Friday, 20 May 2016

Why English SATs test Spelling, Punctuation and Grammar

What hours spent! Like dogs worrying bones, we have chewed over this question, why?

Why inflict made-up 18th century grammar on 11-year olds? It doesn't make sense! Who wants this? Employers? Is our local business saying, 'We'd employ you as admin staff ... but you can't locate the subjunctive, so we're sorry...'

The conclusion? It only makes sense if we follow the money. Money drives all. Money drives the schooling system. And maybe, if you're working for some super-large company selling educational materials, turning out exam scripts, providing online teaching programmes to take those exams, and offering the infrastructure to collect and collate test data - then maybe you also have the sales staff who whisper into the ears of national governments, 'We can handle the teaching, learning, and assessment for you! You have teaching shortages, school attendance problems, lack of standardised testing. We can solve it all, at a single stroke, just outsource the work you can't handle.'

Wouldn't the flow of money from a national education budget to corporate pockets be huge?

But this turn - from schooling as decisions based on educational issues into decisions based on economic principles - has been creeping over us for the last 20 years or so.

The Cox Report (1989) still allowed for creativity in English; but listen now. The rationale used by governments here and across the world to teach English or introduce English into primary education is not now about individual creativity or 'personal enrichment' - it's an economic argument: this country will succeed amongst the leaders of the world if we teach English.

But I've been troubled. Since Osborne announced all schools would become academies in the budget. Note that. No announcement from the Education Department, but from the Man with the Briefcase at Number 11. The decision about the UK educational future is based on economic principles. It's how English is taught in a global marketplace with standardised tests and packages.

Which is why the UK is turning to Spelling, Punctuation and Grammar. It's an economic driver, unproven,  which tells your child's classroom teacher how English should be taught; how courses should be designed; and how classes should be run. Spelling delivered on Mondays, Punctuation on Wednesdays and Grammar on Fridays.

Now just look at the use of technology in education, for which I am humbly indebted to Dig, man with two brains and a world eye view.

He tells me how there are two main lines of talk about EdTech in English teaching right now.

One is how wonderful is technology! How teachers can use technology to improve the quality of what they do in all areas of their profession.

But the other line is how big tech companies are seizing the opportunity to create learning and teaching platforms, into which are built standardized curriculums and adaptive testing. These curriculums teach the test. So there is no difference between learning and testing: the child follows the online learning course then takes the online test which scores wrong or right and brings the child back to the same line of online learning, so each time they take the test, they answer more precisely. Teaching to the test becomes a perfect circle.

But worse. It's probably anathema to say it, but the words of Sugata Mitra are becoming taken up in a way that is downright dangerous. He has the language I recognise from home ed and he's wrapped it round a theory that we recognise. But it also fits in this new world. Actually, you don't need a teacher. You just need to buy the computers with their edu-learning software.

And this means that large educational businesses - pick one you know - can sell online packages to a country's education department saying: You know this problem with teachers? They are expensive and difficult to find. You don't really need English teachers in the classroom! Look at the research. You just need learning managers.

Now tell me this ain't happening. I hear that in universities the same is taking place - PhD students are employed as teaching assistants. The role of the teacher as a professional in this society is being steadily eroded. Soon, will any school need any subject specialist?

Which is why your child needs to learn Spelling, Punctuation and Grammar. Computers can't mark poems. They can't give a grade to stories. They don't understand metaphor.


SPAG is the sort of global teaching and learning you can shift online. You can assess online. Indeed, you can bring together the worlds of teaching/learning/testing as if there is no divide. Your specialised English teacher can become a non-specialised Learning Assistant, guiding the child through the use of their SPAG computer program, giving what appears to be individual feedback but what is nothing more than a pre-set pattern your child learns to get right, if they're to move onto the next screen.

The school is forever grateful to the corporate who supplied the package and who takes away all the teaching and testing and feedback.

The corporate has gratefully received the public money your taxes gave to government for the education budget.

Is it only English? Not likely. A large company - insert the name of your nightmare edu-supplier - wants to sell curriculum across the board. They're not English specialists. English is one of many subjects they can offer, and they want to sell complete packages across the board to national governments.

Hey! Maybe they can even take control of Global Scores and Global League Tables!

Then you'll know that in SPAG, your child reached number 1,356,729 in the world. Won't that be comforting.

Monday, 9 May 2016

It's in the interest of government that you HOME SCHOOL!

We home educators did a lot of good work, huh!

Over the years, we told everyone life is fab without school!

Okay, that pissed off some of you, but we also spread the actual wording of the law, which nowhere states that school is compulsory, but which states the duty to educate your children by school or otherwise - a duty which you sign over to a school when you register Tinkertop. But you can take that duty back, perfectly legally, by writing a deregistration letter.

Now, off to the woods!

Well, maybe we did too much good ground work. Because the wind blows this way.

The government is encouraging schools to enter a market place, but the market is very bad at supplying school places when and where they are needed. If you do get your child into a school of your choice, you can find children locked everyday into over-crowded classes. It hasn't helped that the government has, over many years, slagged off the teaching profession as idle, feckless, lazy buggers with too many holidays. And now, the new curriculum is turning parents off.

But there's more! The media happily reports our everyday problems of unregulated schools doing what they like. Doesn't matter whether Jewish, Muslim, Christian. Stories of abuse and brainwashing are rife. You'd think mini jihadists are being brainwashed everywhere. 

There's only one conclusion to come to. The schooling system is in a mess.

And that's advantageous. We have a government running on neoliberal lines; they want to open up the public educational market to businesses supplying learning packages; they want you to use computers which can track and monitor you; and they want to solve the problems of unpredictable school places and those expensive teachers.

What's a good solution? Home School! 

Look, you've already been told how fab this life is. The government will say 'some parents do an excellent job' to encourage more of you to take up your Section 7 duty and teach your kids yourself.

Except, it will be claimed, you're not quite up to the job. And we wouldn't want any child to slip through the net and be subject to abuse/brainwashing/neglect. Therefore, new home schoolers, you must register, use approved packages run on your computer and tied into the curriculum, so your child can re-enter the school system at any point having never fallen behind; and the government will support you by giving you a voucher to buy approved online learning from the educational supplier of your choice, but in return you must agree to an Ofsted inspector or LA equivalent into your home to approve your work.

How is government going to do it?

Step1) Send out pro-'home-school' reports in the media to prepare the ground. The media will be complicit. Let's face it, Richard, the standard of critical education journalism in this country is pretty poor. The words HOME-SCHOOL will be used everywhere. The words HOME EDUCATION will be abandoned, for these words simply won't appear in government press-releases.

Step 2) Use Local Authorities to encourage parents to 'home-school'. As more schools turn into Academies (we tried force, other methods will be found), so the LA education departments will be required to work elsewhere. The LA bods who once worked with local schools will be placed in charge of the more difficult areas - 'special educational needs', the 'traveller children', the 'school refusers' and 'the home-schooled'.

Step 3) Order a review into home schooling. Find that there is no register and no requirements on local authorities to keep records.

Step 4) Force a registration system into Local Authorities for home-school record-keeping. Your LA will then send out all information telling parents how you must be registered if you choose HOME-SCHOOL. At the moment, there is no compulsion for a parent to register and no requirement in law for LAs to keep any register. Because primary law is difficult to change, expect this shift to come through changes to interpretative documents such as guidelines.

