Respite from the deluge

Torrential rain for the last 24 hours. But so in need of a run to clear my head. Head to the woods for a bet of shelter. Unbelievably the rain stopped to give a brief respite from the deluge.

Sadly no respite from the school madness. Not even in Drama. DRAMA!! The subject assessment tests reflect Government policy on teaching and testing. Students are required to write the Drama Term and it’s meaning. Correct spellings must be learnt.

Tableaux – a moment of frozen action on stage

Accumulation – adding another performer arch time a movement is repeated

Exaggeration – when you perform something in a heightened style

Melodrama – a sensational dramatic piece with exaggerated characters and exciting events designed to appeal to the emotions

And on and on…. I won’t bore you with the full list.

Correct spellings …..

Really …..

For goodness sake this is Drama. This is on top of negatives which are dished out if you forget to bring in a completely black T-shirt and Track Suit bottoms for the lesson. On top of negatives for not learning lines. On top of forcing kids into groups of strangers and expecting them to interact freely. On top of negatives if kids are found laughing and having fun. Forcing kids to go on stage and perform in front of large numbers of kids, support staff and teachers – even when it leads to extreme anxiety. Isn’t it supposed to be fun and enjoyable. Obviously not according to those in charge. Some kids are set up to fail. Some kids are clearly deserving of having their confidence ground into the dirt. Just feels like there is no respite from the deluge.

Dad when I get the first opportunity to drop Drama I will go into the Guinness Book of Records for the quickest ever exit from a subject.

I can’t blame him at all. But it’s such a potential waste. Sadly it’s not just Drama and it’s not just our son. How many kids are turned off subjects which they could eventually excel in because of inflexible and insensitive teaching practices. Education should be about finding the gifts, talents and special interests in every single child. Encouraging kids to reach for the stars. Unfortunately education has been skewed by politicians who just don’t understand.

It’s time to kick this generation of self centred politicians out of the education world. It’s time to let good teachers teach. Its time to let every child have a chance and above all else it’s time to let kids enjoy being kids again.

The Poorly Car Run

There is a run I do all too frequently. It’s a lovely run. It’s particularly lovely as it’s flat. But it’s a few miles away from my usual haunts. The run starts and ends at the garage. You see it’s a run which happens when my car is poorly. Today it was the tyres. So off the car went to the garage. So off I went on my Poorly Car Run. Nothing was than sitting in a garage waiting area reading about cars I can’t afford.

The run closely follows one of our larger and most beautiful rivers. The Ouse. As it’s a river that regularly floods you can see the river depth marker. Today it is quite high but thankfully below flooding levels. It did flood a few weeks ago and in the woods you can see the remnants of those high waters.

If I wasn’t about to be hammered financially by the Garage this run would be a truly stunning experience.

The run crosses the flood plains. Today it’s dry but when it floods here can be under 3ft of water. Cold Dark Yorkshire water.

It’s sad that it takes a Poorly Car to bring me here.

So the car has been returned. Monopoly money has been handed over to the Garage. It was a shorts run so my legs got well and truly muddy. Can’t imagine what a dry run feels like. So it was back to work but this muppet had forgotten a change of clothing. Work, autumn, shorts and dirty legs is not a great combo. Luckily it was a solo office stint today.

Few hours later it’s back to the latest school soap story. Another subject test sat without any reading help, no reading pen and no additional time. Even the questions are worded in such a way to make it harder for kids with Aspergers. Set up to fail. Set up to justify the schools assessment of low attainment. I really need another run to release the anger. Anger at the School. Anger at the Council. Anger at me. Anger at the Government. Above all anger at those who will flock in their millions to vote for this Government. A Government for the few.

Maybe tomorrow I will return to the Poorly Car Run. But hopefully it will be the ‘Nothing to do with the car, here out of choice to heal my soul Run’.

When diplomacy fails.

A largely stress free week for our son. It’s strange how these always coincide with times away from school. How can we have got education so badly wrong for so many kids. So many great teachers yet so many unhappy and unfulfilled children.

Our son likes lists. It reflects how is mind works. They are honest, raw and unfiltered.

Dad I have a top ten list of what I am looking forward to and not looking forward to with this school term

  • Being treated like I’m not allowed to understand stuff. I’m low attainment so I am supposed to act like it. Kids who get lower marks than me, who don’t answer as many questions are in classes above me.
  • Having to put my hand up for help. I have an invisible disability which school doesn’t want to see. So I don’t get any help. No help at all.
  • Never getting a chance to shine.
  • Having to do tests which are made to make me fail.
  • Completely pointless homework. It’s just testing your handwriting.
  • Too much noise. Too many people.
  • Being in a class with so many kids who don’t want to be there so they are naughty. Because I’m in the bottom class I’m supposed to be naughty.
  • Having to wear a uniform which is so uncomfortable and feels awful.
  • It’s never fun. Just rules and avoiding being given negatives.
  • At least it’s not an 8, 9 or 10 week school term.

