Groundhog Night

Three hours sleep in two days. All of that came the night before. Surely I should be more tired. Yes a little sleepy. Bags under my eyes – that could be Soya poisoning. Much yawning but still functioning. One of those long nights. Watched happy videos to bring smiles. But eventually the iPad ran out of juice and had to be pipped some of that electricity to bring it back to life. If only we had that option.

Can’t face watching night time TV. Please no QVC or car makeovers. Sleep refusing to come so then it was reading time. A book about a failed climbing expedition. Not happy reading. Loss of precious life, loss of fingers and toes. Was that final reckless push for the top really worth it. Only those climbers will know. My view of success in the mountains was always a little different. Success was seen as returning to camp in one piece with new experiences banked – the summit was just a bonus.

The read and the slow passing night did nothing for my spirit. The clock hands refusing to push forward quick enough. The hours dragging. Mood slowly sinking as fast as my chances of getting any sleep. That feeling of being alone. The iPad still drinking in electricity so no happy videos to lift me up.

Finally the dawn breaks and I’m out in the cool, damp morning air. Probably pushed myself too hard on the exercise. My body didn’t need that but for some reason my mind decided that was what was needed.

Now the day is here. Staggeringly I am not feeling tired. The iPad is back in business again. Quick video, look at some photos. Then a hot drink sat watching the moody Yorkshire skies. My mood lifted. Hawklad will soon be up. Not feeling alone. Almost time to rumble. The day beckons.

Let’s hope it’s not Groundhog Night.

Ski Jumping

This is a special rose. It’s very old and has moved houses several times. Every year I have a goal of keeping it going for one more season. Thankfully it looks after itself.

I’ve talked about trying to become multilingual. Its not easy for me as I even struggle with English. German is my next best language. But currently my learning has been a little unfocused. No real time limited goal to strive for. Previously it was a trip to Switzerland which would spur on the German. Sadly not been there since 2015. I’ve kinda drifted. So I need a new language goal.

At Christmas I will attempt to read a book in German. It might take me ages but I’m going to give it a go. So which book?

I have always loved Alpine Sports. The three which are closest to my heart are Skiing, Biathlon and Ski Jumping. Ski Jumping always seemed the most atmospheric sport to a young lad from boring Yorkshire. Yorkshire is a Cricket loving place. Now you might understand why Ski Jumping looked so cool to me. Over the years I’ve got to understand this cool sport so well. Can name all the hills, the competitors and the coaches. One coach in particular always fascinated me. I loved his passion for the sport. The former Austrian coach Alexander Pointner. But he also has a really tragic back story. His daughter committed suicide. He has battled depression for years. When I’ve heard him talk he has real insight on life when you are at your lowest. He is brutally honest. So that’s the book then.

Now I have a goal. December 1st, I start reading this book.

Ants

The little Apple tree is springing into life. This is the time of year when you can gauge what type of crop it will produce in 5 months. This apple tree does have different yields. Sometimes too much fruit. Sometimes hardly any fruit. This year looks like an ok year.

Sometimes you can get a feel for what a day is going to be like by just looking at the first few minutes.

Dragging myself back into the house after the early morning workout. Desperate for that first warming brew of the day. A particularly zombiefied version of exercise today. Very tired today. So nothing better than entering the kitchen to find ants. Lots of ants. Reaching for the ant poison is not an option with pets. Especially with our big boy cat who is the cat version of Ozzy Osbourne. Any substance is getting sampled. So out comes the one part lemon, one part water spray. Apparently ants don’t like lemon. If that doesn’t work then it’s time for the pepper and the inevitable sneezing cat. A few years back ants was no issue. We had a lovely but psychotic girl cat. The ultimate apex predator. Only creatures with a death wish came in the house. But now it’s up to me to sort this issue out.

So by the time schools version of homeschooling started – I was already feeling like it was way past my bedtime.

