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about a pandemic are brushed aside – schools are perfectly safe – no risk at all – force them back into cramped out of date classrooms – trust us or we force you back.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.

Monday

Got to just follow a trail. Hope it leads in the right direction.

So the school reopens a week today. Most kids will return. Some won’t. Our son will not be able to return at this stage. How long will he be out of school. Weeks, months, permanently – no idea. So we have to work on the assumption that he will return at some stage. So with minimal help from school and nothing from the authorities, who do we try to keep him on track with his classmates. To ensure that if and when he does return that he has not fallen behind.

The plan is to get the class timetable from school. That will form the basis of the learning each day. We won’t stick to the class timings but will try to focus on covering the subject matter. First call will be any lesson notes that are posted in the school system. Ensuring we do any work assignments that might be posted as well. I will ask each teacher to at least provide an indication of what topics will be covered and the copies of any handouts that are provided. Then it’s Dad trying to be teacher, looking for relevant videos and resources on the internet. All work completed will be emailed to each teacher at the end of the day. Any gaps we will make up with stuff son wants to cover.

If this school at home project extends further then I will supplement gaps with buying online teaching packages.

We are lucky that my work has basically dried up. Not much until 2021 at the earliest. The positive is that frees my time up to focus on being a teacher. Maybe I need to dress like a teacher?

That’s the plan. What could possibly go wrong.

Telepathy

Free Gardening Tip Number 1: Clearly if you leave the garden long enough it will sort itself out. You can just stand back and enjoy the results.

If I was listing my many wonderful features I might start with

  • Chiselled Features
  • Thor like body
  • Razor sharp intellect
  • Reactions of a cat
  • Chef supreme
  • Cunning linguist
  • Sporting Superbeing

And on and on. The list would be extensive but one word that does not appear is Telepathic.

Dad we have a problem. Class have been working on a project for the last two weeks. It’s going to be used as this terms evaluation mark. The project has to be finished in one hours time. I didn’t know about it.”

The two week project period almost perfectly mirrored the time Hawklad had been off from school since his unplanned operation. Now in the normal scheme of things this would not be a problem. He had a valid reason to be unavailable for schoolwork. School was notified of this. Common sense would surely prevail……

Oh no……no, no, no, no, pigging NO.

It is the responsibility of the pupil and the parent to be fully aware of all assignments. These are clearly communicated via class lessons and the class notes. Failure to be aware of an assignment is not a valid exception to the rule. This applies to ALL parents and pupils. So basically if your sick and return to school then you should ensure you read all class documentation before your first day back. You can then immediately start working on any projects. This bad, bad, bad parent did not do this. So I never came across the assignment. That’s where the power of telepathy would have been most useful.

Free Parenting Tip Number 1: So clearly what any responsible parent should have done is read all the class notes, work out deadlines for the various projects and then return your child back to school THE DAY AFTER THE PROJECTS HAD TO BE HANDED IN. Job done and no need for a one hour mad scramble to cobble together a project….

Mothballed

This is a mothballed Coal Power Station that is right on the furthest horizon we can see. We can only see that far as we are on top of a hill. It takes an effort to find it from here. Can only see it from one extreme corner of the garden. This is also at my poor old camera’s maximum zoom. I guess it’s a reminder of a rapidly receding age and will be getting demolished soon.

Last school week and it’s trying to end the year on a most vexing high….

Let’s see how many assessments we can squeeze into 5 days. The answer ….. TOO MANY.

I had spoken to school and told them that son was still not 100% following his hospital visit but would give the last school week ago. However he wasn’t firing on all cylinders. School assured me that they would go easy on him. ASSESSMENTS are clearly easy on him. That’s so how I remember school tests in my day. Then we come to English. He completed the online lesson and submitted a rather fine gothic story. I was impressed with the storytelling and especially the writing. It was grammatically very good. Whisper it, spelling was almost perfect. That is some progress for him. So I was a little surprised to receive an email from school at 11.30pm to inform me that his work in the lesson had been below standard and incomplete. Really. The teacher has not responded to my query as the email failed to provide any details. Well that’s helpful. Having reviewed the lesson material several times I can only assume that he failed to respond to one rather vague question. A hard to spot question requiring a one sentence answer. Son had actually answered it but forgot to upload a photo of the one line answer. Unsurprisingly not a mention of the story he had submitted. If I wasn’t already convinced about the failures of mainstream education then this has finally clinched the deal. Well stuff school. I’ve assessed his work as brilliant and he will be getting a reward for it.