So in a few hours it starts again. I will repeatedly bang my head on an unmoving brick wall as school and the local council won’t shift. They make me sound like that annoying parent who just will not see the clear logic of the situation. How dare I question the system.

All I can do is keep being there for our son. But maybe there is something else. Let’s really be that annoying pushy parent. Clearly working WITH school and the authorities doesn’t work. What has it produced. A kid stuck in bottom class getting absolutely no extra help at all.

Autism – nothing

Dyspraxia – nothing

Even the little bit of help he received with Dyslexia has been removed

Diplomacy has failed. Working with the authorities has failed. Maybe it’s time to fight them.

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.

Imagination

It doesn’t have to be big to have a bucket full of atmosphere.

This is Skelton Tower on the North Yorkshire Moors.

It’s almost 200 years old and is a former hunting lodge.

If you time your arrival at the Tower correctly then you can enjoy the passing Steam Train coming down the North Yorkshire Moors railway. Unfortunately this walking muppet has never managed that. Still you still get views of the haunting Newtondale.

The Tower is also a fantastic dreams portal. As long as no other walkers are in sight our son can spend hours here. Lost in another world. Talking animals and mythical creatures. Playing about with time and the laws of science. I must admit I often dream of rebuilding the tower and living here 200 years ago.

It’s really good to dream and stretch your imagination. I wonder how many inventions and leaps in understanding have come from doing this. That’s why it’s so frustrating that as soon as kids get past the age of 11 dreaming is often frowned upon. At school the kids have a predetermined and restrictive curriculum to get through (set by the Government – god help us). Hardly anytime is scheduled for creative thinking. Even in subjects like art the approach seems to be learn about this artist then reproduce one of the artists most famous pieces. More marks for getting close to it. Only occasionally are kids allowed to free draw. When our son tries to reproduce something then it’s a disaster. He just can’t do it. But allow him to draw from his imagination and suddenly he’s away.

Kids are not encouraged to explore logic and push the boundaries of thought. In science son has been told on a number of occasions to just accept the facts. Once he asked why science was seemingly so sure of its laws when we can only see less than 1% of the universe. He got the above response.

In maths the class had some questions to work out. Son found a quick way to get to the answer. It worked for every question but was told he was doing it wrong as it wasn’t the approach set out in the textbook.

In our area we are so lucky in terms of history. On our doorstep we can touch the Neolithic. The Stone Age. The Bronze Age. Roman History. Viking History. Medieval Times. The industrial Revolution. Victorian Times. World Wars. So much history to live and breathe. Yet do the schools make use of this. Not really. In his 5 years at Primary School he went to two historical sites. Currently at his present school he has spent one hour at a local archeological dig. What a waste. Won’t the kids learn more about history if they can actually live it. Apparently not – the only source of learning is from predetermined textbooks.

Imagination is the key to so much. It should be one of the key facets of modern education. When I was a kid the brilliant Carl Sagan ignited my passion for astronomy and thinking. I will leave you with his take on imagination.

Imagination will often carry us to worlds that never were. But without it we go nowhere. CARL SAGAN

Is Phonics the wrong path

Our much beloved School Minister (and first holder of our Boris Numpty Award), Nick Gibb declared “the debate is over”. He was referring to his decision which meant the all kids in English schools would have to learn reading by phonics. Kids are taught to break words up into parts and then learn individual sound parts. Previously kids were taught with a mix of phonics and the old approach of memorising the whole world.

Interestingly our School Minister who is an expert in all things education has no practical experience of teaching. He is an accountant. Which makes me equally qualified to set school policy….

Yes phonics does work for some kids but not for others. For example many kids with dyslexia or kids on the spectrum struggle to decode words and then struggle to produce the right sounds for each individual part. I’ve tried phonics and I struggle with it. It’s a disaster with son. We could be trying to use phonics for the next 100 years and it will still not help our son to read.

We all must have done this. Set out for a nice walk. In the case of the photos across the stunning North Yorkshire Moors. Then you come to a crossroads. Paths going in all directions. You look vaguely at the map. Try to look like a professional. Fold up the map carefully. Then go Eeny, meeny, miny, moe and randomly guess the right path. In my case it is usually unerringly wrong. After several miles you get that sinking feeling – wrong path.