Then within minutes the first school crisis. Son has failed to submit a project in time. To be fair to him he was not in the lesson when it was given out to the class. That’s not a valid excuse for school as the child or parent should check the school emails and online files for assigned tasks. We did eventually find the relevant document hidden away in a random class file. To be fair to us – it was like searching for a needle in a haystack – when your not aware that a needle has gone missing. The teacher has granted a couple of days extension but that means son will have little free time this week. At least it gives me another excuse not to start any DIY projects. Not that I need much excuse these days.

The rest of the school day passed in a groggy haze. Trying to explain the vagaries of the English Language and working out why so many marks have been deducted for spelling mistakes. Trying to fathom out why a subject is seemingly asking questions about a completely unrelated area. And finally trying to understand what precisely is the teacher wanting the class to do. I think there is still a lot of merit in putting the questions at the end of a document. The teacher referred to 9 questions in the text but after much searching, we could only find 5.

So it’s back to the kitchen and THE ANTS. Clearly our ants are immune to lemons. So now I must resort to using up my dwindling supply of salt and pepper as weapons of ant destruction. Failing that then it’s testing various other kitchen supplies as ant repellents. Curry Powder, Chilli flakes and Turmeric. Let’s hope ants are not fans of spicy cuisine.

Time

TIME is a funny thing. Walked past here on Friday and hardly any of the white flowers had emerged. 72 hours later after a yucky cold, dark and damp weekend – any hey presto it’s a sea of white.

I remember someone very clever saying that TIME operates at different rates for different people. Thinking about it – that clever person might have been Dr Who. When I was a kid I loved Dr Who. I so wanted to be a Timelord. As a prize for winning a football tournament school arranged a trip to the last day of a Dr Who exhibition. I was super excited. On the way our bus broke down. It took them hours to fix it. Finally we arrived at the exhibition only to find it had closed 5 minutes earlier. How on earth can you miss an exhibition about a time travellerjust doesn’t seem right.

TIME definitely operates at different rates for some of our son’s school teachers. Quite a few of the online classes require the student to read an article or a section of a text book. The amount of reading has definitely increased over the last few school days. The number of follow up tasks has also increased. Strangely the TIME allowed has stayed the same. Exactly where does this approach leave the dyslexic student. I know teachers are super busy but maybe one of them might have asked son how he is coping with reading the course material. They seem much quicker to spot his spelling mistakes. Much better use of TIME.

TIME is also hard to define. School have now rolled out a national learning app primarily aimed at those students who struggle with English comprehension and grammar. Interestingly an app with a rating of 1 out 5 from users (lucky to get 1 by all accounts). Son has been set a weekly app study time of 50 minutes. The teacher will be checking that each student has achieved the weekly minimum study time. Punishments for underachieving. What they don’t mention is that the app uses a lot of videos and narratives. Unfortunately these do not count against the learning time but need to be completed before you can get to the student work areas. When it crashes (and it crashes more times than me on a diet) all learning time is lost and you need to start at the beginning of the section again. So far son has been on the app for just under 3 hours. He’s watched endless boring videos and robotic narratives. He’s still to learn anything new. AND he’s only clocked 20 minutes actual study time.

Dad what is the point of this. I’m bored out of my mind. As you would say, it’s a pile of pants. It’s a complete waste of my time, your time, the teachers time and a waste of bandwidth.”

I fed this back to school with a few of my own rather barbed comments. The school’s response was well we have sent a teacher to be trained in its use, that’s valuable school TIME so we need to keep using it.

Clearly I was wasting my TIME arguing.

End Game

The way forward is shrouded in mist but a clear route is emerging.

As we move into the second week of the Year 8 exams we have a clear state of play emerging. Son is trying his hardest, school clearly is not. Son again was upset this weekend as he clearly thought that school sees him as not very bright and a failure. He found out that he came third bottom in his Drama exam. Well was that surprising when he was given only a short period of time to read questions then an equally short timescale to write answers. Absolutely no help was provided. So clearly autism, dyspraxia and dyslexia do not apply in the world of Drama.

Sadly this has not been an isolated incident.

  • In subjects like Mathematics, Design Technology and French he received zero help. No additional time. No help with reading. Nothing. Maybe help was considered but as Son pointed out

One of the kids broke his hand so the one Teaching Assistant had to scribe for him. Maybe that’s why I didn’t get help. I really struggled to read and understand the questions. Even maths had lots of words I didn’t recognise in the questions.”

