymore. It’s certainly not great if you are not one of the Few. And it’s certainly not Great if you are a kid with Autism.

Numpty Award

The world is increasingly been filled with Charlatans, Liars, Cheats, Self Absorbed Tossers and Unadulterated Numpties. For too long these individuals have gone unrecognised. So I’m going to rectify this by introducing our very own Numpty Award which will be fittingly named after the UK’s most esteemed PM.

The the first Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson Numpty Award goes to this man. Nick Gibb who is the UK’s School Minister.

Today good old Nick made the following comment about today’s brilliant Global Climate Strike.

“We share the passion, as a Government, of young people for tackling climate change, and that is why this Government and this country is committed to reaching net zero greenhouse gases by 2050.

But we don’t think it should be at the expense of a child’s education because what we want is for the next generation to be as well educated as possible to tackle these kinds of problems.”

So Nick shares the passion does he. This is clearly backed up by his Parliamentary voting record on addressing climate change. According to TheyWorkForYou.com on measures to prevent climate change he has “generally voted against” these. His record is 10 votes for, 17 against and 5 absences.

He seems happy with the commitment to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. That’s another 30 years of screwing the planet then.

He has voted for the reintroduction of Fox Hunting and backed the culling of badgers.

Let’s not forget that dear old Nick was the Minister who told schools that kids going through bereavement must be in school. He called kids missing school on the grounds of grief as ‘an extended holiday’.

This is a man who is convinced that increased discipline and a return to the 1950s school system is the answer to our educational problems.

This is the chap who refused to separate spelling testing from the assessments for 10 year olds even though Teachers and Dyslexia Associations objected to the fairness of the approach.

This is the man who told schools they must only to use Phonics to teach kids spelling. Another policy which appalled teachers and health professionals. Yes phonics can work for many kids but is completely the wrong approach for some kids, especially those with special needs. Nicks approached moved schools away from explaining what words mean to learning parrot fashion how to spell a set list of words.

This is the man who introduced exams for 4 year olds. FOUR YEAR OLDS. Yes the wonderful baseline testing which is largely rejected by educational professionals and parents.

And let’s not forget that the man behind so much testing for kids 4 and 10 year olds actually got one of his own English questions wrong live on radio. He then refused to answer the maths question thrown at him.

This is the guy who said exams didn’t put pressure on kids. Social media was the cause of the pressure.

So I present to you Nick Gibb the first holder of the Numpty Award. Who can deny this monumental bellend his moment of glory.

School inspection

Ok troops stand by your bed at 6am for a kit and bed inspection from the Sergeant Major. If you fail you will do 100 press-ups and your on peeling spud duty for a week. Dad had those when he was in the army. He’s one of the troops in the photo above – enjoying the winter weather in Iceland. Apparently inspections are good for discipline and builds character….

Dad can you help me with my school bag and kit. I’m really worried I don’t have the right stuff.

Don’t worry son I filled your bag up with school supplies last week.

Do I have a 4b pencil.

Not sure but you have pencils.

If you don’t have a 4b pencil you get a negative.

Son it will be ok you have pencils.

No Dad you get a negative for not having the right pencil. Do we have colouring pencils covering all of the colours of the rainbow.

You have a load of pencils in the Peppa Pig pencil case. (I really must change that). It’s at the bottom of your school bag. It has lots of different colours.

No you need to ensure you have all the colours covered or it’s another negative.

It will be ok Son you do have enough coloured pencils for art and the teachers won’t know anyway.

Dad on Thursday the Form Tutor is doing a full school bag inspection. He’s going to check that we have every item on the school list. Every time he finds a mistake he will give you a negative.

******My jaw hits the flaw and I am stunned. It was later confirmed that school bag inspections are taking place with punishments for breaches of rules. I am speechless.*******

So after 30 minutes work we managed to rustled up a kit list that would hopefully pass the Drill Sergeant role call.

Dad we will need to move the coloured pencils to the main pencil case as the tutor has said that he will only check one case. And all the essential items have to be in there.

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Maybe it’s just me but I find this completely staggering. I’ve got a kid with Aspergers seriously spooked over the type of pencil he has in his school bag. How can that be right. Whatever happened to the idea of building a warm and welcoming learning environment. I thought the days of negative reinforcement had been assigned to the bin. A few months ago we went to a zoo where the keeper in charge of the Sea Lions talked about how an approach based on punishments never works. The animals will only respond to positive reinforcement. So an approach not ok for Sea Lions is perfectly acceptable for our children.