Step 5) Parents will be told they are not up to the specialised job of covering any curriculum. After all, just look! It's impossible for most parents to 'achieve the high standards expected at age 11 SATs'! Thus you will be encouraged to buy off-the-shelf learning packages from large corporates. The job of business will be to take public taxation money for education and package it up into online modules to sell back to you.

Step 6) You must buy this stuff! Kids must work at the computer with a prescribed curriculum! Kids must then take online tests to be marked by computer! How are we going to force parents to buy into this system? Give them money. If you register and 'home-school' you'll be given a voucher to spend at your favourite corporate supplier on the packages that are linked to school. Now you are home schooling! Well done!

Step 7) You must be inspected, obviously. They gave you money and they want you to be accountable to it. And, after all, your child is now being HOME-SCHOOLED and is therefore INVISIBLE AT HOME. You could be doing anything to them! Every term the LA will meet its obligations set by central government and come round with a clipboard and tick sheet.

Step 8) We can now equip every person born in this country with a personal student number. Tinkertop, born today, your number will be associated on a big database with all the keystrokes you have entered throughout your educational career since the age of birth. Every online test you take, every computer-based curriculum you follow, it will all be logged. You will be told how this is to your learning advantage; you will be given unique feedback, your intellectual development will be supported the moment you begin to engage with your nursery curriculum. Expect tie-ins and merchandise. The online link between the Entertainment industry and the Education industry. Peppa Pig Does Big Maths Online. Approved by government, supported by the Educational Voucher Scheme for HomeSchoolers, and the test results of your 3-year old collated, tracked, and owned throughout their lives in a fantastic big data exercise!

Success! Government opened up the education system to the market; positioned teachers as support assistants thus lowering further their pay grades; the pressure on local schools is lifted by parents doing it for themselves; the responsibilities for on-site monitoring given to local authorities and the chums running shareholder corporates given access to public education budgets!

Hey, you parents doing HOME SCHOOLING! You're doing a GREAT JOB!

My only request to you, parent unit, in this brave new world, is simple: that you explore the philosophies that brought about home education.

Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Hello Jonathan Simons.

Grit listens to Radio 4 this morning, the day of the Parent Boycott to protest against punishing tests for 6-year olds, and now she needs urgent medical attention.

See, Jonathan Simons, how you have brought about this crippling burden on the NHS?


Ahem. I will be calm. Listen to the Today programme just before 8am for the interview with Jonathan Simons, head of the 'right-leaning' Policy Exchange.

Okay, my hives are itching. Because who the fuck are 'Policy Exchange' when at home - ALARM BELL - this just tells me how people in the government know cak all about education. They're buying in ideas from right-wing think tanks and corporates.

But to Jonathan's interview strategies.

Strategy 1: If your child is miserable because their life is diminished, then blame schools and teachers. Jonathan encourages you to turn your anger on teachers rather than the government. If the teachers say that the tests are imposed, claim this is just 'an excuse'. In hundreds of schools everything is FINE.

Grit yells at the Radio: The government imposed the tests. They bought in the curriculum from people like you. IT'S YOUR DOING.

Strategy 2: Compare what cannot be compared. Assert how tests are the same everywhere! The UK is merely 'Benchmarked to the standard of an equivalent age in other countries'.

Grit yells at the Radio: OH DEAR. GENERAL KNOWLEDGE FAIL. Children in other countries speak other languages, Jonathan. In other languages, the grammer is more clearly marked. But the 'rules' of English grammer are not so simple! We English are so darn happy to be flexible with our adverbials and our future pluperfects! So exactly where are these simple building blocks? You're showing a pretty thin grasp of the English language here, Jonathan.

Strategy 3: When faced with the idea that other countries just do fine without testing, say those countries are 'plummeting down the international league tables'. Assert that 'we' want to be among the 'top performing countries of the world'.

Grit yells at the Radio: CHINA! You mean China, don't you! We were there when Gove and Gibb came to town: from that point comes your transformations back in the UK. Believe me people, I HAVE SEEN the Chinese education system. It is NOT PRETTY. You will lose your child to The Machine where there is nothing to offer but brutality.

Strategy 4: Assert 'we're just being reasonable'.

Grit yells at the Radio: Who's being reasonable? When was a right-wing think tank ever reasonable? Tosser.

Strategy 5: Agree that Nick Gibb was being dramatic when he claimed your life will be shit if you fail to underline an adverbial! Then go on TO DO EXACTLY THE SAME. I quote: 'If you don't have a solid grasp of ... grammar ... it's hard to access things later on in life.'

Grit yells at the Radio: WHAT???? WHAT????? WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU SAYING??? (Hives are starting to swell.) Go on then, you complete and utter ignorant. Exactly how am I 'not accessing things in life?' HOW? Or try telling me how 'I am struggling all my life'. GO ON. Try telling me how I am utterly unable to be creative! Have you seen my Knicker Drawers, Jonathan? Look, I JUST REINVENTED THE BOOK. And don't get me started on how Dig 'failed all his life'. He has his own Wikipedia page. AND he's just been  hailed as one of the 50 people who have made significant contributions to the English language teaching profession around this globe within the past 50 years. I never saw how he recommended underlining adverbials, Jonathan, and I also notice you weren't in The List, Jonathan. Not you, and not your bedfellows Gibb, nor Morgan, nor Gove, so basically you're imposing a curriculum in the UK that is not being supported by best teaching practice around this planet.

Strategy 6: When faced with the blindingly obvious implication that PLENTY OF ADULTS SUCCEED IN LIFE WITHOUT BEING ABLE TO SPOT A DANGLING MODIFIER, Simons asserts: 'if you want to do anything in life, however creative, if you want to do anything artistic, you have to understand the basic building blocks of the English language because that's what enables you to go on and thrive and be successful and be creative'.

Grit kicks shit out of kitchen bin: WHAT?!! So, as an artist, Leonardo da Vinci FAILED. As did Picasso, Monet, Velazquez, Le Corbusier. THEY ALL FAILED. And, by the way, you're obviously implying that the best way to create artists in the UK is not to teach them art, but to teach them grammar. DOES THAT MAKE SENSE TO YOU, JONATHAN?

There. Now it's time to rush me to Accident and Emergency before I die of anaphylactic shock. Cheers Jonathan. Since the privatisation of the NHS is also on the agenda, I'll get the hospital to invoice you directly.

Monday, 2 May 2016

YES to the Parent Boycott!

I am yelling a BIG THANK YOU to all you parents keeping your kids out of school on Tuesday!

I would totally join you, except we are going to the woods today, but yay sisters and brothers if it means your action helps me register my disapproval 'against the government’s more onerous assessment regime for primary school pupils'.


You are RIGHT. Nicky Morgan and all her drones are WRONG. They want your child for global PISA scores and to create non-thinking automatons for the great economic enterprise. They couldn't give a rat's arse whether your child is happy in life, or whether your child can set their own goals to fit their own personhood.

Kids need space - mental, emotional and physical - to grow. We parents have a duty to provide that space. We have a duty to preserve for them that precious freedom to run about woods, ask questions about beetles to which you won't know the answer, and tell us stuff about lichen that comes as a surprise to us all. That is what childhood is for, goddamit. We should not meekly hand over our children for someone else's economic benefit.