Actually wrong path is not the best description. It will be the right path for many. It will take them to their desired location. But for some (like me) we could go down this path for years and it will never ever get us to our desired location. So what I need to do is get off this path and find a path which works for me. That is the sensible thing to do. As a I am not that sensible I won’t retrace my steps back to the crossroads. I will try to break trail in a different direction in the hope that I will find the path for me.

Now according to our Schools Minister all kids should go down the same reading path. Unfortunately doing that will guarantee that some kids never do arrive at their destination. Endlessly walking down this path, getting lost, getting disillusioned. That’s what happened to us. We blindly went down the phonics path and basically got no where.

But then we stopped and said stuff you Nick Gibb. And we broke a new trail.

  • We started learning some of the most common words the traditional way. Son would memorise the whole word.
  • We started playing around with various learning to read games on the internet.
  • Using trial and error son would try to use app’s like YouTube, Google Search or games like FIFA by himself.
  • Son would watch TV shows with the subtitles on. Movies like the Avengers were perfect. He knew them virtually off by heart. So he could focus on the subtitles and start to make links.
  • He would relentlessly work on his coordination. He would read a grid of letters while clapping his hands. He would bounce a ball while trying to learn and read words.
  • We would jointly read books. Normally Mr Men books. They were just the right length and fun. He would join in when he wanted to. I would never correct a mistake. He would process that himself.

The new trail has started to work. We haven’t reached our son’s destination but it feels like we are heading in the right direction at last. Enough for son to call himself now – a reader.

So I hope our Schools Minister finds his own path. Preferably takes him a million miles away from this countries classrooms. Then we can get back to trusting parents, teachers and kids to pick the education path which best suits them.

Choices

Life is full of choices.

This morning it was pouring down but the forecast was for sun. What to wear on the run. I opted for full rain gear. 10 minutes into the run it’s blazing sunshine. Ended up more drenched than I would have been if I had started in just a T-shirt in the rain.

The Government could have saved Thomas Cook from going under. They decided not to. Apparently they were worried about not getting the £200m back. So 22000 people world wide have lost their jobs. Countless thousands are stranded. Holidays, honeymoons, once in a life time adventures have been ruined. Lots of hard up people are losing money on the bookings they have made.

Last night in the rain storm water came in through the back door. Do I find money to replace the old back door or find the money to replace the misfiring washing machine.

A few years back the Government didn’t win enough seats in the election. It had a choice to make. It decided to find over £1billion to bribe another party to back it so they could keep their jobs in government. Wonder when we will get that money back.

A few months ago I was faced with a decision. Keep son in school or homeschool. I opted for keeping him in school on the grounds that I couldn’t afford to home school (single working parent) and hope school will improve the support to our son. Few weeks into the term of any school support has in fact stopped. Probably a bad call.

The Government had a choice to make on Brexit. It’s decided to go for a no deal crash out. An approach which will make many in the cabinet and it’s friends significant money from hedge-fund investments. It’s also will have to spend over £6billion on Brexit planning. I wonder when we will see that money back.

So in life we all have choices to make. The big difference is that the vast majority of us may get decisions wrong but they will have been taken with the best of intentions. That doesn’t apply to Government. Ultimately they are looking after themselves….

Wise

Meet the Wise Old Elf. The undoubted star of Ben and Holly.

It was a show from our sons preschool days. It was never off the TV. That was probably more down to me than him. I could quite easily have spent my life watching this and In the Night Garden.

Now I’m not allowed to watch it that often. Although son finds a game of spotting which voice actors feature in both B&H and Peppa Pig. For example it’s the same voice for Peppa and Daisy.

Anyway as we took our mad dog for a walk we had to cross a field of cows. Our son was petrified of cows – not sure why. He would freeze if he entered a cow field. Dog walks had to avoid crossing them. But now we have managed to conquer that fear. When we see a cow it’s a race to be the first person to shout

Go on Wise Old Elf sit under the cow.

Years ago we watched an episode where it started to rain. The Wise Old Elf decided to seek shelter under a cow. And yes the cow sat on him. Someone almost wet himself watching that. It might not have been our son. Poor Elf. Same voice actor as Grandpa Pig from Peppa.

So thanks to a pompous accident prone cartoon Elf our son cured one of his fears. Sometimes solutions come in the most unexpected ways. That’s why it’s worth just persevering.