  • History did not proved a scribe but he was given a laptop to type his answers in. So he still had to try and read the questions. He was given a laptop because the teacher was concerned about being able to read his handwriting. Problem is that son is waiting for some therapy work to try and help with his typing skills. His typing is slow and very inaccurate. He hadn’t practiced answering test questions on the computer. The computer also had the spelling aids disabled. No additional time was provided.
  • Science and English did provide a scribe. He hadn’t practiced working with the scribes provided. He was really uncomfortable trying to work with the two assistants he had previously had very little interaction with. He had thought incorrectly that he was getting extra time but with a couple of minutes to go the scribe just said the exam is finishing when it’s 10.15. He struggles to tell the time using an analog wall clock. The scribe in English only read out the questions. She was not allowed to read out the passages which he had to answer comprehension questions on.

What was the point. The scribe would tell me things like for this question you need to read lines 5 to 12 of the text then describe what writing techniques the author has used. Well I would if I could actually read the text. Some of the text was using slang language – I struggle with proper language, got no chance with slang.”

So basically it’s been a mess. If his marks are not good then this is going to hit his confidence going forward. Currently school are deadpanning my queries but I guess they will just say that appropriate support was provided and he just needs to work harder. Poor results will confirm their assessment of low attainment. I just hope for his sake that he manages to get some decent marks. I’ve told him that for me it’s not he who is being assessed, it’s school. And clearly school have failed – AGAIN. To quote a reasonably popular movie, it feels like that we are moving to the mainstream education END GAME. No we still can’t truly afford to homeschool but this failure of due care can’t go on. Son deserves better than this.

King Henry III meets manga

It’s been that kinda day. The occasional brief glimpse of the sun then just grey, cold and damp.

Dad that’s so wrong. That’s not Henry II. It should be Henry III. “

Son was talking about a national History Revision package which his school is using. All the kids are expected to revise using this. On history I would never doubt our son. But as this was a national teaching package so I thought I would double check. Yes full marks to Son and the Teachers compiling the package – you must try harder. Yes they were referring to the wrong King Henry.

I also certainly don’t agree with that view of King John. It’s as balanced as the biased tosh Shakespeare wrote about him and Richard III.”

When Son raised this with school they told him that the pack had been compiled by teachers and it had been used by many kids. So basically accept it. I’m happy to report that Son is sticking to his guns and if asked will stick to his version of history. His version which is factually more accurate. If he’s marked down by school for this then stuff them.

It’s been a bizarre set of exams that he’s had to sit. In English and Science he’s been given a scribe. But in the other subjects he’s had no help so he has had to read the papers on his own. He’s certainly been provided with no additional time. I’m still not convinced school has any real idea how to deal proactively with dyslexia and autism. Given this is 2020 I find that staggering. Even with the scribes it’s been far from ideal. At his last school Son knew weeks in advance who his scribe would be. They worked together on a number of dummy test runs to get used to each other. He also received additional time. This week he only found at if he was getting a scribe at the start of the exam. The exam was the first time that he had worked with the person scribing for him. The scribing happened in a room he had never been in before.

“So how did the history exam go Son?”

Well I didn’t get any help. Not sure I read the questions correctly. But I knew the answers to the questions I sort of read. Not sure they will be able to read my answers anyway. I definitely got one question wrong. I knew the answer. But I could not spell the two battle names. In the end they looked more like Pokemon or Manga character names rather than English Civil War sites.”

So if the teacher is reading this

The Battle of Nagato means the Battle of Naseby

And

The Battle of Madoka Mano means the Battle of Marston Moor.

Need the full picture

Glorious weather for this morning’s run?

Looks can be deceiving. Looks good with a creative but of zooming. The actual full picture taken seconds after the first photo tells a different story.

Actually it was a cold, dark and damp run. Only seeing part of the picture can make such a difference.