And a life out of school bloody well works.

The Offspring Grit had all their primary years running about WITHOUT SCHOOL. It hasn't stopped Shark getting an A grade in Physics and a place at Sixth Form. It hasn't stopped Tiger swotting for an A grade in Maths nor gloating over her A* in Latin. And a NO SCHOOL lifestyle didn't stop Squirrel from staring into space solving the problems of the universe. (I have to be kind on that one.)

Sometimes, being out of school can be wonderful. It's the place where you can find the stuff of a creative life now withering in your local school. So yes, sure it can lead to a life start of independence and no small amount of happiness: I am 16 and live alone in the wilderness

Okay, I'm not suggesting we all take ourselves to the woods forever, but I ask myself who's the happier? The young person without the formal education who had the joy of time and space to find out what makes them feel fulfilled in life - a person who already had a lifetime experience of organising themselves, setting their own goals, managing their own identities, ambitions and aspirations, and who is able to go out and get it?

Or the person who wakes up already old, aged only 25, discovering they've been in an exam machine for the last 25 years with very little autonomy, self-expression or creativity, and who now discovers they're indebted to the sum of £30,000 in a discipline they didn't really want to do, but they can't get a job in anyway, because there are no jobs, so they work in a coffee bar instead?

Thank you people for saying NO to the miserable grinding system and for offering your kids a wonderful day of freedom and exploration instead. I hope you all have a fantastic time.

Just let me say it one more time.


This is what I think. Your leap into the woods is no less than the journey work of the stars.*

*And God bless Walt Whitman for helping me out.

Friday, 22 April 2016

Home ed kid meets Sixth form

Hey, remember how we get told that Interviews are the place where you, the candidate, get to shine? This is your moment when you can boast about your achievements? Your 30 minutes to show yourself at your best?

Have a look at what happens to the home educated child going to the local sixth form for an interview:

Geography teacher aka admissions interviewer: G
Daughter, aged 16: D
Husband in attendance: H

G: Ah! Home educated! How does that work then? I don't suppose you've had any experience working in groups.
D: Er, er, yes I have, we do a lot of things in groups.
G: Hm. Why are you home educated?
D: Er... er... my parents ....
H: I was the chair of governors at the local primary school.
G: Oh, right then [turning to daughter] When was your last experience of school?
D: Erm, I've never been to school.
G [facial expression: puzzlement at hearing an unknown language] : Who teaches you?
D: Er, I teach myself.
G [facial expression: puzzlement at hearing an unknown language] :What? Where are your tutors?
D: Er, er, er...
G: Tutors! Who teaches you?
D: Er... um... um... [starting to panic] I have a remote tutor for Biology! I send her papers and she marks them!
G: Ah! What about the other subjects? Where is the tutor?
D: Er, I don't have tutors! I teach myself. I look at the specification, and the mark scheme.
G [facial expression: puzzlement at hearing an unknown language] : But you're not the teacher!
D: Er, er, er.. [tears welling]
G: How about working in groups? Can you work with other people? Have you any experience of working in groups? What if the teacher said 'Work in a group'. Can you do that?
D: Um, well, we did a community action project with our Global Citizenship IGCSE. We had a group to litter pick and do things, like we handed out cloth bags at Tesco.
G: Who did you use to do that?
D: Er... er...?
G: Where was the teacher?
D: Um, we just went to Tesco and asked them ourselves!
G [facial expression: puzzlement at hearing an unknown language] : But you're not the teacher!
D: Er... er...
G: Well you've put in to do A levels in Maths, Physics, and Design and Technology. You can't do Design and Technology because you're five years behind. I can put you down for Biology A level instead. We ask for 8 GCSEs and you'll have only 7. I suppose we can bend the rules.We won't fill all the places so you'll probably get an offer. Now shall I tick this box that you're able to work in a group? Oh dear. You're crying. Have I upset you?

Welcome to mass education, Shark.

Saturday, 9 April 2016

One woman's sexual history? More important to the nation than your child's education!

Hey! Thanks to BBC Radio 4 today, Grit got out her soapbox! She stood upon it for half an hour delivering a rousing speech to one kitchen radio, three sparrows on a bird feeder and Tiger, who wasn't listening.


Because I had to listen to the details of Jane Welby's sexual history from 55 years ago in Radio 4's prime politics slot after 8am.

Yes, one woman's sexual shenanigans is important. It must occupy lead story, spoke unto the nation. On an issue of such grave national significance, we will all soon have the right - nay, duty - to ask, What position was she in?

I am screaming. Is there a family in Britain who doesn't have a child born the other side of the blanket?

But the Welby family history is so much more of an important story than this one, which we can all forget about because it's in Edinburgh.

Do we need investigative journalism? Because this is what happens with your Public Private Partnership.

BBC, you should be poking about in the scandal of private companies sucking up public resources to build sub-standard buildings that literally fall down on the poor kids who could be sat inside. Which makes the practices and safety standards as corrupt as that we've just witnessed in India.

But let's not bother about corruption, construction inspection, or the lack of accountability in any public-private deal which benefits some fat git who's right now sucking up public money while your kids sit in danger of losing their lives, because hey, BBC! What position was she in?

Monday, 28 March 2016

The worst education a parent can provide

One way I'm looking at our new landscape of education provision is with this question: Can any normal parent of a five-year old offer a worse education than the one coming up on offer?

The Tory government is continuing their project not only to dismantle the state education system, they're also on a project to support privatised supply of educational materials - particularly materials standardised for nationally regulated and globally marketable tests and exams.

Individual creativity? What? Include here independent thought, critical thinking, the questions that begin with WHY? and the bonkers la-la-la of a child's wonderful reasoning - the sort of la-la-la your five-year old lives with, that starts you in rational pursuit of a penguin and ends the day by pouring custard powder in the bath to find out what happens. (Um, lumpy custard doesn't come with a PISA score.)

Basically, the only place you can pursue creativity of thinking is outside the classroom. You can't follow whimsical, thoughtful, creative, bizarre, wonderful curiosity stuff in school, and certainly not in the new generation of schools.

The schools coming up have economy as their alpha-to-omega driver. To know that, we only have to look at the source of the government's recent announcement - that all schools must become academies - which came not from the Department of Education, but from our Minister of Economics, Chancellor Osborne. It's not an educational underpinning we have here. It's an economic one.

The new schools will be geared into an international education marketplace, with suppliers who need to turn state cash into a profitable return. For their benefit, education needs to be engineered to make money. So we get a new wave of machine-readable tests. It's easier (and cheaper) to print out worksheets for your five-year old on naming parts of grammar. Tell the parents it's all about standards, and Tinkertop will never get a good job unless she knows parts of grammar because that's what five-year old kids learn in China. Co-incidentally, use the ensuring (poor) exam results to put staff on a performance-related pay scale, screw down wages for classroom squaddies, and increase the salary for the effective business leaders of tomorrow! Er, who gives a damn about the education of your five-year old?!

When a parent educates, they take their kids to the garden, the park, the woods; they make cakes, play with custard and cornflour, and get out the paints and playdoh. They meet other like-minded parents in community halls, at museum workshops, down the library, in kiddy art, dance, sports, music and drama groups, and for a tour round town. No-one thinks of providing a test on the naming of parts because it doesn't make up a day of jumping about in the joy of being alive for your average five-year old. For them, an efficient and effective education is the freedom to explore, laugh, learn, love.

