Cobwebs

Sorry this post is a day late. Think MONDAY….

Someone has been very busy. Boris is happily sat admiring all the hard work. Poor Boris the spider. Having a name which is now associated with our so called leader. Boris is a part timer, a serial liar, heartless, out of his depth, out of step with the world, a relic of a bygone era, addicted to his privileged lifestyle, not interested in the future of the species, has been repeatedly sacked, likes to hear his own voice and is basically a reptile at heart. Qualities not found thankfully in our little garden Boris.

So the start of the next phase of the school at home project got off to a predictable start. Looking at a blank screen. Waiting for something from school to allow Hawklad to try and do some work. Two hours of a blank screen. As we don’t even know what subjects are being taught today, there is nothing we can do. So all we can do is – I will send another email into school and Hawklad can play on Minecraft. You never know that game maybe part of the curriculum.

Cobwebs is an apt description for today. The first school day. An early start for Hawklad and even earlier start for me. Back to the delights of early morning workouts. Those early mornings when I just can’t seem to shake those cobwebs from my brain. It’s times like this that I really miss caffeine.

A few times this morning I found myself just repeating the same exercise. Over and over again for several minutes. The brain stuck in a tired loop or maybe it had just switched off and I was in autopilot mode.

Stuck in autopilot mode is probably a good description of the school system. Repeatedly doing the same thing over and over again, no variation, almost forgetting what you are trying to achieve. At least our garden Boris doesn’t do that. He is definitely a most able teacher about life.

Where did that go

Where did that go? Where did the summer holidays go. For so many families, where did that lockdown go? That’s 7 weeks of summer and exactly 6 months of lockdown.

We leave the summer holidays like we found them. Grey.

Many leave the lockdown as we found it. Well actually that’s sadly not strictly true here in the UK. The daily rise in pandemic and the rate of spread (R number) is actually higher now than when it forced us all into lockdown. I guess the confusion is the same. Some times it’s safe to meet in groups then at other times it’s considered most unsafe. Sometimes masks are required, sometimes they are not. Get tested but please don’t get tested. It’s safe to meet work colleagues but most unsafe to meet friends and family. There are those in high risk groups but you don’t need to worry about that. You must observe 2m social distancing but it’s ok if you don’t especially in pubs and at Horse Racing events. Don’t worry about the details it will be fine.

But for some families and households, the lockdown is most certainly not over. The Government seems to be demonising those in that position. We are being unpatriotic. Not doing our civic duty. Letting others down. As a result support is being pulled, threats made, blamed for the problems of the country and fines starting to be issued. I can assure the so called Government that it’s not out of choice. We are dealing with the reality of life. And that life is messy, complicated, unpredictable and frustrating. We have to deal with the details.

That part of life has not changed during the summer holidays and lockdown.

Turning

Those leaves 🍁 are turning. Autumn is coming.

Well actually the last few nights it has felt like winter has already arrived. It’s been freezing. Heating and lights full on. Jumpers (sweaters) most definitely are out of storage. I’m not very organised but I do always remember where I put my million jumpers. Normally I have all of them on at the same time.

So school starts on Monday. Our Son will not be returning at that time. If and when he returns is a matter of much uncertainty.

Dad have school decided what is happening on Monday then ?”

Not yet Hawklad.

Has school sent you the new codes so that we can check the online pupil pages for each subject?”

Not yet. Until we get these then we are basically stuffed.

So what will I be doing?”

Not sure as yet. I don’t have the school timetable. Don’t know what the subject teachers will be looking at.

As I’m now in a new set we won’t even know any kids we can ask to see what they have been doing.”

No. So I can’t speak to any parents and see what they have been given.

So basically Dad we will be winging the homeschooling thing.”

Yes definitely winging it.

So a bit like your cooking then. Bit of a disaster…”

Yep, but at least it won’t be dull.

If it’s bad then I’m going back to bed. Just to let you know.”

Don’t worry son, if it’s that bad I will be resorting to building lego sets…

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As it stands the plan is

  • Follow the school timetabled lessons for the day,
  • Email the individual teacher for a guide to what we should be doing….. not entirely hopeful about that. Failing that will see if any lesson notes have been loaded onto the pupil online pages ….. these are often blank or feature very brief notes loaded days after the lesson,
  • Look out for any homework tasks being posted. Submit these to the teacher somehow,
  • Try to find relevant videos online for him to watch. The BBC and other countries have some good resources,
  • Send copies of any work he does to the teacher …. somehow.