One of the current on going battles with school relates to our sons dyslexia. What support does he need when answering written class questions or when he’s taking tests. At present he receives no help with reading questions or is given no additional time. The schools argues that because his marks are generally really good then he clearly doesn’t need help. Interestingly school seem to think his marks are too good to warrant help and yet he is classed as low attainment. The other reason school argues for not providing any help is that he doesn’t put his hand up and ask for it. Seriously which kid is going to put his hand up in a class of 30 plus pupils and announce that I can’t read this. It’s not going to happen. I don’t think I would put my hand up if I was in that position.

Let’s look at a few of questions our son has got wrong recently.

How many sides and angles does a parallelogram have?

The teacher was surprised he got this easy question wrong. Now let’s look at how our son reads the question. Remember with his dyslexia he can pick up no more than about half the words with the other words he fills in with educated guesses or leaves them blank. So the question he worked with was

How many sides and a……. does a p………………….. have? He correctly guessed the missing a was angle but the p was more of a problem. Is it parallelogram or Pentagon. He guessed Pentagon as he thought parallelogram would be too easy a question. He answered his maths correctly but got the actual question wrong. No marks. So let’s look at another maths question.

In a sale, the price of a notebook is decreased by ten per cent. What is the new price if the old price was one pound twenty pence?

Need my calculator for this one. Now let’s see the question our son read.

In a s…, the price of a n…………. is d…………. by ten per cent. What is the new price if the old price was one p…….. t………. p………? Suddenly this question goes beyond a calculator. He guessed the d was discounted which was ok but the price he used to work out the answer was one pound thirty pence. He used the right calculation method in his head but on the wrong amount. So he got no marks. His mathematics was perfect but he was penalised for his reading skills. Ok let’s look at a science question.

Tissue is a structure made of many cells performing a similar function and different tissues do different jobs. Which tissue carries the fluid containing nutrients, oxygen and waste products?

This question made me think. Now let’s try to answer the question our son could see

T……. is a s……….. made of many cells p………… a s………. function and different t……… do different jobs. Which t……. c……… the fluid c…………….. n……….., oxygen and w…….. products? To me that now becomes almost impossible to answer. He correctly guessed the T was tissue but was not sure as it could be tongue. He guessed the W was water. Unsurprisingly he didn’t answer this question just leaving it blank. Let’s look at one more question.

Refer only to Paragraphs 3 to 9. How is the author trying to build tension. What emotions are the two Detectives experiencing?

I will address the elephant in the room soon but our son read this question as

R….. only to P………………. 3 to 9. How is the author trying to build t………. . What e……… are the two D………………… e…………………….? Son eventually worked out roughly what the question was asking but it took him quite a bit of time. That’s limited exam time used up before he can even start thinking about answering the question. And the elephant in the room. That’s someone with dyslexia expected to read two pages of literature without help…..

This just does not feel like a level playing field. Not a fare chance. I know school argue that he’s doing ok in tests. But how good could he do with support or with straightforward adjustments. We just don’t know at the moment. Maybe this is his level. Maybe his level is higher. What’s the harm in giving him and kids like him a chance. That question is aimed at school and more importantly the Schools Minister. I wonder if they properly see the big picture.

More rain

And still it rains. And rains. And rains.

And still it rains at school.

French Homework is to complete a crossword. A French Crossword. Marks will be deducted for incorrect spellings.

Dad I can’t even do a crossword in English never mind French. I can remember the sounds but I can’t spell the words. The Teacher knows this but just says I have to try harder.

And we have more…

Drama Homework is to complete an acting related Word Search Game. Really. Very early on his previous school it was identified that he could just not do Word Searches Tables. The Psychologist who looked into this established that for some reason he was not able to visualise letters and collections of letters if they were printed diagonally or backwards. On top of this his dyslexia just made identifying words difficult. As this was stressful for him it was strongly recommended that his education did not use word based games. Fast forward a couple of years and his current school now requires him to do word searches as it’s the set task for the class.

I can see the point of a French Crossword for some kids but how is a dyslexic kid expected to complete this. Has our school system become so inflexible that we can’t just vary the teaching programme a little for each individual child need. Clearly not. The Government is committed to this Factory/Production line model of education. That’s for State Schools. Private Schools have more scope to flex the teaching programme. Unfortunately many can’t afford to go Private. But that won’t bother Boris and his buddies. As long as the chauffeur driven car turns up and the expensive wine keeps coming.