Now which education would you call the worse one? *

* Mind you, to get the unworst education, we gave up the second salary, the second car, the automatic dishwasher and the packaged holidays. We never replaced the TV set, we ran a diesel-powered van into the ground, equipped the house via freecycle and we made the charity shop our preferred clothing supplier. And I accept, a lifestyle change might be a step too far.

Saturday, 23 January 2016

The problems with registering and monitoring home educators

The education I offer to my children almost certainly doesn't look like yours.
The education I've offered to Tiger, Squirrel, and Shark has mostly been mud-based. Families like ours aren't sitting round the kitchen table looking at a maths book. We simply won't be at home for the doorstepping brigade. The workshop on field drainage or tidal flows will certainly take priority over pointless questions about maths books we don't do. How then would we be categorised in the council record sheets? As 'non-compliant parents refusing supportive visits'?

Home education can look A LOT like family life.
I would like school-choosers to think on this: how would you feel if your family life was suddenly required to be inspected because during the summer holidays it is suspected that you could harm your child, damage them emotionally, abuse them sexually or murder them? You have a lot of parental contact to do that. It's a gnat's crotchet between the state authorising access to our family life as a child is under the supervision of the parents, and the state authorising access to your family life because a school-going child is under the supervision of the parents.

There are many ways to skin a cat.
In some home educating families, literally. There isn't one method of education. Autonomous looks different from tutored looks different from child-led looks different from school. The government might like there to be a single method. One method - one approved approach - fits a tick-sheet easily! With one method, it's also very straightforward for the corporates, who can create off-the-shelf packages for learning. Am I being cynical, or realistically looking at how private companies are now being enabled to pick off large budget resource areas. Education budgets are huge.

But Welfare and Education are not the same thing.
These grand subjects are all mashed up now, brought into one breathless heap. That's so your consensus can be better managed. But please, don't be beguiled into thinking welfare and education are the same. Are teachers trained in social care because they spent three years at university studying Chemistry? Are social workers experts in the learning to be had from geology at the sea-side, maths from the pizza, biology from caring for the dog?

You're approaching home education all wrong.
People in the media, and those who are swayed by it, insist on calling what we do home schooling. A large number of us insist on returning you with the words home education. Education comes with a long philosophy of learning tracing back to Aristotle. School in its present form comes from the 19thC. We're not calling it education because we can't follow your argument. We're calling it education because we're acknowledging a long history of thinking about how humans acquire skills and knowledge. If you're not even respecting my language, I'm not letting you through my door.

The people sent to 'monitor' me will almost certainly have no experience of home educating.
Who does the council employ to 'support' home educators on their monitoring visit? Another home educator? Or a person who has worked in schools, has expectations what 'school-at-home' should look like, and happily goes about assessing my mud-based provision with the judgemental eye of a retired head teacher? Oh, I wonder how productive will be that 'supportive discussion'!

Er, how are you paying for registration and monitoring?
We had to fight to keep the library open. The hospital is running on emergency, and the food bank is open. And the discussion is about registration for home educators? Okay, so the ill woman in Pembrokeshire would have registered. Would the child be alive? Because she registered? There's no point to registration unless you back it up with a home visit. Who visits? An educational official, presumably, and not a social worker. Unless you are telling me that any child at home with a parent needs a social worker to check the child is okay? So, we register, then we sit at home and await the visit from the social worker and the educational official. Wow, think of the overtime. There are thousands of home educators, up and down the land. What a great way to spend your taxes!

Do you seriously think I am going to give anyone free access to my child?
Someone knocks at the door, shows me an official-looking badge, and says they have the right to 'see my child'. Maybe, they suggest, I should sit in another room? A complete stranger then sits with my child, perhaps inspecting them for bruising? Or perhaps they ask my child whether mummy and daddy argue over which book to read at bedtime? Can anyone see what's wrong with this scenario? Or do we just assume that all parents who have supervision over their children are beating them and coercing them into sex?

The state has a terrible record looking after children. Why does the state think it can 'help' me?
I gave birth to my three kids and I took responsibility for them. It's my job to feed them, look after them, tell them off, and take them to Shakespeare plays. It's not the council's job to do that. It's not the council's job to guide me on my choice of whether we see Macbeth for the ninth time or not. And it's not any council's job to inspect me so they can 'reassure' the general public that they are 'improving their safety records'. That's PR tosh and you all should call it out for what it is.

Come on, they really want to register everyone at birth with a unique Pupil Identifier Number.
Let's look at a problem: abuse in the home begins when a child is a toddler. It has been said that the child in Pembrokeshire wasn't seen by a doctor after 13 months old. Then surely, there's no point in registering children for educational monitoring on welfare grounds only from age 5. The solution needs to be registration with a pupil reference number which stays with a person through their life, like an NHS number. Howabout that for an ultimate goal? From a corporate point of view, they could sell you a whack load of early learning packages because you, parent as first teacher, are also home educating your offspring from the time they're born.

'How do we make make home schooling safe'? 'How do we make school safe'?
I hear on the radio the fretful inquiry, 'How do we make make home schooling safe'? And straightaway I ask that of school, too. Tell me the number of children who attend school and who are abused and it's not noticed. Tell me the number where abuse is suspected and not acted upon. Tell me the number of children suffering abuse from someone at the school. Talk to me about bullying, emotional manipulation, fear of the playground, attack by predators on school premises. Is school keeping children safe, and observation by professionals working? How accommodating do you think a home educator will be, having withdrawn a child from school where abuse has been ongoing, to allowing themselves to be inspected in case they, the parent, is repeating that abuse?

The system in place can work, but when it doesn't, someone has to be blamed.
The child in Pembrokeshire died a few years ago. But only now is the case splattered all over the media? The time is right... or so think the powers-that-be. But the child in Pembrokeshire was visible to professionals who already knew about mother's state of health, and they already alerted the local authorities. So forgive me, but how is beginning an expensive and time-consuming registration process on all home educators going to help? You get mad parents everywhere. The only answer I can think of is: first to distract attention away from the failings in this case and others of the bodies that already exist to protect children - social workers already have powers to see a child where education officials do not. And second, to gather us all up on a very large surveillance system so that we can be watched: our actions, choices, preferences recorded, managed and ultimately, sold. Follow the money. Someone can make a great deal of cash out of this one.

Thursday, 21 January 2016

Home Education is at fault, Obviously!

Timing is all.

In the home ed 'hood, we suddenly have a glut of media requests. These requests come hot on the heels of the Government consultation regarding illegal schools. Out-of-school education settings: call for evidence.

The illegal schools scare is in itself an offshoot of the whoop-de-do whipped up about Muslim religious scholarship/ indoctrination (depending which side you're on). Er, illegal schools are also a feature of Jewish and Christian life, so let's not forget that.

But my guess is, there'll be new guidelines written up to target illegal schools; to force them to register and be monitored. And these guidelines will be written in a way that catches us too, we boring, completely legal, home educators. This is the point where we have to chew over the registration and monitoring proposals that will catch us all.

