Another week.

So that’s the first week of the next instalment of our school at home project. The first was when the whole school was doing online education. This time most of the school is back but our son is still trying to home school via online education.

So how has it gone?

I think the best word to use is Patchy. Actually two words – Very Patchy.

A few teachers are making sure that Hawklad is keeping up. They try to share as many class notes as possible. Provide structured work and will mark it. Then you get some teachers who send a few summary notes, not much but at least it gives us a feel for what our son should be looking at. Then some teachers are just dumping the whole terms class assignments across (without instructions). So for one subject that was a single 70 page document filled with questions. No idea how much and when the work is submitted. No idea the format. Poor Hawklad is convinced that he needs to complete all the booklet right now. So much stress for him. Then you get some subjects where we get absolutely nothing. And I mean nothing. In terms of pastoral care again it is nothing.

So definitely very patchy. Speaking to school I suspect that will be the case going forward. Fingers crossed that those teachers trying to support Hawklad will continue to do so. It’s good to have a few subjects where Hawklad feels like he is on top of things. Keeping up with his classmates.

At present we are working on getting through to the end of October and have another think about things. It’s a milestone to work to but it is highly likely that it won’t represent the end of the project. Hawklad is just starting on a very long road of help and counselling. Any progress is likely to be hard fought and slow. The School at a Home project will be a long one, well past the next 7 weeks.

Much patience is required and never losing sight that his wellbeing always comes first. Schooling comes behind that.

Another sign

Another sign. Another sign that autumn is fast approaching.

Signs are always useful. Like signs from school. Signs telling us what on Earth are we supposed to be doing.

School did say that the individual subject teachers would be hopefully in touch to let Hawklad know what he is supposed to be doing while he is doing the enforced ‘school at home’ project. Teachers are really busy. We are not expecting one to one help or lots of telephone calls. But I was hoping for maybe just one email for each subject just summarising the work requirement for the lesson or the week. Maybe another email to check if he is doing ok.

So far only one teacher has emailed once setting out what is expected of Hawklad for that subject. Luckily one of the new Teaching Assistants is really trying to help as well. She is attempting to contact the teachers and remind them about Hawklad. She has sometimes obtained some more information that she has passed onto us. But she is struggling as well. Plus she has her existing class responsibilities which she can’t just drop.

So in a nutshell we are really none the wiser about what is going on in most of the classes. We don’t even know what topics are being looked at. So the school day consists maybe of one 90 minute block when Hawklad can do a reasonably full lesson. The rest of the day is filled with looking at blank screens and empty school email boxes. All we can do is wait and randomly pick some educational videos to watch. It’s all so very frustrating.

So definite signs of Autumn arriving, signs of meaningful school help would be most welcome.

Morning has broken

The scene after I had just finished my early morning exercise session. I might be tired but it’s so nice exercising outside, in the sun, and yes when it’s almost warm. Not so much fun in a few months time when it’s freezing, dark and chucking it down with rain.

Well finally school has broken into some action.

  • A confirmed timetable
  • A list of teachers
  • Some class materials starting to appear on the system
  • Some work assigned
  • A method of submitting work kind of established.

Took some negotiating but at least we have a start. Something to work with.

Ok Dad it’s your favourite subject, ART. What do you know about Japanese Art? And don’t mention Manga…”

Errrmmmmmmm. Let me think for a few minutes. Manga!

Useless Dad. Ok apart from Manga what do you know about Japanese Art?

Errrmmmmmmm. Godzilla.

That’s not much help. Apart from Magna and Godzilla, what do you know about Japanese Art?”

Errrmmmmmmm. Mothra and Ghidorah

Still not much help DAD. So apart from Godzilla monsters do you know anything about Japanese Art?”

What about Rodan.

Dad no more Godzilla monsters. Your basically going to be not much help as usual.”

Yes Hawklad, sadly no help at all unless Art becomes a Godzilla Fight Scene.

Useless. Mum would have been a great help. She was great with Art and Culture. I’m stuck with comic boy…”

Yes but your mum would be no use when King Ghidorah attacked. It’s all about priorities. And your mum liked comics. I once bought her the complete TinTin comic compendium.”

Don’t you think mum would have preferred some flowers.”

Probably……

But in my defence the previous Christmas your mum had bought me a ‘Dance Hits of the 80s’ cd. She knew a metal head like me would really appreciate that type of music. So you don’t always get what you want.