Why can’t school turn this round and award house points for the neatest bag. Or give every kid with the full school kit a flapjack. School could have prizes for the sharpest pencil tip, the funniest sharpener and the most original pencil case design.

To be fair to school they are following an approach favoured by our so called government. But I’m sorry the approach is fundamentally wrong. If I could sort the finances out he would be pulled from school immediately and taught at home. School and more importantly the so called government have a duty of care to kids which they are failing. This years battle with school is going to get very messy indeed.

School

So it’s about to start again. SCHOOL. The anxieties are building. The sleepless nights. The upset stomach. The worries. And that’s just me.

For our son it’s worse. Far worse. He is already stressed out. Anxious about the return to that alien world. An institution which could not have been designed in a more anti-autistic way if they had honestly tried. A system which is designed for kids with dyslexia to automatically fail. An underfunded service which is not fit for purpose.

So he will get on the bus at 8am tomorrow with hope. Hope that school has changed. It now positively promotes uniqueness and individuality. Kids with specific learning obstacles are giving tailored support to help them fly. In fact all kids are given a tailored education not just the privileged few. The 1950s school infrastructure has been replaced with modern, bright and welcoming learning facilities. The strict rule structure has been relaxed. Kids are allowed to be kids for at least part of the day. Good dedicated professionals are supported and properly rewarded.

But in reality we understand what our son will face again tomorrow. A broken system where the bonkers government sees stricter rules for kids as the answer to everything. Stricter rules for kids and teachers yet wants less rules for those trying to make a profit out of our kids education. Yes an education but not the one we want for our kids.

The summer holidays were great but the fight for many parents starts again.

Eyes wide open

It’s amazing what you find when you open your eyes.

Another application for additional support. This one was a long shot. Additional funding to provide some specialist support in school for our son. Turned down.

Same line. He already has funding (the maximum available with an Education Health Care Plan) which allows him to take up his place in school. The funding goes into the general support budget which funds the school wide teaching assistant system. Plus he’s doing so well without support.

The fight goes on.

Then speaking with his Doctor. Son is now starting to become too old for many of the health programmes focusing on autism.

The fight goes on.

It feels like the agencies have signed up to support our son while he is in school or college up to the age of 25. The agencies provide virtually no support now. They will continue to provide virtually no support up to the age of 25. Then they can officially provide no support after that….

Ultimately the agencies are just following Government policy and funding decisions. The current government sees austerity and cutbacks as essential for health and education. Yet they are happy to provide funding for tax breaks for the better off and bungs to Northern Ireland Unionists to keep themselves in power.

Nothing is going to change any time soon.

So the fight goes on. But one day the government will change and hopefully we will get one which governs with eyes wide open.

Moody

It’s been one of those days. Lack of sleep, work piling up, house falling to bits, nothing seeming to go to plan. Mood level – somewhere between not great and moody. This photograph sorta sums it up.

Well Son went to school for the first time since he had his accident at school last week. He was still in a lot of pain but we decided to give it a go. Dosed up on child painkillers he was dropped off. School given clear instructions to contact me immediately if he was struggling with the pain and I would pick him up.

No phone call came from school so I assumed things went ok. If only.

Apparently during his first lesson the pain started to get worse. At the end of the lesson the class teacher noticed he was struggling and he was told to get his bag and go to reception. Reception then sent him to see a senior teacher – a teacher who has had no contact with our son previously. Son told him the circumstances, that he was struggling with pain and the instructions I had given school. The teacher went onto the computer and after a few seconds said something like

You have had a lot of time off. Your attendance record is too poor for you to be sent home. Go to reception get some painkillers and then go to your next lesson.”

So he stayed in school, in pain and in his words not able to concentrate on any of his lesson.

Mood level now – pissed off.

Yes his attendance record has dropped below 95% – a Government target. Yet that’s because he has had two accidents AT SCHOOL which have required hospital intervention and medically approved time off. Take those out and his record is just about 100%.

So it appears that if attendance drops below 95% then regardless of pain level or illness, a child will not be sent home. However a child with an attendance over 95% would be sent home. Apparently today a girl fell over and hurt her knee. She was in tears and clearly in a lot of pain but was not sent home due to her attendance record. Yet a boy who had a sore throat was sent home because they had a good attendance record.

Mood level now – Apoplectic.

So tomorrow I will drop off son and then demand to see the Headteacher. The only reason I’m not doing it now is that son wants me to calm down as he doesn’t trust me at the moment. That is probably a really good call.