Just for calibration, I don't believe for a moment the Government wants to prevent or outlaw home education. No way do they want to force all kids into school. It would be a disaster! We save the state millions! No, they want home educating parents to take away the responsibilities of the kids who don't fit into school, whether because of a travelling lifestyle/ the child is a school refuser/  they have a set of expensive special needs / the parents have a bonkers educational philosophy (see Grit waving) which priorities experience and creativity over normalising and rote-learning. (Okay, the PTB might want to stop that.)

But the Government needs now to swing public opinion in preparation for these new guidelines. A leaked report comes in handy. The media, who like good guy / bad guy stories, can set us all chattering, and the government has a hands-free role.

How long will the process now take? To the point when we mouthy home educating types kick up a fuss (we will), and the Government can be assured that the public mood is not on our side. Wallop. New guidelines.

Well, Shark, Tiger and Squirrel are just shy of age 16. Registration and monitoring may not affect us. But you can be sure I'll carry on swinging punches from this micro corner of the home-educating world.

Maybe I'll start by asking the question why the health and social care departments of Wales say that an education department needs to be involved. Why don't the health and social departments ensure they directly access the child they're concerned about? Why does contacting the education department help them diagnose scurvy?

Sunday, 17 January 2016

Otherwise a quiet Sunday

I hear on R4 Broadcasting House an article of the usual for/against style, designed to divide women so they oppose, judge and scorn each other.

The fight used to be Stay-at-home Mama vs At-work Mama. Now it's Tiger Mama (aka Pushy Parent  Mama) vs Ordinary Parent Mama.

All I've got to say to this false dilemma is Fuck off. Creating a piece which asks you to consider whether you are or you aren't a pushy mama is a false alternative, dredged up by the unimaginative to whip up a slanging match, so they can call the resulting boxing match 'a debate'. It isn't.

The common ground and common truth is that all parents, male or female, will advance the interests of their own kids if they feel in a position to do so. The debate should explore society, economics, in/equalities of access. But that doesn't promote books, articles, careers or broadcasting ratings, does it?

Friday, 15 January 2016

New World Ahead

Shark arranged for an after-school-hours-tour of a local sixth form. We parents tagged along.

I couldn't help but notice, after the land of home ed, where the wide, wide world is your classroom, how confined the whole place is.

We drove to this building that Dig said looked like it had been designed by a hospital architect. There are walls everywhere! And card-key passes. And doors. And signs that read NO STUDENTS NO BALL GAMES NO FOOD NO DRINK NO ENTRY.

And the greeting was a little We don't care if you come here or not, we're oversubscribed. And I don't care if you're a girl who wants to be a marine engineer and to you, fat-arsed mama, I'm not going to smile at your joke about the nun.

The sixth-form head showed us round, jangling keys like a prison warder and speaking into a walkie-talkie about other things he had to do. Okay, so I did get a little arsey, and Dig started making faces at me when I launched into the philosophical explanation as Home EDUCATORS for what we do, but he started it.

He committed two crimes, and the first was to say Home SCHOOLING.

I had already said Home EDUCATING, dammit!

Then he commits crime number two which was to turn to a colleague and say how dd1 'has no experience of ...' So of course I had to pin him to the ground, smack him round the head, strap his mouth shut with duct tape and give him a lecture on Experiential Education.

Someone pulled me off him before I got to Paulo Freire.*

But my little girl wants to go there. She wants stuff like Physics, Maths, Engineering, Environmental Management, Design and Technology, Marine Science, and How to Build Ships. She's submitting an application, and yes, their design department is a fully-functioning Engineering workshop floor, for which I give due acknowledgement of someone's vision.

Then Dig says to me, as we climb into the car to come home, Fat-arsed mama, this is the point you just have to shut your mouth, and let her go.

*To their credit, Pedagogy of the Oppressed was on the reading list for my 1989 PGCE course.

Thursday, 14 January 2016

IT, home ed style

The damned laptop has been in pieces for 18 months; it's been knocked - perched from its place on a plastic tray on a shelf - to the floor, twice; the screws got lost, the plastic hinges snapped off, and by Jove, they got it working.

Wednesday, 13 January 2016

Best find so far at the charity shop

Shark suggests we put it on the same shelf we keep for the glassware so that it looks like we drink out of it.

Tuesday, 12 January 2016

Progress? It's going

Making pitiable slow progress on all fronts. Thus I count as successes the following:

1. 100,000 miles on the clock, for the battered Grit Mobile. I rewarded it with four new spanking tyres.

2. Picked up the parcel from Parcelforce who couldn't deliver it because we were in. Picking up the parcel took the best part of an hour and I overcame everything Parcelforce could throw at me, which included a locked car park entrance, forcing me to drive the wrong way along a one-way system; re-defining myself as disabled in order to gain access through the locked doors (I limped); total absence of anyone at any desk anywhere; a sudden demand for photo-ID and not address-ID, which became so perverse that at one point I considered taking a photo of myself on the phone to prove yes, it was actually, me.

3. A quotation for restoring a bathroom that has been used as a dumping cupboard since 2001. I truly admired my husband for the way he never gave up on it as an actual bathroom, at one time running a garden hose to the shower head in case anyone needed a garden shower. Mind you, I have also played my part in bringing a touch of luxury to the cupboard bathroom. I recently installed a comfy chair, a table-wine rack, and a jar of handcream so it would remind every passer by of an intimate nook at the Ritz.

These great successes outweigh all the rest! The rest include the dispute with the roofers; the payment of a squillion pounds we must make for the gribbletots' exams; the way I am behind with all my books; the impending course we're late on running; the work we haven't done; and the tenner I owe Squirrel.

Monday, 11 January 2016

That 'out-of-school' setting

Following last year's stories that Islamic extremists set up schools to create mini jihadists, then home education inevitably can become swept up in a general air of Are they brainwashing the kids as well?

Frankly, it's been difficult to decide what to make of the Government response to the issue of illegal schools. November, we had the Government consultation: Out-of-school education settings: call for evidence.

'The 2011 Prevent strategy first made clear that, over the lifetime of the strategy, the government would work to reduce the risk that children and young people are exposed to harm and extremist views in out-of-school education settings.

Does my home count as an 'out-of-school' education setting? If it does, then your home too could fall in that definition if you've been teaching your child how to cook scrambled eggs or read their own name.

But then again, the consultation refers to intensive tuition, training or instruction. Nope. Home education does not do this. We can only do intensive tuition, training or instruction if I set up a timetable and invite your kids round to be subjected to my intensive instruction. Then you might be able to argue that I am exposing your Tinkertop, in my front room, to extremist views. That's an unlikely scenario for a genuine home educator to be creating. We have enough work getting our own kids out of bed.

But something needs to be done. If radicalisation is happening and kids being brainwashed, then it's an issue which needs attention, and I wouldn't necessarily argue with that.

'Extremism poses a serious and unprecedented threat to our country and the Counter-Extremism Strategy, published on 19 October 2015, sets out the government’s comprehensive approach to tackling extremism in all its forms.'

The government clearly want a registration and monitoring system.

'Specifically in relation to out-of-school settings, it confirms the intention to introduce a new system to enable intervention in such settings with the broad aim of keeping children safe generally from the risk of harm, including emotional harm, and promoting their welfare. 

'This followed an earlier commitment by the Prime Minister to introduce a registration and risk-based inspection scheme for out-of-school education settings providing intensive tuition, training or instruction to children.'