Bit like me and wanting a parent who might know just a little bit about Japanese Art…”

The third sequel

The third sequel already. The Trilogy done in one day. Eat your heart out Peter Jackson.

So this is the third instalment in the ‘what has changed over the 6 months of pandemic isolation’ saga. This time it’s what has changed for me. I guess this one is called The Return of the Kermit the Frog King. So what has changed then for me.

  • With Hawklads increasingly pronounced Social and Health related anxieties the last six months have seen a ramping up of the parenting pressures. Fewer breaks, more challenges and yes less support. In the UK small amount of support that has survived the Conservative Funding Cutbacks largely stops when kids hit the teenage years.
  • Have become a home educator. A school facilitator. A Classroom Supplies specialist. Much smirking…. After 6 months I’m still winging it.
  • I’m sleeping less. Much less. Just can’t seem to reset the insomnia cycle.
  • Certainly more isolated in terms of actually meeting people outside our little bubble. In 6 months I’ve seen family members twice, one work colleague (and good friend) maybe three times, neighbours a handful of times, the local shop workers maybe a couple of times a month, the dentist once, one visit from the boilerman, a few health workers and doctors. That’s about it. Oh actually forgot one person. The Postman, the only person I see regularly. I count his fairly frequent waves as my most regular physical contact. Luckily I have lovely online friends.
  • With not meeting too many people I’ve started noticing human life more. I notice dog walkers in the fields, cyclists, passing cars, voices from the street, even planes in the sky. A reminder that a bigger world still exists out there.
  • My conversation skills have never come easy to me. I have to work on and practice them. That’s just not happened for months. Even on most phone calls I can feel myself becoming increasingly wooden.
  • My largely unseen dress sense is becoming increasingly avant-garde.
  • I have lost 6lbs but you wouldn’t notice it. Having to resort to consuming far too much Soya (Soy) which isn’t great for my tummy. No I’m not pregnant.
  • I’ve stopped running and walking and road cycling. Must admit it’s not doing my old contact sport injuries any good. Bits are starting to seize up. So I’m trying to find my inner Yoga. Or as I call it Controlled Falling Over.
  • Work has dried up. This was supposed to be a really busy year. Lots of new jobs and major events. In practice that all was cancelled. Remains cancelled. Some plans have been put in place but really I’m not going to get much work until 2021.
  • I’m more able to fill my day without leaving our little household world. No need to visit shops daily, coffee shops, cinema, visit family or friends. I’m not saying it’s a good thing, but it comes easier to me now.
  • I do tend to overthink things now. Can have days when I do sober too much time internalising stuff. With me that’s not necessarily a good thing. It’s such a short stroll to self doubt and negativity.

Yes things have changed for me. They will continue to change as our personal lockdown is not going to end anytime soon. Potentially months more, maybe much longer. With us being an Aspergers Family that was kind of in place before the pandemic. Maybe many of these changes were already happening before the March lockdown. They have just become more pronounced. Maybe these are longer term changes. Maybe it’s much more than a three episode trilogy. Maybe it’s a permanent feature.

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…

***********

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.

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.

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.

Reality Check

****** this post may descend into shouting at the government *******

Apparently I am many things

  • A bad parent,
  • Scaremonger,
  • Irrational,
  • Unpatriotic,
  • Have no morals,
  • Coward,
  • Selfish,
  • Life chance basher,
  • Union supporter,
  • Left wing troublemaker,
  • Part of the problem.

These are all terms which the government and its chosen media friends have labelled those who have raised doubts over the decision to fully reopen schools. At those parents and teachers who are not yet convinced that schools are as safe as they should be. It’s no surprise as Boris has a mantra – you are with me or against us. Well I’d rather be against you…..

So if the likes of me are going to be demonised well I might as well set out a few facts for Boris. I’m sure he is a facts man.

