Fractions

A deep blue sky in Yorkshire, WOW….

Today was a tough MATHS day. Hawklad is number dyslexic. Some numbers become inverted when he sees them. It’s a family trait. When I get tired my mind inverts 4’s and sometimes 7’s. But Hawklad has found a way and he can work round this. He can do some phenomenally complicated arithmetic in his head. Often the problem is trying to put that down on paper but he is getting there.

But one area really does struggle with is decimals and fractions. Put a decimal in a calculation and he just can’t process the solution. Even quite straightforward sums become impossible with a decimal added. Fractions, oh fractions. As hard as he tries fractions will just not sink in.

So today was the perfect Maths Lesson storm. Fractions and decimals. He tried, he really tried but it was just not happening. But he isn’t giving up. In his words, he ‘got the better of word dyslexia, this will be next’.

He is so right. Anything is possible. Two years ago he needed almost one to one help to read. Now he is sat reading Lord of the Rings. Anything is possible when you put your mind to it.

Deadline

The one thing we have been careful about is not putting deadlines on the way forward. Somethings can’t be rushed. They have to happen in their own time frames especially as there are so many roadblocks out there. Especially when you get days where it’s one step forward and two back. That applies to my life just as much as it applies to Hawklad’s.

But it feels like a deadline is forming. The start of September. That sees the beginning of the new school year. But it’s different this year. His subject options have been picked. He is starting the final 21 month push towards his main exams. Fall behind now and it’s tough to catch up. This school year is hard enough even without anxieties and fears. Hard enough without having to worry about if it’s homeschooling or the classroom. Delaying a decision to return to the class adds so many complications. Hawklad would face the stress of returning to classes midway through the year. New classes. Different from the ones he left. Different faces. Established relationships and dynamics. That’s a real challenge for anyone but to someone with social anxieties, a nightmare.

Ideally September brings certainty. This is the start of how the learning and schooling goes until the exams. There shouldn’t be any sudden changes of approach. That’s why September feels like a deadline. A really tight deadline. Too tight. So many hurdles still to climb, so many bridges still to be rebuilt. Walking quiet country lanes although great progress is a million miles away from sitting without anxieties in overcrowded classrooms. Just under 8 weeks to do all that.

It’s also not much time to organise a full homeschooling approach leading to something meaningful for him.

Yes it feels like a deadline approaching fast.

Tickets

Homeschooling and intermittent power cuts don’t really dovetail together, ever…. It’s always a good sign that you reach the official school closing time meanwhile in homeschooling land Hawklad has only just finished the first lesson.

So after well over two years an annual health and education review is being organised. An online review and actually a rather intimate review. I remember back to when Hawklad was 8. These reviews were ticket only events. Hawklad, The Head Teacher, his Teacher, a Teacher from his future school, a representative from the local education authority, the Lead Physio, a Speech Therapy expert, a Child Psychologist, an Opthalmologist, a Paediatrician, a Specialist from the local school outreach team and me…..

Fast forward to 2021. The review is pay at the gate. It’s the Head of Inclusion from the school, a representative from the local authority and me. Even Hawklad is refusing to attend 😂. His one support service left, his one last support person is on leave. All the other services have been cut although the need is still there. Yes changed but still there.

This sums up a lot of the support to children on the spectrum in this country. Children are lucky to get any support in the first place. If this eventually arrives then the support drifts away as the teenage years approach. Older teenagers and adults get NOWT.

It shouldn’t be like this.

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.