Son continues to struggle with his dyslexia. The difference is now the education system has dropped any pretence of trying to find ways to help improve his reading. They have just moved to the next stage – he can’t read, never will so lets lower expectations and any grades will be a bonus. Strange how the one person they have never asked about this is our son. He still wants to try so the fight continues. At home we continue to experiment with

  • Reading pens
  • Reading Apps
  • Shared reading
  • Coordination exercises

But that brings us to unexpected help. YouTube and Computer Games. They really do seem to help. Maybe it’s the visual nature. The themes. The combination of sensory experiences. Whatever the reason we have a kid who still struggles to read books yet he can navigate through games and the iPad without help. He can send texts without any help. Yes with some spelling issues but we all have them. That’s progress. Which makes the education stance so frustrating. We have to be realistic. Although he is improving the reading gap continues to grow with his peers. But that’s no reason to give up. The Wise Old Elf shows that.

Tree or not to be

So did we spend the day under a tree or was son sat at his school desk?

NEITHER…..

After much soul searching and reality checking son went out at 8am to catch the school bus. He was certainly tired. With the school worries he hardly slept at all. Again not a great way to start an enriching learning day.

After drinking two of the darkest, meanest and strongest coffees ever conjured up I was almost ready to roll. A quick hoover and set a washing load off. This week our possessed washing machine is only washing on the delicates setting. The delicate setting and arc welded grass stains are not a great combo. Anyway its time to pile into work and immediately…. the phone rings …. school.

Your son has had a little accident in his first lesson. We have ice packed his thumb and wrist but it’s badly swollen. Can you come and pick him up. Probably need to take him to the hospital.

It never ends. It really never ends.

An hour later we are sat in the hospital. Given the amount of broken bodies and unhappy souls in the waiting room it appears the Hulk has paid a visit to our local town this morning – and clearly he was in a mood to smash. Yesterday’s dream of spending the day under a tree transpired to be 4 hours in a clearly overstretched hospital.

Now we are home with hopefully no bones broken this time but with ligament damage to his hand. Hopefully it’s just a few weeks of painkillers and ice packs. At last we have a use for that packet of frozen French Beans.

So we start again. A painful hand. Worries of tomorrow’s potential school day already kicking in. Need to revise for an end of year test.

Yet son secretly hoping swelling IS TOO BAD for school tomorrow. Dreamy thoughts about that tree. Bugger the revision let him watch Marvel.

If we had only just opted to sit under the tree this morning….

Missing Bridge

At the weekend we had a brief break in the weather. Off we set with the dog for a walk. Son spotted a sign for a path. A path we had never ventured down. No idea where it went to. So living life on the edge we went for it. After a couple of miles we came to a stream with two large signs.

The first sign “Please keep to the path. Do not enter farmland. Cross Bridge for path to ….”

The second sign “Foot Bridge missing. Path closed”

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Trying to find work balance is tough. Sometimes not enough work to pay the bills. Other weeks too much work to fit into the available hours. This week feels like the later case. Thats good as quite a few bills are keen to be paid. Downside is that little time available for things like housework or paperwork or battles...

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Several weeks ago we had the annual school review. The outcome wasn’t ideal but it did feel like some progress had been made. Both the Health Service and Council agreed to look at securing some additional support for our son. The Council also agreed to consider if some of our son’s existing support budget could be diverted into dedicated help. Currently it goes into the overall school budget to pay for general teaching assistants – they support all kids in the class.

Today two letters came….Both letters basically saying the bridge is missing.

First letter from the Health Service. It said that the government had changed funding priorities. Money had been switched from one service to another service within Mental Health. Basically the funding which would have paid for support to our son had been removed. Very apologetic but no additional support available.

Fantastic…..

Second letter from the Council. No additional funding is available. However it will continue to provide the existing high quality support which has been recognised nationally by the Government for its excellence. Just bugger off…..

Doubly Fantastic……

But the Council letter hadn’t finished yet. They had reviewed his existing support budget to see if it could be better tailored to meet his needs at school. No it can’t. Yes I can decide where the money is spent BUT. If I insist on taking the funding away from the general teaching assistant budget then the original offer of a place at the school would be withdrawn. Further no school in the area would offer a place without the budget going directly into the general school pot. If I elected to move area then his budget would be cancelled.

Absolutely doubly f****** Fantastic

So basically we are back to square one again. We set off down a path with hope and found the bridge was missing. Probably dismantled by our so called Prime Minister to pay for more political bungs to keep herself in a job.

Another dead end.

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So the path was closed. No bridge. We looked for alternatives but nothing. So frustrating as you can see the way forward but it’s blocked. Rain clouds coming towards us so we are forced to turn round. Feels like we have been here before.