Yes winging it sums it up perfectly. I’m actually quite relaxed about the schooling side. The key is for our son to be in a good place. Assuming he is not at school for this half term, then it’s just about keeping him from falling too far behind the rest of the class. Certainly not looking for him to get gold stars. If keeping his hand in means he gets the school day done in an hour, then so be it. More time for him. More time for him to try and reconnect with his happy side.

The key thing is.

Yes we are doing school but it’s not the priority.

Saturn 5

We live on a hill. A not very big hill. But a nice one. This is the slope dropping down into the flat Vale of York. The Vale stretches for mile after mile. This gentle grassy slope is also our sledging run during winter. It’s not very steep but it’s long enough to generate enough speed. Enough to send this Dad flying through the air. That takes lots of momentum. Even those massive NASA Saturn 5 rockets would struggle to lift my butt into the air.

We don’t get much snow. But when we do it’s time to get to our hill slope.

What could possibly go wrong. The first time we tried sledging here Hawklad asked if I would safety test the run first. I reassured him that it was perfectly safe. I set off from the top and a few seconds later smashed into the tree at the bottom. I was like a precision guided missile. A missile with a large butt carrying much momentum. At least the padding helped protect me.

So when the snow comes again – what could possibly go wrong.

What could have been

Sometimes you get those moments when you just sigh. Sigh and think – what could have been. Now I could go down many routes with that thought. But today while watching a sunset flicker into life my mind was in schooling mode.

A fruitless day with school and the education authorities. Does look like support will be minimal going forward. The message is that if you can’t start back at school next week then it’s the parents responsibility to keep your child in line with classroom progress until they return. Suddenly the parent becomes curriculum specialist and teacher. I guess the hope is your child returns to school quick enough that they don’t fall too far behind. But what happens if it’s not a quick return.

We have a medical letter informing school that because of his severe anxieties and fears our son cannot currently return to school. No timescale has been set. Son has mentioned the end of October as a goal. The start of the next term. If that was the case then it’s 7 weeks of trying to keep up with the classroom teaching. But that’s just a finger in the air date. We have no idea when he will be in a position to return to the cramped classrooms. The first goal is to try and get him into a less anxious place. Then it’s to see if he can start venturing out into the wider world. Then we move into trying to get son more comfortable being inside with other people. Only then when he is more comfortable with life, can we consider a return to school. I’m not sure our PM or Education Secretary actual realise that to truly learn you need to be in a good place. Content, relaxed and comfortable. Actually they probably do realise this but they just don’t care. In their eyes it’s all about set teaching approaches, targets and discipline. Anxieties about a pandemic are brushed aside – schools are perfectly safe – no risk at all – force them back into cramped out of date classrooms – trust us or we force you back. Not ideal learning environments, a nightmare for those suffering from anxieties and fears.

But it didn’t have to be like this. Speaking with the school there was another way. School has introduced a very good homeschooling online system. It worked during the lockdown. The plan was from September that most pupils would only spend 50% of their time in school. Apart from those with exams, pupils would spend part of the week at home doing remote learning. That would allow school to further spread pupils out and create enhanced social distancing. Great plan but the government has dictated that all pupils must return full time. So the online schooling system has been turned off. So a potential route to help those pupils who are unable or uncomfortable about returning is not available. A method of helping a number of pupils to keep up, to learn and to avoid them being disadvantaged has been ended by the Government.

That’s a lot of school weeks that we have to navigate and try to stay in touch with his classmates. It’s going to be a real challenge. And it just won’t be our family in this position. Much sighing. Might as well enjoy the sunset.

One year ago

This was a year ago today. Hawklad at a Rugby International. England v Italy.

How times have changed in one year.

Who would have imagined that 365 days later 52000 people crammed into a stadium would seem like a pipe dream. No thought of masks or social distancing. No nervous sideways glances when someone coughs. No need for personal and family bubbles. Well that’s not strictly true.

Even that night we tried to manage social contact. Carefully mapped out our plans. Trying to watch the entertainment outside the ground from a safe and less busy distance. Arriving at the ticket gate at the quietest time. Refusing the crowded lift option and walking up the 7 flights of stairs. Eating our takeout food in a place away from others. Getting to our seats early so we don’t have to squeeze past any strangers. Ensuring Hawklad is seated between me and his uncle. Hoods allowed over the head when needed. Having my mobile fully charged so Hawklad can focus on playing games rather than worry about the increasingly full stadium. Waiting for the crowds to thin out before leaving.

That is our Aspergers world. It was like that in 2019. It’s always like that. It didn’t start with a pandemic. It won’t end when the pandemic has gone. It’s our world.

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.

On one

You get days when you can just let the crashing waves of life wash over you. Serene in the knowledge that you are at one with the world. Accepting of the challenges and hurdles that lie ahead. Prepared to just put on the kettle, breathe, smile and then calmly deal with the issues facing you.

