Fingers crossed

Still cold but a heatwave apparently is on the way. A few days at 1C. Then after that it’s either wet and windy or a plunge back into the freezing stuff again. Think I will take the freezing stuff. We get far too much of the wet, gnarly stuff and that’s just in summer.

I’ve just finished the morning exercise. Been trying to drag out the workout for as long as possible. It’s so much better than what is to follow…..

I’m trying to work through a 56 page application form. Having to reapply for a small benefit which we get. Only small but it currently makes such a difference. Especially at a time when work is so thin on the ground. Likely to be thin on the ground for some time. Had hoped it would start to pick up in March but that is looking over optimistic. Maybe the Summer. But on the bright side I still do have a job, many have lost theirs. Work is at such a premium.

It’s ironic to look back before the pandemic. I was trying to find a new job that would better suit the homeschooling role which might be needed down the line. I was looking at so many options. Well that homeschooling gig crashed into effect and not in the way that I had envisaged. Due to the pandemic suddenly all the alternative work options have disappeared. It’s now about hoping that I can keep my current job that at least partly fits the homeschooling role. The current full time homeschooling role which may become permanent.

So at present this benefit form needs completing and it’s taking seemingly for ever. Question after question. Trying to find evidence to justify the answers. The problem is that the government has tightened up the eligibility criteria. It’s requiring more evidence. Adding more steps and hurdles. Up to date clinical opinion is required. How does that fit with waiting more than two years to see a paediatrician. Unable to access services due to cut backs. A pandemic. It doesn’t….

So just got to wade through the form. Submit it and see if the benefit continues in March. Fingers crossed.

No one ever asks

It’s been a little wet over the last few days. The sheep have got themselves a couple of paddling pools. We might give those a miss. I guess no one will be to upset about that.

I have a questionnaire to fill out about school and it’s services. Looking at lots of areas.

Teaching quality, subject material, classroom facilities, school meals, communication, discipline, bullying, uniform, school transport, sports facilities, IT, websites, outside clubs…..

Lots and lots of areas. So many questions.

What’s revealing is not the questions being asked but those which are not asked. Ones which are never asked. Questions about Autism and Aspergers support. Dyslexia support. Learning Disability support.

No one ever asks. It’s not just our school. It’s across the board. No one ever asks. We live in a world driven by performance measures and league tables. Yet no one ever asks….

I wonder why that is.

No surprise

Most definitely a nice change today….

So the end of term school report has arrived. When I say arrived I mean an email appeared informing me that the report was available online. After 3 hours of trying to get the app to work finally a unique set of parameters opened up the report. Fifth cup of decaf, third chocolate bar, complete packet of biscuits, the clock striking midnight and me threatening to hurl the laptop out of the window. All this worked.

So is the report a surprise! Sadly not. It’s as expected.

  • Just grades, target grades, performance and behaviour grades. A mass of numbers and seemingly random letters. Absolutely no narrative from the teachers.
  • No information on areas of weakness or plans of action.
  • No test scores. No work feedback.

Almost feels like one of those automated factory production cards. Cold, faceless, uncaring. So what do the numbers and letters tell me. Hawklad is still seen as low attainment. The work I’ve seen in a number of subjects not reflected in the expected final exam grades (another 2 and a bit years time). A subject where his last teacher told me that he knows the subject better than the teachers is marked as just about squeaking a pass. Another subject in which he regularly gets 100% on the online teaching app tests is listed as an expected subject fail. A handful of subjects listed as expected passes (most just the lowest pass grades). Bizarrely one of which is a subject the school want him to drop as they are not prepared to provide any additional help. No mention of why some of his expected grades are falling. No mention of what action is needed to reverse that.

No surprise at all really. For children like our son the approach is to set the bar low. No need to invest in potential then. Then any results at the end are seen as a real bonus. Evidence that the education system is clearly working 🤯. What that really means is too many are left to stagnate. Too many are let down by the system.