Ok I can see the point of a crossword for French for some BUT… What is the pigging point of a word search for Drama. I guess it’s all part of the Government’s drive to make every kid spell correctly the defined key words. Spelling is given a higher profile that actually understanding what the word means. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe the best way to develop the next Orlando Bloom, Keira Knightley, Anthony Hopkins, Robin Williams, Whoopi Goldberg and Tom Cruise is to focus on spelling. Oh hang on a minute these have dyslexia as well. So no I don’t see the point.

We just set too many of our kids up to fail. They see other kids repeatedly praised for great spelling or neat handwriting while at the same time they are just told to try harder. How demoralising is that. A phrase you hear often is that kids with learning difficulties have to try super hard just to keep the perceived learning gap from widening. DAMM RIGHT THEY DO. Too many kids are forced through the same stereotyped classroom hoop. Never given a chance to demonstrate their unique skill sets as these are not in the areas deemed valuable by the Government.

Too many kids have been failed by our society. It’s not as if our society is particularly successful or sustainable on the back of this. This has to stop. When it does stop and we start allowing all our kids to grow – just take a few minutes to think how good this world will become. That is a hope worth fighting for. That is a hope worth voting for.

STICKMAN

The mad dog demonstrating the almost perfect combover. Maybe next time he will model the perfect beehive. Again I’m only jealous.

One of the things our country is rightly proud of is the NHS. Mainly free healthcare not dependent on the ability to pay. Once it was completely free paid for by taxes. It’s had some rough times. None tougher than now. A bodged reorganisation based on political dogma designed to open the service to extensive privatisation. Conservative austerity pushing services and staff to breaking point. Perfect for our leaders. It’s fits with the message that they are trying to push. ‘Clearly the service is failing, it’s not fit for purpose The only two things that can save it now are further privatisation and a move to an American insurance based system’. That’s what you will get if you vote in Britain for Johnson and Farage.

It’s becoming more difficult to see a Family Doctor. Many surgeries have a one or two week waiting list. Our Surgery operates a ‘phone at breakfast for an appointment that day’ system. It’s basically the same thing. I’ve been trying for a couple of weeks now.

The surgery opens at 8am so I started phoning at 7.55.

The surgery is currently closed please phone later.

Repeated phoning gets the same message. Then the lines open.

You are caller 39 please hold.

That’s progress over the last few days the best it’s started at was caller 49. You learn the system – anything over caller 40 means all the appointments have gone. Unbelievably I got an appointment and one with my Doctor.

Sitting in the waiting room is always an experience. Try to avoid watching the TV screens. In between advertisements for Care Homes the health messages are designed to convince you that that you are inflicted with every ailment and disease going. I once convinced myself that I had rabies. The person facing me is reading a paper with the headline “A million school kids being taught in class sizes of 31 or more”. Blood pressure starts to rise. The two gentleman next to me were exchanging accident details. One had broken his leg when a shopping trolley hit him near the frozen chicken section of the supermarket. The other chap had ricked his back bending over to pick up the TV remote control. A mum having a loud argument on her mobile while her little toddler whacked me repeatedly on the head with the STICKMAN book. “Your funny” shouts the toddler. I must have that sort of face.

Finally the Doctor can see me.

“Your Blood Pressure is Perfect”. REALLY. Clearly been assailed by a Julia Donaldson book is the new mediation – should be offered as a care pathway.

“Have you had any counselling yet. I did put you on the waiting list”

No

“How long have you been waiting”

Three years

*** Doctor now swears and goes into a tirade at the last 10 years of Conservative Governments ****

“I suspect the counselling isn’t going to happen. I’m going to give you some medication to try and help with your sleep. Come back and see me in January. But promise me that you will get a hobby and do it regularly. If you find anything that works then stick at it.”

So off I went to find a hardback copy of The STICKMAN. Any volunteers to give me a damn good thrashing…..

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.