No Surprise

It’s just rained again. No surprise there then….

I’m picking up the courage. The courage to go outside and do some gardening. I have pile of seeds that need planting. I’ve kept putting that off for weeks now. To wet, not enough sun, frosts at night. Problem is that April has gone. Now May is almost left us as well. Our short growing season is getting very short. I did plant some stuff at the start of April but even that has struggled. Plants appeared then stopped growing.

The only exception is one solitary potato plant in a bucket. That one is getting on with growing in this cold weather. I have high hopes for that plant. That plant feels like a winner.

It’s just about making the most of things I guess.

Next week is the school half term week off. Then it’s the school’s year exams. At present we just don’t know how they will work for us. With Hawklad currently being unable to get into school, it makes sitting exams problematic. We have no idea what the plan is. Do school send the papers to us. Does he do them online. At the same time as the other pupils. Or does he do them at a later stage. Does he even sit them. From what I can gather some of the subjects have been sitting practice exams over the last couple of weeks. Hawklad hasn’t…..

For Hawklad it’s just about making the most of things. Getting through to the summer and then it’s decision time. Can he return to school. If he can then is it best for him to learn in the school system or go it alone. Getting on with things regardless of the weather.

Nothing to see here

I was reading a news article about home schooling during the lockdown. A government politician was quoted as saying basically that all children needed to be in the classroom. No exceptions. Pupils discipline and grades had deteriorated during lockdown. Homeschooling could never work properly.

Ok so the last year must have a write off for Hawklad

Well let’s think about that…… Over the last year his grades have gone UP. So well that he was moved up sets. Look at his best subject. A year ago he could talk for days about British medieval history. He could name and describe every English monarch. He could talk well about Roman history. A year later he can still do that but now listen to him confidently talk American, European and Chinese history. Listen to him talk about recent world history, Classical Greek times…. you get the picture.

He’s expanded his knowledge on the animal kingdom.

He’s getting great marks now in English Literature. Macbeth, Animal Farm are well within his grasp.

A year ago we were fighting to get him support for his dyslexia. He needed assistance to read even the simplest text. A year at home and he hardly ever needs to ask for help with reading. He can do it himself. Yes he has to skip some words but now he can read articles on line. He can read books now. Slowly yes, but read definitely. 7 years of classroom teaching and he’s made the leap forward at HOME.

I’m no superman. No Yoda. No expert in teaching. Watch me look blankly in most subjects. I’m a bang average parent. Homeschooling has just suited Hawklad. He’s more relaxed. Can pace around. Can jump around subjects. Take breaks. Look at things he wants to. No pressure asking questions, no anxiety putting his have up in front of an overcrowded classroom. It just works for him.

Here’s the thing, the traditional classroom will suit some children. But not everyone. So why do THEY force all kids through the same hoops. Through the same moulds. Through the same exam routes. If the last 12 months has taught us anything it’s that we need to cater for all children. One path just isn’t enough.

Cracks

How easy is it to slip through the cracks.

It took too many years to get any support and help for Hawklad. A lot of important time during his key development years were missed. He was labelled with the following tags and descriptions…

A loner

Below average attainment

Having issues

Poor concentration

Under performer

Some discipline issues

Can’t sit still

Clumsy

Accident prone

Messy eater

Untidy

Behind national targets

Easily distracted

Needs to work on the basics

Does he need better discipline at home

Then it all changed when a group of Doctors and education experts finally issued a medical letter confirming

Aspergers

ADHD

Dyslexia

Dyspraxia

To get there was a nightmare. Yes it felt like a never ending slog. An ordeal. Constantly fighting the system. You end up doubting yourself. Are we just being pushy parents. Should we just fall back into line.

In the end our son was one of the lucky ones. Too many great kids don’t get the chance to shine. Wrote off. Misunderstood. They never get the support they need because they fell through the cracks in the system. A system which still has such poor levels of awareness, too many stereotypes, too few resources in specialised services.

It shouldn’t be like this.

Frustration

It looks like Yorkshire. It feels like Yorkshire. Its moody, dark, windy and cold. It is Yorkshire. Some places are perfect for growing olives, oranges, pineapples and coconuts. The climate in some places are just perfect for fantastic wine. Here in Yorkshire the climate is perfect for Rhubard…..says it all doesn’t it.

How difficult can a Science test be.

The answer – a nightmare.

40 minutes to complete 20 questions. Sounds easy. Questions about Pressure, Force, Springs and Moments. Not easy for Hawklad but seemed to get there. Worked stuff out in his head. But that’s only part the story. The real story is trying to get the answers to the teacher. He can answer the questions in his head but then struggles to record them. It’s such an effort to type or write for him that he losses the answers he has in his mind. He can confuse himself or just forget. Even trying to write and type as he goes along doesn’t work, it seems to disrupt his thinking. Ends up going round in circles.

The other option is a scribe. But talking out aloud makes him nervous and makes it harder for him to answer correctly. Often what he describes is different to the answer he has visualised.

How frustrating must that be.

Blink

Blink and it’s gone. Blue sky.

I remember back to my school days. Apart from living in caves and avoiding the dinosaurs, I was like most kids. Some stuff went in to my head easily, other stuff not so easily. Stuff about Physics, Mathematics and Geography went in. Subjects like History the dates would take a lot of effort to stick. Subjects like Chemistry I was ok. However French I was awful, it might as well have been a foreign language…. Biology I was not much better.