So yep no surprise at all.

Help

This is my favourite place to put my hot drink mug. Just the right size. Nice height. Views over the farmers fields. It was kind of the people who built the house to put this here all those years ago.

Sometimes you just have to do things yourself.

I remember having a conversation with a leading clinical psychologist just before she retired. She told me about the UK Health Service and its approach to kids like Hawklad. She was so disheartened. Increasingly parents have to fight for any support. The Government (this government) are intentionally making it more difficult to access public services and receive support. The view from the top is that it’s not the responsibility of tax payers to fund these things. It’s down to the individual. The more you can afford the better the service you can secure. The psychologist warned me that as soon as Hawklad became a teenager the services which have been secured will start to ebb away. Reviews by ‘independent’ managers will suddenly find him just above the support threshold and he will be removed from the support list. When he gets to adult life she said the support would be completely gone.

Hawklad turned 13 this year so where do we stand…..

  • He hasn’t seen a Paediatrician in two years (was supposed to be every 6 months). He has dropped down the priority list and is at the wrong end of the waiting list.
  • Zero help from school on his dyslexia. The NHS is prevented from providing any support as it has to come from Education budgets now.
  • Zero help with his Aspergers. The psychologist was not replaced when she retired and the service is on hold (4 years now).
  • Zero help with his ADHD as he was reassessed as being above threshold.
  • He did receive physio therapy help with his dyspraxia. He was due to start a programme to help with his writing and keyboard difficulties. But two weeks before the programme was due he was seen by an Independent assessor (never worked with Hawklad before). After 3 quick tests which lasted 4 minutes he was assessed as being above threshold and the service was withdrawn.
  • Grief Counselling still officially waiting…
  • The last support he has is an anxiety counselling service. But sine his last wonderful support worker was moved on, the service has started to dwindle away. No idea when the next support session will happen. He’s unable to venture out of his house ot touch objects due to his anxieties BUT as he is not in physical danger then he is classed as a low priority.

Sometimes predictions come true.

Sometimes you have to do things yourself .

Clear the mist.

A brief break in the weather but then within minutes it’s back to this.

Another home at school week almost done. One more to go before the holiday break. A break which will start a day early. Schools have been asked at very short notice by the so called Government to consider closing before next Friday. Friday is when the National pandemic restrictions are relaxed for a week or so. Apparently they are worried about running schools at the same time as having limited restrictions in the place. So our school is reluctantly closing early.

I’m sure the kids won’t lose too much sleep over that.

So where do we find ourselves on the school at home project. Well Hawklad is still gamely plodding along. If it’s in the right direction – who knows. I guess we will find out in the next week or so when the term reports are sent out. That’s the thing Hawklad just doesn’t really know. Yes knowing what he has to do in the lesson has improved. Most of the subjects now have a teaching assistant who will either email him or will put some lesson material on the online system. Unfortunately there still are subjects that either just dump some random documents onto the system without any explanation or just forget about him. But at least most subjects are working better.

The real problem is feedback or the lack of it. There are 3 or 4 subjects that do try to give feedback. Not as much as he got in class but it’s still good feedback. A couple more subjects where he might get the very occasional brief comment. But in too many subjects he has had zero feedback. Nothing in a whole term. Not even marks back from work or homework submitted.

So yes we wait with baited breath for the term report. We don’t even know if he will be marked as having 100% attendance or as 100% missing in action. Hopefully that report will clear some of the mist….

Argument

One leaf in the corner of the garden. It definitely has a story to tell.