Then you get other days…..

Today is one of those days. I don’t like swearing. It’s not big or clever. But today

I’M SERIOUSLY PISSED OFF.

No serene model of self restraint. Much more Hulk Smash.

I was fine with the washing machine suddenly sounding like a pneumatic drill. Ok smashing another cup. Fine with the cat repeatedly missing his cat litter tray. Accepting of not feeling 100% today. But school and the education system today has got under my skin.

School have officially confirmed that they will not be able to provide any additional support if he is not able to start back at school. The online teaching system will be not available. No online lesson support. The only support will be that some basic class notes may be available after lessons on the school system. But these will be patchy and only for some lessons. This classroom notes facility has been in place for a year. In practice it’s a great idea however in practice very few teachers use the system. They stick to the white pen and marker pen approach. It was also confirmed that no dedicated teaching support would be provided. No home visits I can understand but no telephone or email support – really. The local council apparently would normally provide some support in these cases however that service has been reorganised and is not currently available. But apparently I’m supposed to ensure our son follows the curriculum so he doesn’t fall behind his class mates.

OK. So in practice I am none the wiser. Feels like we have been cast adrift but then expected to keep up with a rapidly receding school ship. It appears to me that school would be delighted to force us out and into full on homeschooling. But that’s not for me or the school to decide. That’s our Sons decision. One I will make sure he decides for himself.

So yes I am ON ONE. One step forward and then two back.

Red

It might look like War of the Worlds has come to Yorkshire. But it’s only an illusion. A few hours later the Martians had clearly had enough of the weather and gone back home. Definitely taking the red weed with them.

That’s an important thing to remember for me. Sometimes I get caught up in the moment. Don’t think things through properly. Misread people. See a situation one way. But after a while, when I take the time to revisit again – I clearly misinterpreted things. It’s always good to have those moments of clarity. It helps me chart the right course. Avoid the rocks. Avoid the Martian heat rays…..

Forgotten

Isn’t the human mind strange. Somethings you just can never forget. Hopefully mostly the really nice, beautiful and precious things. They are always on your mind and then other stuff just seems to instantly disappears. Not just stuff like ‘where I put my car keys’, ‘what did I put on my shopping list when it’s been left at home’ and ‘what on Earth was I thinking about when I decided to support Newcastle United’. Could be precious memories, important details and posts. I wrote a post in June and yes I forgot all about it. Poor thing just sat gathering dust in the draft folder. Well yesterday I remembered it.

Unfortunately some of the post is out of date now but at least one bit is still relevant. So here goes then. A few months late and heavily edited but I give you a forgotten post.

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So we have a few weeks left of homeschooling. Maybe more. Son’s anxieties are starting to mount. The government is committed to reopening the country at breakneck speed – have we really got the pandemic sufficiently under control. No sign of a vaccine. Just feels like the infection numbers will be back on the rise very soon. So maybe homeschooling will still be the option after the summer break.

As a family we have learned so much from the enforced school at home project. Most of these I have already mentioned. But one very large and ignored elephant is sat in the room. ZOOM.

All children are different. Unique. Surely the key to education is to look at each child and see what works for them. Unfortunately the UK approach is fast moving towards the production line education model. Labelled Victorian Values. One set curriculum, one set teaching method, try to minimise input costs, force all kids through the same hole and then try to carefully control the outputs. Variations are seen as very bad.

So when a teaching approach is adopted then it is forced on all pupils – even if it doesn’t suit them.

In terms of our son it’s clear that he functions best at homeschooling when he is given research to do, watch videos, complete online questions. He works in short bursts. Maybe 20 minutes max of concentration then a quick walk about or something to reset, then he goes again. The initial home at school approach allowed for this. So it worked. But that’s starting to change now. Lessons are increasingly going ZOOM. Online video conferencing classes. 80 minute lessons. Teacher and pupils sitting in front of a video camera. The teacher can see what every pupil is doing. The other pupils can sometimes see but always hear what their classmates are doing. Senior teachers are reviewing each class to check for inappropriate behaviour and lack of effort.

Now this approach will work for some pupils. But not all. Our son hates being filmed. He hates to see his image on a screen, he hates to hear his own voice coming out of the speakers. He cringes at the thought of other people being able to see him. Sitting still for 80 minutes is a significant challenge for him. In a class setting he won’t ask questions, won’t put his hand up. Will just freeze and be filled with anxieties. Basically ZOOM teaching is currently just about the worst teaching approach for him. It just won’t work. But that’s the set teaching method for some classes now. He just has to do it. His marks are lower in those classes. How can this be effective, modern teaching…..