But does this mean me? Bog standard home educator? My reading is, this approach is not aimed at us. That reading is supported by 3.2:

'Such settings are sometimes called supplementary or complementary schools (i.e. those offering support or education in addition to mainstream or core learning and which operate after school hours and on the weekends).  They can also take the form of tuition or learning centres (which could often be used in place of mainstream education and support home education and which can operate at any time of day), part-time schools, or clubs.'

Yet I have a horrible feeling that we'll be caught up in the wide sweep that follows.

First off, it's hard not to believe that the government and corporate collusions want every one of us eventually on a database and under perpetual monitoring so they can better intrude on me and shape me the way they'd like. Bastards.

But, if there are crazies running faith schools - of any religious flavour - under the guise of home ed, then we need to kick them out. They are nothing to do with home ed. If these gits are hiding under our name, then we have to scream and shout them out. Sadly, I think I now recognise the tactic. The crazies hide in our houses and then all society swings against us.

Then again, my poke-you-in-the-eye side says perhaps I am teaching 'extremist views'. After all, we have a society that is seeking to endorse a particular set of normative behaviours while rejecting even academic opinion as outrageously off-the-scale. (Thanks, Rachael Melhuish!) But I'm trying to bring up confident, independent-minded girls able to think critically for themselves and question authorities at every turn. I need to be able to be free to do that. It'll help ya'll, honest!

What will happen next? Will we, home educators, be collateral damage, caught up in the registration and monitoring that inevitably goes ahead? I'm guessing that when procedures are set, lines are drawn, guidance is given, then yes, home ed will be next; some Local Authorities will act like we are included, regardless of legal guidelines and, if they choose, they'll simply lie to parents.

Now the upshot of my thinking is, it's going to be fairly straightforward to bring in legislation for registration and monitoring in such a way as to make it life worse for home educators.

And we'll have to work harder to explain to Joe and Joanna Public that in the happy land of home ed, National Curriculums don't apply; autonomous education works; home-education does not mean school-at-home; you do not need to justify your parental decision-making to the state; teaching your own kids at home does not equate to emotional damage or psychological harm, nor represents exclusion from society; and that difference in learning and in learning approaches is a healthy creative approach to building a society.

Wish us luck.

Sunday, 10 January 2016

Toxophilia? We have that now

Thanks, Squirrel, for introducing me to a whole new world.

Like I wasn't already filled up with windsurfing language - how everyone sits around at the lake, then someone says Way to go with a 3.4 on a duck gybe and he's lost the luff! Everyone laughs. Heartily.

Or the sub-aqua world, where I can just get Give me air NOW but certainly wrong do going up with I'm OK.

But now I need get to grips with Toxophilia. Which isn't love of poisoning people, apparently.

Squirrel started her archery course, and here I am, duh stupid parent, thinking a bow is a bow is a bow, and then I discover it's not. It's a CXT or a 68'' 36-44lb SF forged and riser with right spine arrows.

Saturday, 9 January 2016

Dig finally sees Star Wars

I subject the children and The Undeniable Husband to a video tape extravaganza.

The video dates from c1988 and nearly plays on a wonky VHS videoplayer which won't break down. Every two minutes the video goes baulloop-baulloop-baulloop and we nearly watch half of it, but once the video tape refuses to budge altogether, I declare the education in a cultural experience is complete. I can go ahead and book tickets at Cineworld for our Saturday Night at the Pictures: The Force Awakens.

It follows the original plot pretty closely, huh? I liked it. About three-quarters of the way through - in the middle of a BOOM BOOM BANG EXPLODE sequence - I started wondering, What was the plot again? but then I remembered it was good vs evil, which saw me through to the end.

I then came to realise there's a missing super-strong, intuitive pilot Rey in game land (she's got a backstory to reveal). Well, what a surprise. Isn't it just a daily fight for the right to be equal on the Monopoly board and on the street.

Friday, 8 January 2016

Tosca, ROH

To London, for the shabby little shocker that is Puccini's Tosca at the Royal Opera House. Catch bits of it as you will.

I loved it. Tosca is my new heroine! Where she goes, I follow! (Except chucking myself off the parapets. I have my limits.)

The Royal Opera House is wonderful, as usual, and home educators are by no means excluded from their schools and outreach programmes, so book your tickets!

Thursday, 7 January 2016

Cambridge Classics

To Cambridge. While me and Dig are busy, Squirrel spends the hours looking for The Museum of Classical Archaeology (aka the plastercast museum, which she can find here).

I recommend it. We toured before. But even though Squirrel couldn't find the entrance, and trudged back to meet us at the car, it has set me thinking. Cambridge has many lovely features, does it not? It would be a useful point to stop over. En route to beautiful Suffolk and an annual Red Rose Chain theatre, we could take in the Early Music and the Shakespeare Festival, and I could fantasise that we could afford tickets for Cambridge Folk!

I think I might entice one of my children - possibly the Latin-noddled one - to consider a career in Classics, for which Clare College Cambridge has a ring to it.

Dig says it is one of the worst ideas he has ever heard, and if any of our offspring get wind of it, the earth will implode. Nevertheless, let's go forward with all good heart! I have a few years to try it out! Look, already I did the research! Next, that time-honoured home-ed technique I have used: a spot of strewing.*

* The earth is probably safe. My strewing has never worked yet.

Wednesday, 6 January 2016

Smile nicely, now

Take Squirrel to the Orthodontics Doctor. On greeting us, Mrs Teeth welcomes us kindly, and calls me mummy.  She turns to Squirrel, and with that melodic sweet manner you might use for a seven-year old wearing pigtails and a Winnie-the-Pooh scarf, says, Now then, would you just sit in this chair for me?

We both look at her. Squirrel, taller than me and with a fondness for medieval weaponry, barely moves. I laugh, one of my louder laughs, which I'm sure unsettled the man in the waiting room just now when I gave it in response to the perfect kitchen of Homes and Gardens.

Squirrel sits in the comfy dental chair (it's just going to go up and down for you) and mummy sits on the hard plastic chair, snorting.

Five minutes of pulling at Squirrel's face ensues, sometimes involving a steel ruler and sometimes involving highly purposeful language delivered in the way of a military attack. Left! Right! Bite! Open! Five! Eight!

Mrs Teeth snaps off her latex gloves. She has probably wised up to the pair of us and says Squirrel's teeth are fine. Squirrel can have braces if she wants, but the need would be purely cosmetic and non-medical. She turns to Squirrel and asks, How do you feel about your teeth?

Squirrel has the most remarkable range of facial expressions to deal with situations like this. She gives Dr Teeth one of her finest, the one that reads, 'You have obviously escaped from an institution that held you in a straitjacket', then snaps, I've got better things to do with my day than spend time looking at my teeth.

That's a perfect opportunity for me to whip out the soap box on how incisors are referenced in a social construct of female beauty when I bet molars are not subject to the same, and we both are ushered from the room pronto, without even being told to wait for the discharge forms.

Tuesday, 5 January 2016

As long as we have thinkers like Henriette

THANK YOU Henriette Reke!

For without you, how could I discuss, with my little women grobbletots, thoughts and practical ideas about how to live as a woman in our western liberal society?

THANK GOODNESS you have shown us the way!