I was looking at a Social Media exchange about a secondary school in another part of the country. Parents were discussing how good the place was or wasn’t. Clearly it was quite a heated exchange. On one side you had comments like

It’s a great school…

Look at the grades the kids get…

It gets fantastic OFSTED ratings…

My daughter is likely to get straight A’s thanks to the teaching…

I love the school. It has discipline and look at the results it gets…

My daughter won an award for Drama because the school pushed her…

Fantastic teachers,

You always get a minority who are never happy…

Well if your not happy take your child to another school

Well homeschool then, miss out on the special treatment you son gets then…

And on the other hand you got comments like…

My child has just been dumped in the bottom class,

The teachers don’t care,

My daughter is getting no help, just left to fall behind,

My son keeps quiet and doesn’t cause any trouble in class. Wish he did as the teacher might start spending some time with him,

I’m not sure the teachers even want to know that he has ADHD,

School is not bothered that my son is scheduled to get no grades,

It is useless at helping kids out who have special needs.

That last line gives the basis of the argument away. The English School System provides one model of teaching for all pupils. It works for some kids but unfortunately a few too many are left behind. Increasingly special education is seen as a distraction to the main school function. An unnecessary drain on resources. You see articles in the Press basically talking about those children getting funding to cover additional needs as a gravy train for parents. That approach mirrors government thinking. Yes schools are given some targets for educational need but a school that fail in this area can still be seen as Excellent. The key is hitting the limited exam, performance management, how well they stick to the curriculum and the financial targets set for them.

I bet you can guess what side of the argument I would have been on. But I would add one important thing. All schools have good, dedicated teachers. Teachers who care. But they can’t provide for those children with additional educational needs when they are hamstrung by government. Where they are undervalued and trying to teach classes with up to 30 children crammed into them. With a set and unwieldy curriculum which must be strictly followed. I remember a conversation with school about computing. The teachers shared my frustration at having to teach Hawklad so much coding. Coding is a nightmare for dyslexics and some on the spectrum to learn. But they had to teach him that because it was a key part of the national curriculum set by government. Surely we can find a way of teaching all kids which offers the change to offer different learning routes depending on the individual.

A school can be excellent and at the same time fail to many of the next generation.

Which way

In life you get asked so many questions. But some questions keep repeating themselves. Like the classics ‘Are we there yet?’ and ‘where’s the remote control?’.

Then there are other questions. More vexing questions. One question keeps popping up. I’ve been asked this by family members, other parents, teachers and even once a nurse. It does have a number of variants but it’s basically the same question

Will your son get better?

Will his Aspergers improve?

Will his Aspergers improve as he gets older?

I’m no clinical specialist. Just a bumbling parent. But here’s my take on the question.

Aspergers is a lifelong syndrome. It’s not going to get better. Its not going to be cured. It’s not going to disappear. What might change is that over time the individual and the family may develop strategies to help deal better with some of the situations life will throw at them. Also some of the specific symptoms may fluctuate over time. For example in a number of individuals something like repetitive hand flapping may become less prevalent with age. Also Aspergers often coexists with a number of other conditions – dyspraxia, ADHD, dyslexia…. It is possible that some of these conditions could improve with time. For example our son has with hard work started to overcome some of the issues which his dyspraxia and dyslexia had caused him in his earlier years.

So yes it is possible that improvements may occur. But here’s the thing, it’s not guaranteed. Each individual case is different, unique. Things may stay the same with age. They can also get worse with age.

So we just don’t know.

The Clinical Psychologist who did the full review of our Son was quite clear. The majority of his Aspergers related traits will stay with him over his life. However at around the teenage period changes may start to occur. It could go either way. He could become fully independent or he may regress and may need some form of life long support. She talked through a number of possible scenarios. One scenario was that some improvements would occur potentially in the areas of dyslexia and the diminishing of some of the repetitive behaviours. Another scenario painted a downturn in his existing anxieties and fears. This could occur naturally during his teenage years or could be triggered by a single significant event which effects his view of the world. Tips the balance in his risk assessments of the world. This could lead to significant mental health concerns and potentially social isolation. Where we are sat currently, we are not a million miles away from that scenario. The triggers – the death of his mum, a pandemic, his teenage years…. He is currently physically cut adrift from the world. His fears and anxieties ramped up to the rafters.