Maybe it’s time to mothball our countries factory farming educational approach…

Midday

Still summer is glorious. Had been hoping to get outside, have a chat and be creative with a pencil, but the weather is just not playing ball. This is midday…..

The school at home project has allowed this Dad to see some practical evidence of the progress and issues which son has with his learning process. The level of insight that is just not provided to parents from schools. Maybe in class sizes approaching 30 this type of insight is just not collected.

After these 3 months I have a better grasp on the dyslexia position. The feedback from school has been limited to

  • He has reading problems,
  • He is doing quite well in spelling tests.

That’s it…. Nothing else in just under two years.

So what insight has the last 3 months provided.

  • His reading has developed. I would estimate that he can read unaided about 50% of words. If he takes his time he can try to sound some of the missing words out, eventually arriving at a word he’s heard of before. The other words at school he’s been guessing or just ignoring. At home he’s happy to ask for help with words. Even allowing me to read out particularly difficult sections,
  • His dyslexia is more pronounced when he’s doing handwriting.
  • He finds it easier to type out answers. It’s a long process as his typing is not quick. He also struggles to see when the predictive text function selects the wrong word.
  • With certain word patterns it doesn’t matter how many times he sees the word, it’s like he is seeing the word for the first time.
  • When he gets tired the dyslexia flares up with greater force. Regular breaks really help. The optimum time appears to be 20 minute work blocks with short breaks.
  • Number dyslexia is still a problem. 6’s and 9’s are easily switched, especially when a decimal point is introduced into the number.

I’m not a trained teacher but I have a valuable quality which many teachers don’t get in UK schools. Quality time. Time to focus on one pupil. That is something which is not permitted under the current government led approach. An approach based on schools operating like automated production lines. That must be another vote for homeschooling…..

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.

School at home week something

Still summer…

It’s the end of another school at home week. These weeks are just merging into each other now.

School at home has gone pretty well over those whatever weeks. Son has adjusted well to it. He’s been pretty relaxed but we have a cloud on the horizon. Next week the school is starting to bring in virtual classrooms and live teaching via Microsoft Teams. Son hates the thought of being videoed. He really struggles with it. Plus with the other kids present he will retreat into his shell again. So this new teaching development has filled him with dread. The technology will work. Will it work for all kids. Will it work for those kids with special educational needs. That’s a bridge to cross next week.

The other thing which has stood out is observing the impact a slight change in school routine can have on our son. And it’s not just the virtual classroom idea. Sudden and unscheduled changes in teaching style, teacher, timetables…. All these have a major impact on him. He becomes deeply unsettled and stressed out. This really compromises his performance. I’m not 100% certain schools are aware of the impact these things have on kids on the spectrum.

But back to this week. What has this slightly bewildered parent learnt.