Even though my family of women live in the bucolic UK shires - and we haven't yet been groped on the streets of Cologne - the ideas about how to live as a woman, an equal citizen, in today's society are relevant to us, too.

Indeed, these ideas are pertinent to us women, wherever we are. They inform our discussions of feminism, patriarchy, social values, cultural upbringings, and all the practical ways of living which flow, like, Who's cooking dinner? and Does anyone actually own the oven?

Thankfully, we now have very practical advice which is, DO NOT STAND WITHIN AN ARM'S REACH OF A MAN.

This truly illuminates for me a way to live life.

Take, for example, my conversation this morning with the scaffolding man* - as we both bent over a garden drain peering into the midden. Our talk went as follows:

Man: You need chicken wire over your drain, love.
Grit: I'll put some on right now!
Man: Right-eo.
Grit: There! Done it!

This is ALL WRONG. I should not assume MAN and WOMAN (and a man whom this woman has never seen before) can simply work together to achieve a result with a drain. (Not a metaphor. It is an actual drain.)

With MY CODE OF CONDUCT I should have had a conversation which went thus:

Man: You need chicken wire over your drain, love.
Grit (thinks): He is a MAN. I do not know him. I must stay an arm's length from him in case he gropes me.
Man: Do you want to see what happens if you don't have chicken wire?
Grit (thinks): He looks a bit swarthy.
Man: Are you alright?
Grit (thinks): I must gather my girl-children and we must stay in a group for safety, then together we will witness his attack upon any woman passer-by.
Man: Got any chicken wire?

Thank Goodness for Henriette Reke! She has given womankind a whole new mindset, a full new horizon of thinking! A wonderful world of opportunities! From this will flow our new future! With our new arm's length guidance (better not have short arms) then we must have WOMEN-ONLY BUSES, WOMEN-ONLY RAILWAY PLATFORMS, WOMEN-ONLY ENTRANCE AND EXITS, WOMEN-ONLY SEATING IN THEATRES! WOMEN-ONLY STREETS! WOMEN-ONLY WORKPLACES!

OOPS! Obviously, all this might be a bit of a problem if we're trying to build a fair and equal 50/50 world with the chaps.

Perhaps we women had better not go out at all, unless accompanied by a male family member whom we know and trust, and then maybe when we do go out, we should better protect ourselves, maybe with an attractive black bag over our heads that looks like we just rose up from the grave?

But of course this is just Grit, following her usual provoking line of argument. The future will not be like this at all. Not while I have three girls who are going to stand for NO SUCH NONSENSE. For here is my heartening conversation with Squirrel:

Grit: Henriette Reke said a woman could protect herself from being groped if she kept her distance from a man. What do you think Squirrel?
Squirrel: Eh?
Grit: If a woman is groped by a man, who is to blame?
Squirrel: The man.
Grit: But if I stood very close to the man, who is to blame then?
Squirrel (looking as if I am stupid): The man.

*We are having our gutters cleared. (Not a metaphor. They are actual gutters.)

Monday, 4 January 2016

4MA0 4ETO 4B10 4CHO /01 /02

Welcome, people seeking home ed diaries! You keep coming here from mumsnet, and I keep wondering if I'm home educating.

My gritlets are within whispering distance of age 16. On burfday, I say my home ed job is done. Expect grit's day then to be a diary of pot plants and politics.

Age 16, eh?! Out of skool from age 5!

Yes, I refused to let my children go to school, no matter how hard they begged me. No matter how many times they pleaded, Please let us wear black and white and go and sit to be socialised in a closed room for seven hours a day! And I said NO. 'You are going travelling / to the garden / into that quarry / up that hillside / over that field / to the coast where you will jolly well learn how to sail a ship / now stay here for an hour with a pensioner who will teach you Latin.'

We dun our home ed, most of it outdoors. If you are looking for places to go, I can suggest you search the archives. I leave them to the nation for posterity.

But 2014/2015? These years saw a change. I did not much diary! Not only because life was working out the choice crap it could offer me, but because my three gritlebobs told me, STOP! ENOUGH GOING OUT. WE WANT TO STAY IN! For it was in these years that the grifflets discovered the world of learning towards examination.

Pft. Exams. If you are home educating ages 14-16, and exams are on the agenda, it all changes.

Forgive me, but I have observations. (Not organised; out of fingertips; probably ranting.)

1. Prove to me that gcse exams are anything other than a means to kettle kids, keep them tame, socially bully them, find ways to divide them, alienate them from their environments, prevent from thinking independently and estrange them from their own thirst for strange knowledges. I do not believe that these exams 'increase the nation's productivity', 'grow the economy' or 'raise the salary expectations' of anyone, not one bit. If I were sat at a college entrance porch, you could show me a child with 150 A*s but I would much prefer to be met by a child with a personal portfolio that boasts what they love to do, what fantastic ideas they have thought up for themselves about the world, and what they have made (yes! made with their bare hands!) But I'm not in charge in education UK, so, it's all exams exams exams.

2. Exams are all politics. They are sod all to do with what children want to do. Example: Nicky Morgan
spouting how the nation would be so much better had you not followed your arts nonsense. Who cares you claimed happiness was being an actress / singer / painter / musician / writer / dancer ? Admit the truth, you would be richer if you had been forced to do medicine or science, then Britain could be great again and show China a thing or two. It's all your fault, poxy arts graduate. The End.

3. Exams are boring. They impose a control over mind and body. (I'm sure Foucault has writ about it somewhere.) For me, this has meant I cannot jump up, as I was wont to do, and shout, Let's go to Dover!

4. The change of pace here from autonomy to exam is not my fault, and it's all my fault. While not overtly insisting that my griffletips must take exams, I advised that English and Maths were probably the exams college / sixth form want to see, at least as evidence that you know what an exam is. With that idea in mind, the griblytips have run with it and are now taking (in my opinion) too many ruddy exams.

5. Actually, exams are all down to children making choices, so it's not my doing. Shark decided she wanted a university degree in Marine Something-or-other in 2006. She probably checked the entrance requirements and laid out her plan. This year she's IGCSE'ing Chemistry, Biology, Maths and English, and has started her courses in Marine Engineering. Then is it not true that our children press us to the lifestyle we live?

6. Looking at these years through my home ed lens, I'll say it's proof how child-led education works. The way my grittlebuns have taken to exams show that children choose and change as they darn well wish. They can segue from autonomy to structure without much fuss. Self-discipline and inquiry are simply characteristics of both; you need a firm backbone for both autonomous education and for organised learning.

7. Grit, shut up. I shall leave you with this article drawing on research published in the Journal of Biological Education (2014) about the results of cramming and swotting for a 2-hour session, and you can make up your own minds about the worth of exams.

8. Today I submitted all the exam codes for my three grittlepongs as private candidates to a local skool. I suggest you mumsnetters looking for exam-related home ed, that you all join the home ed exam-group:

Sunday, 3 January 2016

Only two to go

Took the grifflesnots to see Branagh Theatre Co's version of Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale, relayed to us shires-dwellers through the most excellent cinema organ.

I think we need to extend our aim - to see all Shakespeare's plays by age 16 - by a subtle twist of language, so that we see all Shakespeare's plays by the end of the 16th year.

We're missing Troilus and Cressida and The Two Noble Kinsmen. The latter I could argue off the list as co-authored, but the former was on at the RSC some time ago, so lay the blame for that oversight at my door.

