Silverback

Must cut my grass…..

One of those days where you line up a full day of work and then son wakes up with a temperature…. One too many coughs and he’s off sick. One too many sneezes and he’s contaminated me. Deep joy.

Still a day off from school will delay yet another bust up with the teachers. Maybe get my stress levels down to just below meltdown level.

In one subject last year he had a great teacher who seemed to get dyslexia. At the Parent Evenings she would tell us that in her opinion our son was as good as anyone in the subject in the school. She would say ok he struggles to write the knowledge down on paper – but we can find ways round that to suit him. It was refreshing to hear a teacher say that the key thing is the actual subject matter not the written English – that’s got its own subject anyway.

Unfortunately that teacher left. The replacement teacher seems to follow the school line. Neat handwriting and spelling come first, subject matter second. So now son is seen as low attainment in the subject. This terms homework project requires many pages of handwritten essay work. Points will be given for the quality of the presentation and points lost for things like spelling mistakes. So kids with dyslexia who struggle to write are being set up to fail. The school must know what a huge disadvantage this places on some kids. Oh I forgot – those kids are low attainment so it just proves the point. That’s modern education in England.

So once again I go through the finances to see if I can find a way to homeschool. Once again I fail. It’s at times like this that I feel so frustrated as a parent. It’s like constantly wading through treacle. Every step forward is such an effort. I’m so knackered – lord only knows what our son feels like. Everything seems to be stacked up against us. But sadly I bet if you asked virtually every parent and child dealing with a learning disability then they will say the same thing. It’s a never ending slog. And like all these wonderful parents and kids – we fight on. We love a quote which is maybe from Einstein, but if it isn’t, then it’s still a belter.

“Everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish by it’s ability to climb a tree, it will live it’s whole life believing that it is stupid”

Or the other belter which comes from Spongebob.

“Patrick, you’re a genius!”

“Yeah, I get called that a lot.”

“What? A genius?”

“No, Patrick.”

Talking about genius. Then there is our sons Dad. I’ve been struggling with a Rhomboid injury. I had the bright idea of strapping it up with kinesiology tape. First of all – what a stupid place to put a muscle group. When you don’t have a partner – how in all that is holly am I supposed to get my hands back there… Then having dislocated my shoulders just enough to get my hands next to the Rhomboid I somehow need to attach this super sticky tape neatly across my shoulder blades. With a physio it’s a piece of cake. In my case think disaster. So several strips went on in the wrong place, creased or just badly twisted. But here’s the final insult. Now these useless attempts need to come off. Where in the instructions does it say in big letters – whatever you do if you have a back as hairy as a Silverback Gorilla on no account buy this tape. And if you are stupid enough to apply it to hair then change your name to Mr Stupid from Stupidville.

That’s me and my postal address.

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.

Another odd day

Another odd Yorkshire day. Mixture of sunshine and then chucking in it down. Warmish then freezing. Still and then gales. But it wasn’t just the weather that was odd.

This morning started with a broken works computer system. Won’t be fixed until this – Saturday so that’s several late nighters then to catch up. Didn’t really want any sleep this weekend.

Next came a heated exchange with school. Due to a school admin error son never got his Year 8 injection. Not an issue as the school nurse will be returning next year BUT just a picking minute. If parents or kids make one mistake it’s an automatic negative yet no sanctions on school when they mess up. Apparently in schools case it’s just one of those things as mistakes can happen. Have you had one of those calls where you can feel the blood go from boiling to nuclear. One of those calls where you are increasingly squeezing the life out of the telephone. This was certainly one of these.

The call rapidly moved onto the lack of support for our son and the refusal of school to move him (at least in a couple of subjects) to a higher set. Last school year his Form Tutor told us that he was performing so well even without support from school. She was one of the few teachers who seemed to understand dyslexia and autism. As his marks were in the top 2 of the class then he should be moved up in at least 4 subjects. Unfortunately she left in the summer. On the call school said the Form Tutor was incorrect and it is not just marks that determine academic performance. Now apparently he is viewed as being in the lower middle of his class with many children ahead of him. In effect he is a low performer and any moves up in set are out of the question. The call ended (to the phone handset great relief) with a terse Dad demanding another meeting with school and the council. Not that it will do any good.

Needing to cool the raging core meltdown within I went for a run. A couple miles into the run a hot air ballon appeared over the trees. A quick photo and off I set again. Head down.

Running through the woods I started to hear voices. But nobody was insight on the path. Oh no it’s those Viking Ghosts. Then a roar of a burner above. Now the balloon was directly above and just above the tree line. I’m being buzzed by a mad balloon pilot.

Then a shout and they started waving at me. You wouldn’t be waving if I had a pellet gun with me.

Then it slowly started to rise and off it went.

Just before school finished I had a dreaded dental appointment. Might as well buy a yacht in Monte Carlo – unbelievably expensive. I ended up being told off for trying to be healthy. I have always had lemon water when I am training. Even more since I’ve stopped drinking coffee. The Dentist was not impressed. Apparently lemon (even watered down) is really bad for the enamel. Good job I didn’t mention the super strength lemon drink I have when I wake up. So now I am supposed to switch to Cucumber Water or Thyme Water. Cucumber Water taste like the liquid you drink as the last resort if your stuck in the desert. I’m only guessing that as NO I have not drunk my own …….

One last odd twist. Son came back from school with a letter. The letter was issued to son before my heated argument with school. In a few weeks the school is having an awards night. And son is getting an award for the number of merit awards he got last school year. This is fantastic. BUT. Not sure how this tallies with the schools current assessment of him.

Definitely an odd day.

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.

Dyslexia we are on your case

The dog is happy. His friends are back in the farmers field. And yes I still haven’t moved the shovel from last months gardening. And yes I still haven’t removed the two old Catherine Wheel fireworks from the fence. Wonder what the Guinness Book of Records listing is for the most old Catherine Wheels on a Yorkshire Garden Fence is.

Last night we had been talking football. Namely clubs which go out of business. Son was struggling with the economics of the process.

Dad. Basically with the billions and billions of pounds generated by football how can a great club like Bury be allowed to go out of business. It’s the economics of the madhouse. The rich get richer the poor get poorer.

Can’t disagree with him. Football is just a reflection of our society. Someone bleeds an asset dry then discards it. The person with money moves on leaving a scene of desolation behind for others to live with.

Dad which other clubs have gone out of business. Don’t worry Dad I will google it. How do you spell business.

Within a couple of minutes son is doing a pretty awesome job of reading out an article. Yes he was getting some of the words wrong. He had to ask me to read some words like ‘Maidstone’ and ‘Aldershot’. But I understood fully what was in the article.

He’s found a way of getting by. He can now read pretty accurately about a third of the words. Another third he can get part of the word correct which allows him to guess the rest of the word. And as long as he understands what the subject of the text is then he can guess the remaining words – fill in the blanks. It works. In his eyes he’s moved from can’t read to can ‘sorta’ read.

I fully realise that he is unlikely to have enough trust in the people around him in the classroom to demonstrate this at school. The teachers won’t have the flexibility to exploit this educational opening. But at least now rather than just guessing what text means he can have an educated guess. Even that will help his self esteem. It’s progress. Self achieved progress.