  • Son can walk, eat, drink and use his iPad at the same time with ease. I struggle to walk without crashing into walls.
  • Two words have the immediate effect of sending me into the kitchen to eat junk food and find coffee. French and Drama….
  • How many lessons does a kid need just going on about how to make puff pastry. Surely Food Technology can find another food to look at.
  • Apparently the term for you arm hairs standing on end is Piloerection…
  • When I get the feeling that I am right and the science teacher is wrong on magnetic fields, it’s probably best to fact check my knowledge first……
  • Occasionally giving a kid a little constructive feedback on work might be a good idea. Most teachers do. Unfortunately some teachers give nothing back. That’s something like 13 weeks with nothing. Really…
  • Practicing tennis in the garden is difficult when you can’t find any tennis balls.
  • Practicing tennis in the garden is difficult without balls and it’s chucking it down.
  • Practicing tennis in the garden is difficult without balls, in the rain when you can’t find the tennis racquets.
  • Online French classes seem to drain the iPad battery much quicker than any other subject. This is bizarre as French vocabulary seems to have exactly the same effect on me.
  • It’s rather emasculating when your Son decides to film his own art cartoon project. The words maybe getting the cartoon in focus might be a good idea do sting….
  • When your son has Dyspraxia and Dad has basically got the artistic talent of a Brussels Sprout – trying to free draw a pie chart on the iPad is basically a waste of time.
  • iPad voice recognition works with hundreds of languages but can’t handle anyone speaking with a Yorkshire Twang. For example how difficult can it be for a machine to understand someone saying ‘Royalty’. As hard as Son tried the iPad kept hearing Roll over and when I tried it heard Reality. Remind me not to try it with a word like luck.
  • I can’t remember how to programme the microwave or where I left the TV remote control but somehow I can remember school calculus. How is that possible.
  • The school has done a great job in getting the school at home IT working. But it hasn’t cut down the paper usage. Since the project started in April we have used up a full ream of paper….

So another week down. I get the feeling next week will see the return of the really sarcastic parent….

Homework

The hardy old rose bush right next to the front door. Against all the odds, it just keeps on giving.

In a few hours the school at home project restarts again. One more 7 week push before we finally arrive at the summer holidays. What kind of Britain will it be? The old normal, the new normal or something else.

This afternoon was glorious. Hot (for here) and sunny. Unbelievably not a single cloud all day. This is Yorkshire remember.

Yes this is Yorkshire but sadly it’s connected to England. Which means it has to live with the Government’s take on education. So while the sun beat down, we were inside. Trying to get homework completed and revision to stick. It’s bizarre that we force kids to work during holidays and weekends AND yet we have a part time Prime Minister who avoids such weekend and holiday work at all costs…. Yet again one rule for the many and another much nicer rule for the few.

The really frustrating thing is what exactly is the homework achieving. Four hours today and what did our Son learn….

What is the point of this Dad. I’ve not learnt one new fact. Not done anything which is interesting. I’m bored out of my mind. My hand hurts from writing and I dislike these subjects even more.”

Sadly I can’t argue with this. The school system here has been deliberately broken. Not by the teachers but by people in The Government. People who enjoyed the benefits of expensive private education. It’s not about developing individual kids now. It’s all about ticking political boxes for those in power. This government will not change its mind. But change is needed. So it will be local change.

We will continue with the school at home project until the summer. Remember this is not homeschooling….this is just trying to do exactly the same school lessons just not with the kids sat at a desk in the cramped classroom. In the summer our Son will decide what he does next. To go back to school or to go for full homeschooling. It’s his call. If he defers to me then he is leaving school. But what to do with the next 7 weeks. We have just brought in a new house rule.

Son will only be expected to do additional homework if it meets one of 3 conditions

  • He will actually learn something from it,
  • He will find it interesting,
  • It actually is going to contribute to his overall assessment. (Staggeringly much homework does not. Frequently it is not even marked in detail and sometimes not at all.)

We did have a fourth condition but that was dropped

Dad that’s a pointless condition. How many kids will honestly admit to actually wanting to do a piece of homework. Definitely never me….”

So if a piece of homework does not meet one of these conditions then he won’t be asked to complete it. I will write into school and let the teacher know. If the school wants to push it then they can deal with me. In our house – I am the headteacher and remember I don’t currently have a PM…..

What happened to the Bank Holiday

It’s a Monday. According to my cute animal calendar it’s Bank Holiday Monday. But apparently it isn’t. This week because of VE Day commemorations it’s going to be a Bank Holiday Friday. I must have missed that memo. So our plans for a late start ended rather abruptly. Feels like it’s going to be another odd week. Most of today was actually spent trying to get my head into school mode and convince son that he can’t really do the whole day’s schooling from the comfort of his bed.

Little success on either…..

Dads whose to know that I’m going to school in bed today. It’s not as if the headteacher has a Eye of Sauron all seeing power.”

If the schools stay too much longer under the control of the current Schools Minister then I wouldn’t put it past schools adopting that form of teaching.