  • Actually I want schools to open. But I want our schools to be safe for children and adults. I also want them to be modern, inclusive and true sites of learning. Sadly run down cramped classrooms operating under Victorian principles are just not good enough.
  • Repeating ‘they are safe’ over and over again without backing that up with actions isn’t going to win me over. Remember this is the government that said it had thrown a protective wall around care homes – lies – tens of thousands died as a result.
  • No real change has taken place in schools. A few more hand washing facilities. Some one way markings. Giant group bubbles. Masks on school buses, sometimes in corridors but not in classrooms. To Boris why make meaningful change when it’s much easier and cheaper to demonise teachers and parents for any failings.
  • ‘They are safe’ would imply that a deal has been done with the virus so that it won’t venture into school buildings….. Children can get it. Children can pass it on. Adults can get it.
  • By bringing in giant year group bubbles schools are said to be perfectly safe. What about the adults in the system. Teachers, support staff, parents, grandparents.
  • How does the ‘they are safe’ phrase work for pupils and adults with underlying health conditions.
  • How long does it take a government to bring in an effective testing and tracing system. In March we were told we had a world class one. April we were promised a world class one by June. In June we were told it wasn’t a priority anymore. In August they can’t decide if we need one or not.
  • It’s ok showing glossy pictures of modern classrooms with a handful of pupils studying in socially distanced bliss BUT the reality is that too many children are crammed in crumbling classes with at least 30 other classmates and teachers – social distancing is impossible for them.
  • Issuing pandemic guidance to schools on a Friday before many schools open again 3 days later is beyond shambolic.
  • Young people gathering outside a school in groups of 30 are liable to be fined £10000 for breaking social distancing rules yet put them in a class and suddenly it’s completely safe.
  • Parents considering the safety of their children are not the threat to life chances. The threat to life chances is a government that intentionally messed up the exam grading process for thousands of pupils this August – many have lost university places as a result. It’s a government that is hell bent on taking education back to the 19th century. It’s a government that intentionally discriminates against children with learning disabilities. It’s a government that sees kids taking time off for bereavement as an extended holiday.
  • So parents will be fined for not sending their kids into school even if they think it’s not safe. Yet Boris fully backed his Chief Advisor when he broke lockdown rules. He apparently was doing what any caring parent would do. So a caring parent would drive 200 miles as a family to their grandparents country estate hours after testing positive. Stopping off for petrol on the way. Then a couple of days later drive 30 miles on your wife’s birthday to a tourist location. Apparently this was to test the advisor’s damaged eyesight and to see if he was fit to drive – with their poor toddler sat in the back seat. It’s not even double standards.

In short the real enemy to our children is not parents. It’s not teachers. It’s not even a virus. It’s the Government.

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…..

Line them up

Well the nurse counsellor did arrive. At the height of the storm. Due to working restrictions she was not allowed in the house. So it was plan b. Move my car next to the counsellor’s car. Windows down and you have a mobile meeting facility. The session went well. The counsellor seems really good. It’s a start. Start of a long road. But a start it is.

He will now get appointments every two weeks now. Let’s hope progress can be made. The counsellor is also going to write to the school to confirm that he is under health care at present and is not medically cleared to return. Hawklad has come to the conclusion that he just can’t go back to school at present. Even with professional help now, this could take many months before school might become a possibility for him. Until he can feel be reasonably comfortable being around people and ok to touch surfaces then school is but a pipe dream. Will he ever go back – just don’t know.

The Deputy Chief Medical Officer yesterday said that schools were perfectly safe. Apparently children are more at risk from road accidents than from catching the virus. I can’t think of many more insensitive ways of making a point – that’s going to really hurt those families who have lost loved ones on the road. I’m also not entirely reassured by her words. I remember a few other of her words over the last few months

  • The Government response to the pandemic has been exemplary……
  • The UK pandemic approach had been very successful……
  • Large Public Gatherings and Sporting events are perfectly safe, no need to stop attending them. That was at a time Europe had banned those and a few days later we did the same. She even encouraged people to attend the countries largest horse racing event just a couple of days before the country went into lockdown – the infection spread from that event has been scary.
  • People should be more adult when they discussed PPE shortages. It wasn’t such a big issue for healthcare and care workers…..
  • The UK didn’t need to test, test, test for the virus as we were a First World Country.

We all want to get schools open. But it has to be done correctly. Just grouping kids into giant year group bubbles then squeezing them back into cramped classrooms with at least 30 other people isn’t good enough. Asking kids to wear masks on buses, sometimes in corridors and not in classrooms is just a mess. Not exploiting online education to ease some of the space issues is a massive mistake. Only offering testing after the virus has been encountered just repeats the mistakes we have repeatedly made as a country. We’ve had months to get this school return right.

I really feel for those parents and children who are returning to schools. For some it is a easy decision and the return can’t come quick enough. For others it is not easy. For those with underlying health conditions it is a calculated risk. For us that decision has probably been kicked into touch for a while longer.

Don’t you just love 2020.