Nothing is set in stone. We just have to go with the flow and see what life brings. It could be still be a fully independent life. But it could also entail a lifelong requirement for support. In this country we don’t cater for the latter scenario. Support has to be fought and won for young children. That support is at best is patchy. During the teenage years the support tends to be reduced due to funding cut backs. By early adulthood the support has completely vanished. That’s a sobering thought for parents in this position. It really is.

It’s wet

It’s definitely wet today. Pouring down and very cold. All rather depressing so let’s take the time to look at a bit of nature’s colour.

Do you ever have those conversations. Those conversations where the words seem to head in one direction but actual the conversation clearly ends up in a totally different place. Ever so frustrating.

I’ve spoken to school about Hawklads enforced school at home project. I thought I had explained to school that although it’s kind of working it was far from ideal. In particular

  • He is getting absolutely zero feedback. He is submitting work but getting nothing back. The other kids are clearly getting marks and comments back. That’s clear from some of the teacher comments on the set work tasks. But those comments are always aimed at other pupils. If he doesn’t get feedback then what is the point.
  • Have the teachers forgotten that he is dyslexic. Comments like ‘if I don’t get round to sending you tasks for the lesson then just read a book on the subject’ don’t really help….
  • Have the teachers forgotten that he has difficulty in hand drawing. He struggles with fine motor skills. I can’t believe the number of times the set task is to hand draw something – unbelievably that is currently not Art.
  • Some of the subject teachers are still completely forgetting about Hawklad. No subject material at all has been made available.

Anyway the school seemed very supportive, so surely job done. Clearly not as the school responded with an email basically saying that they were happy that things where going so well. They will keep going with the current approach and they hoped that we would keep in touch…..

Sounds like it’s time for me to most definitely stay in touch with them right now.

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.

*********

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…..

Differences

Wild Strawberries growing under the blueberry bush. Certainly wasn’t expecting these to grow here but with an open mind, this is such a result.

The decision to abandon mainstream schooling is in our son’s hands. It’s his life. His risks. His anxieties. His dreams. His future. So ultimately he decides. If it was my call then I’ve made my mind up. It would be homeschooling from September. That viewpoint has hardened with the last two communications from school.

The first was a summary of the schools position. Basically son is low attainment and has significant educational needs. Progress will be difficult. His educational needs are best met in the bottom set. With effort he may still be able to get a few qualifications. He is best following the normal teaching programme with no specific interventions (which would eat into tight school budgets).

Ok….

Then the next communication was his school report for the year. It painted a slightly different picture. To quote a few phrases from his individual teachers

  • Strength for creative writing,
  • Worked hard to produce some fantastic work,
  • Excellent attitude,
  • Will progress very well in subject,
  • His remote learning has been great,
  • He is a star,
  • Class work of the highest standard,
  • Superb young historian,
  • Considerable talent in the subject,
  • Very good understanding of the subject,
  • Pleasure to teach.

Ok….

Two conclusions here. One is that the report comments are standard across all the kids and so they mean nothing. Just a way to keep parents happy.

OR

The report comments are the reality and something is seriously wrong with schools overall assessment.

I strongly suspect this is a common pattern across the country. It mirrors current government thinking. If thinking is the right word to use. Basically kids with educational needs do not fit neatly into the factory production line educational approach. Minimise input costs to generate a set and limited output. Discard those items which fall out of the narrow design specification. Educational needs equate to additional teaching costs which will not be funded. Thus the best approach is to dump kids with Autism, Dyslexia, Dyspraxia, ADHD, disabilities and mental health issues into the bottom set. Conveniently forget about them. If these kids then get the odd qualification out of the system then the authorities can pat themselves on the back after a job well done. Let’s not forget the important thing, all this delivered all so cost effectively.

Maybe I am being cynical but that’s the reason I am definitely falling into the homeschooling camp.