I can effectively enforce social distancing during lessons. Apart from pets and my cleaner, no one would dare venture into my bedroom”

Somedays even his cleaner tries to avoid venturing into that place.

If a bed is good enough for Lennon to have a peace protest then it’s definitely acceptable as a comfy classroom.”

Eventually Son was enticed out of bed with cookies. An impending attack by a dog returning from playing out in a sodden garden also focused his mind….. But I must admit I quite like the idea of bed at present. Maybe Bed Parenting might work tomorrow. So while I warm up the hot water bottle, I want to say thank you to Claire and Riya.

Thank you Claire for the nomination for the Liebster Award.

We’ve struck up a great blogging friendship over the last few months even though she keeps beating me at our daily balancing challenge. I’m sure she’s cheating…. So here’s goes with answering her questions.

  1. If you could have had any job/career what would it have been?  As a toddler I wanted to be a captain in Captain Scarlet. As a kid I wanted to be an Astronomer or Dr Who. Then I wanted to be a mountaineer. Then it was to be a goalkeeper for Newcastle and finally to captain Yorkshire at cricket. Ended up being an Accountant – figure that one out.
  2. If you were stranded on a desert island what three items would you choose to have with you? A helicopter. A person called Bear and a nice house. Guess that’s not the answer you wanted so…. A Swiss Army Knife. A fishing rod. The Lord of the Rings omnibus.
  3. What the thing you like most about yourself? My eyelashes.
  4. If you could relive one day again, exactly as it was before, what day would it be and why? Think it was in 2013. We caught the train up to Kleine Scheidegg. On a gloriousday we then walked down Lauterbrunnen. We played all sorts of games with our 6 year old. It was the best two hours ever. So much laughter and views to die for.
  5. If you could only see one more band/singer live, who would it be? AC/DC, never seen them.
  6. What is your biggest achievement in your life so far? Son…
  7. What’s your favourite way to relax (keep it clean please!)? Climbing, but I’ve had to ditch that. So now it’s running, exercise and blogging. Least favourite being watching Newcastle United.
  8. You can have a superpower for a year. Which one would you choose? Captain Marvel stuff so I could travel the Cosmos.
  9. What’s your favourite time of day and why? Friday 3.30. Schools finish so Son is off for the weekend.
  10. What are you most afraid of? Snakes. Wasps. Spiders. Drowning. My brothers old punchbag with a boxers face on it. Alvin and The Chipmunks.
  11. What are your ‘words to live by?’ Name the three most important for you. Chips, Crisps, pizza. OR love, laughter and listen.

Also thanks to Riya for the Vincent Ehindero Blogger Award.

1. What’s the best thing you like about blogging? And your advice. Making friends. At present I don’t get to socialise much these days. Blogging allows me inflict my bad and make new friends. And I do mean real friendships. My only advice is always have hope …. if I can do this then YOU certainly can.

2. What do you do to relax? Climbing in the pre parenting days. Now it’s blogging and running.

3. What is that one thing you are very grateful for? Three things. Our Son. Spending part of my life with such a beautiful person as my partner. Having been brought up by the best possible mum.

4. What is your happiest moment? Being handed our son after he had just been born.

5. Would you prefer a Cat or Dog? Got to be careful as we have both and gerbils. Let’s base it on this morning. The Cat missed the litter tray with his poo and the dog got excited and wee’d all over the kitchen floor. So it has to be the Gerbils currently.

I won’t nominate anyone as I have a rather bad habit of nominating blogs that are then deleted within weeks of the nomination. The last time I did, it was something like 5 of the 8 blogs were gone within the month. So best not nominate. I’ve been so grateful for the nominations over the last few months. I really have. But I think the time has probably come to do no more of these. Don’t want to risk deleting my own blog.

Look what’s cropped up

Some call it a weed. Some call it a flower. I’m definitely in the flower camp. It’s amazing where these things crop up in the garden every year.

Now we have had several weeks of schools version of homeschooling, I guess it’s time to look at the parent side of the process. What have I learnt during these weeks. The first thing to say is that it’s NOT been impossible. That was my fear when I always thought about homeschooling. I’m going to mess this up. I just won’t be able to cope. Well I’m still here. Son is still here. No huge disasters. Son doesn’t hate me. School haven’t demanded my sacking as a parent. So yes I kinda must have coped with this homeschooling lark.