Today I was trying to help Hawklad understand Chemistry. He struggles to visualise chemical reactions. So trying to calculate reaction energy levels was a nightmare for him. Whatever we did he just couldn’t see it. That’s the thing with Hawklad, maybe that’s the thing with his Aspergers. He gets blind spots. They go beyond the dyslexia issues. With dyslexia if you read out the word then he can understand what he’s trying to learn. But these nothing seems to shed light for him. Some things he just can’t process and visualise. With a subject like French it’s a massive blind spot. History there are zero blind spots. But with other subjects he can understand most things really well but randomly encounters these blind spots.

Mathematics it’s decimals and volumes

Biology it’s cell structures and names

Design Technology it’s visualising 3D designs

Geography it’s grid references and grid lines

Physics it’s magnetism

Home Economics it’s cooking times

And Chemistry is chemical reaction equations

He can be going along swimmingly then encounter one of these areas and it completely stops him in his tracks. We kind of ignore them now. Blink and move on. Focus on all of the many areas he can make progress on. Hope that the blind spots don’t come up too many times in his main exams.

At the moment that’s our plan.

Options

Something rather bizarre happened today here in Yorkshire. It was sunny with lots of blue sky. Most unusual.

Just after the dinosaurs had become extinct I was as at school. A time before home computers. A time when a domestic microwave was about as expensive as a Fusion Reactor. I was leaving secondary school just as MTV was starting. Definitely a different era. So you would expect a few limitations in the schooling system. Like the options available to kids in our sink school. A poor school in a poor working class area.

I remember the school option meeting. No parents. Just the snotty kid, the careers advisor and the headteacher. It basically went like this for me.

********

What options do you want to take?

I would like to take Latin, French and I would like to learn to program using something like Pascal.

Why?

Because I want to go to university.

Kids round here don’t go to university. You get jobs in the Chemical Works, the Steel Plant. The really smart ones might get a job as a clerk in a bank in the high street.

I don’t really fancy that.

We don’t offer those subjects anyway. Your option choices are woodwork, metal work or home economics. That’s cooking to you son…

*********

That conversation always stuck with me. Clearly stuck with a the others in my year. I was the only one to make university. I managed to scramble through a system setup for the benefits of the local economy and not for the pupils. Fast forward all those thousands of years. We find ourselves in 2021. Surely a more enlightened time. When microwaves are really cheap but bizarrely a 24 pack of toilet rolls is harder to get hold of than a Fusion Reactor.

We are looking at Hawklads option choices. He has to take Mathematics, Sciences and English. But has to choose four more subjects. It’s strongly recommended that French is selected. Which is odd as school are super keen for him to ditch that subject. One option really does suit him – History. As his last teacher told him before she left – ‘you know the subject better than I do’. And he loves history. Then it’s going to be Geography. He is ok with that subject but it’s never really fully connected with him. Two options left….

Here is where the problems start. PE might have been an option but it’s an essential requirement that you represent the school or a club in a sport. So that’s out. Information Technology would have been an option but the last two years of force feeding coding has broken his will in that one. The other handful of options just do not suit him at all. No interest in them. The teaching methods don’t suit him. No connection with the teacher. Or it’s an area he really struggles with.

It really does feel like the schooling system is still not truly aimed at the pupils. Take what you are offered rather than let’s see what really works for the individual. The schools take is rather than look for alternatives let’s just let him not select 4 options. He could maybe only do 3 or 4 exams as that would potentially help him pass something. OK.

So what is he going to do. Well he’s going to randomly pick two more options for now. Go through the hoops in case he sticks with mainstream schooling. But we are going to look at proper alternatives. What subjects can we find which are outside of the school remit which really interest him. That’s how education should be. That’s how it should have always been.

L

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’.

Them

The sun continues to shine down on the school at home project. Sun shining down – is that the right phrase. Maybe not.

Those lines may not be grammatically correct.

Maybe the sun would shine if the teachers, parents and children could be left to get on with the process. Unfortunately we are not trusted. The current so called government needs to be in control. Apparently they know best.

So maybe this is a more apt photo.

The government wants to control what subjects are taught, what material is used and what material can’t be used. But it doesn’t stop there. They try to control how lessons are taught. Dictating the methods used by teachers.

That has become even more clear during these last 10 months.

Free thinking is to be avoided. Teaching must be prescriptive and follow the required process. Children must learn the same steps in the same way. It doesn’t matter if it doesn’t work for the child, at least they will remember the basics. It’s more important that they learn to spell a prescribed set range of words perfectly rather than acquire a wide vocabulary. It’s more important to learn the set rules of grammar than to develop a love of writing. Mechanism over creativity.

From the age of 5 to 12 Hawklad went through the education production line. The net result was that he couldn’t read. Teacher reports listing him as low attainment and unable to keep up with the curriculum. Ten months of working from home and now his reading is progressing so well. Ok he might struggle with many of the set grammar rules. He will get marked down for that. But he has found his own way of reading. A method that works which goes against the set governments reading method. That’s something teachers are not allowed to try.

The education of our children is too important to be left in the hands of self absorbed pillocks like Williamson and Gibbs. It’s time for a schooling revolution. It’s time to let teachers teach and to let our children really learn. Learn the way that best suits THEM.