Another thing I’ve learned is this IS NOT TRUE HOMESCHOOLING. This is schools version of teaching when the classrooms are locked up. Some lessons might come close to true homeschooling but others are just the same classroom lessons delivered in your living room. The Government and the Schools set the agenda, decide on what areas are covered and how they are delivered. The children and parents largely do what they are told. The point about true homeschooling is the freedom that it offers. You can tailor the education to suit the child. This version of homeschooling feels more like forcing the child to fit the needs of the system.

So what have I learned as a kinda homeschooling parent then

  • I know diddly squat about Art, Music, Religious Education and Drama.
  • I can look like the worlds most intelligent parent when I hide my iPhone in my shirt pocket and find a way of discreetly typing in questions to google.
  • Homeschooling is far more tiring for the parent than the child.
  • My spelling is worse than my dyslexic son.
  • For homeschooling to work really well you have to engage the child. Focus on the things that make him or her tick. What seems to work for me probably doesn’t work for our son.
  • I need my own school stationary cupboard. The amount of time I waste hunting in draws for things like pens, paper, paints and art materials.
  • Science hasn’t half changed since I got my A-Levels in Physics and Chemistry. Was Quantum even a word back then?
  • I might have a master degree in computing but that counts for nothing when you are trying to get the iPad to talk to the school computer.
  • Things like housework and working for money are really not going to happen during the homeschool day. For the parent homeschooling is as time consuming as it is for the child.
  • I’m so lucky just having one child to homeschool.
  • Me trying to explain French pronunciation is a complete waste of time. Maybe investing in something like Rosetta Stone is the way forward. But that’s a key point. Some of the homeschooling will be beyond me. I will need to invest in online support, book tuition time and additional help so as to make this work.
  • Getting son to just read a textbook is not the best approach. If homeschooling is going to truly work it will mean doing things like taking son out to historical sites and geographic locations. The parent needs to fully commit to this.
  • As the home school day has to replicate the normal school timetable I have learnt to be fairly strict on the time Son spends on each lesson. Trying to avoid overruns. Once these start they just accumulate and that just drags the day out for Son and ME.
  • Homeschooling increases the urge for things like strong coffee and biscuits.
  • I don’t care how many weeks I do this – I still can’t remember the school timetable.
  • Broadband failure just as work is being submitted is seriously stressful.
  • I’m very good (as are the PE teachers) at reminding the kids to warm up before the do exercise. I of course forget to warm myself up. Although I like to think of myself as fairly fit, I also tend to forget that I am basically an old fart…. So without warming up and then trying to do something like a forward role is basically asking for trouble.
  • How much paper does schooling use ….. far too much.
  • Homeschooling is tiring. But it doesn’t help with nighttime sleep. Too many school things to think about.
  • If I pick up the courage I can make things like homemade play-doh without the need to panic buy off Amazon.
  • As the homeschooling week unfolds my dress sense deteriorates. By Friday I look like a badly chewed dog rag doll. Don’t even start me on my hair.
  • Just go with the flow. If Son wants to learn outside, or walking about or stood on his head or whatever … work with that. I need to keep telling myself that what works for me will probably not work for him.
  • Over the years I’ve often had sleepless nights wondering what mystical substance has the chemical formula C12H22O11. Now I realise it’s Sucrose.
  • I’ve also found out how difficult it is to try and type chemical formula properly. Surely in 2020 we must have found easier ways of typing numbers which are littler than letters. AND Don’t start me on trying to do French and typing things like acute accents and circumflex’s. The process extends writing an answer from seconds into months. On these I have been no help to our Son.

So basically I have survived this form of homeschooling so far. Yes it’s not always easy. Yes I’ve resorted to pulling my hair out in some lessons. Occasionally I have sworn. It’s demonstrated that homeschooling and work don’t really go together. But actually I have also smiled quite a bit. Sometimes even had fun. That’s just for schools version of this. How good could we make proper homeschooling.