Whatever. Even with the missing bits, it's been my gift to my offspring. No matter where in the world you are, what human folly you fall into, what spirit you need to revive you, someone has the language to describe your state, and they did it pretty well several hundred years ago. Find yourself a production and go and work it out.

The Winter's Tale? Yes, definitely the best production I've seen. All tears and howls and stupidity and forgiveness. Just like life on any awkward Tuesday.

Saturday, 2 January 2016

In short, behave yourself

We have an invitation to dine, informally, at The Hat's.

The Hat usually hosts this gathering of a dozen of us every Christmas Eve, but this year the party was postponed. The cause is three new-born babies, M's father in an Oxford hospital, a nervous breakdown, and a neighbour who has gone into care.

I never really know how to behave at The Hat's. It's all more polite than at ours, and the cups are bone china. Usually, I come away feeling I have messed it up. I drink the 1982 burgundy reserved for H which has been hidden behind the refrigerator, the children eat all the grapes, and then I eat all the crisps. Talking with my mouth full to deny it is the prelude to someone saying Is that the time? It must be time to go.

I expect it will be the only social event to which I am invited all year. The evening usually serves to ensure no more invitations anywhere are forthcoming.

But I thought, this year, I will try and carry in my head a few hints on how to behave conversationally at social functions. As you might see, I am trying already. But a few pointers from the wise might stop me getting into trouble this year, especially with that little woman who dresses in black. Peepah has already given me advice by way of saying how it always gets awkward when you tell that joke about the nuns and then realise you're the only one laughing.

So here is my guide. Extracts from Cassell's Hand-Book of Etiquette: Being A Complete Guide to the Usages of Polite Society (1860) London: Cassell, Petter, and Galpin.

'Attention to the following rules will put you on your guard against becoming either boring or offencive in conversation, or of committing those faults that etiquette condemns.

Look at the person to whom you speak, but do not stare at him. Endeavour both by your expression and manner to show confidence without boldness, and ease without familiarity.

Be sparing of puns and proverbs. Too many of them render conversation trite and stiff.

Ill-natured reports are among the sins of conversation. Never be the bearer of them. People may listen greedily to the report (which, after all, may be a slander), but they will beware of you, as being likely to speak ill of themselves.

Never flatly contradict any one, and show especial deference to the opinions of the aged and of the fair sex.

Recollect that the drawing-room is not a debating club, and it should never be made a field for disputants.

Do not be led into angry political discussions before ladies, and avoid controversy.

A lady cannot very decorously challenge a gentleman to a future argument, but she should always firmly dissent from opinions that savour of immorality or impiety.

If you interrupt a speaker in the middle of his sentence, you act almost as rudely as if, when walking with a companion, you were to thrust yourself before him and stop his progress.

Profane swearing, always an infringement of religion, is now, in conversation, a great breach of etiquette.

By constantly putting questions, you render yourself wearisome, and sometimes very impertinent in conversation.

Conversation should bring into play all the amiable qualities of kindness, politeness, patience, and forbearance. These qualities may be shown by the learned and unlearned, and they contribute greatly to the charm of the conversation.

In polite society, it should be understood that what passes in conversation is, to a certain degree, sacred, and cannot honourably be repeated to the prejudice of the speaker.

Finally, remember not to eat all the crisps, nor deny it with your mouth full. And never, ever, ever, tell that joke about the nun. Especially when there is one in the room.'

Friday, 1 January 2016

Could be 1967, not sure

Spent the day watching the churning of family boxes. Six large cardboard boxes, stored since the great Corbridge clear out, 2006.

The travelling Aunty is here, helping sort papers into new, smaller boxes, from which point I can turn them into the family record books (well, one family side only).

Worm-holing through time brings about its own curiosities. We have, amongst hundreds of photographs of people we don't know, a previous genealogist's attempt to touch the Battle of the Nile in 1785; a receipt for carpet cleaning 1959; a bundle of bank statements 1953; and the local constable writing in elegant prose, 1964, to advise how it has been noted the family car was parked in an obstructing manner on the High Street. On this occasion, no further action will be taken. (But I expect sherry will be served at 6pm.)

We haven't yet come across a grand opera of a passion. We have one torn letter which dramatically begins 'This is the last letter you will receive from me', and we have some clues as to the missing grandparents, but no evidence of any 1890 bedroom murder with a chamber pot, no 1920s domestic violence, no 1950s bastard offspring, no 1990s dangerous liaison, and no long spells at Her Majesty's Pleasure at any time.

Dig's family is So Middle Class. My children will doubtless be delighted when I unveil my touch of the gutters. Our Sheffield family (mother's side) had members who, the saying goes, 'ran with Charlie Peace'. When it comes to compiling my family record, I shall glue our gritty secrets, 1923, 1952, 1992, into envelopes, and then stitch them into sealed pages.

But today, 2016, we turn up a bundle of recipes, one of which Squirrel cooks. We reverently eat the following, written in Granny G's 1920s-schoolbook handwriting on the back of an envelope circa 1982:

Dried prunes
150g chocolate
100g butter
4 eggs, separated
4 oz sugar
creme fraiche

Soak prunes in brandy. Melt butter and chocolate. Whip egg whites into peaks. Mix egg yolks and sugar. Combine all ingredients. Layer into baking tray and cook gas mark 3 for 30 mins. Serve with creme fraiche.

Happy New Year.

Monday, 28 December 2015

But we Home EDUCATE and we're ATHEISTS!

Just because I now lost TWO arguments doesn't mean I'm going quietly.

Swinging punches on the way down with Argument One:
We Home EDUCATE. We do not Home SCHOOL. 

School is about training to shut up and sit quiet while knowledge is transmitted to you. It usually filters from top to bottom. To allow that process to happen, you have to accept procedures, restraints, limitations. Did you hear that bell sound? Change what you are doing. Shut up that you were 'just getting into it'. Time to do something else.

Of course we are not trying to reproduce school in a kitchen. What would be the sodding point? If we wanted schooling then we could send the kids to school, duh.

Wot we do - we swotty Ancient Classics types staring specky-eyed at our Western philosophical tradition - we like to call our stuff, Education.

Education, well, that never stops. It's not timed, it's not disciplined, nor delimited by hours, and it includes the observation of dust trickling in sunset, the way sound scatters across a marble floor, and the entire works of Shakespeare if that is your passion.

Education is free-flowing; it requires your active thinking, pursuit, and construction of knowledge. The knowledge you construct, you call your own. You, thinker, doer, expert, you find out what you like, when you like.

This wonderful segue of learning about life does not mean your learning comes without structure. As you approach anything you want to learn about, you begin to find the way the subject organises itself; you learn the language of the area you study; you discover the rationales, reasonings, labellings and semantics of the discipline.

Quickly you realise that if you're going to get far into any area, then you must bring some self-discipline to the study. You organise your time and articulate your motivations; you discover the things which facilitate your learning and the things which prohibit your learning. You learn not only the discipline you've chosen, you also learn how to learn. Welcome to our philosophy of education.

Personally I don't believe the way schools are now structured, supervised and managed allows for much of that free-ranging discovery to happen.

Chewing at anyone's ankles while flat on the floor, losing Argument Two:
Religion has nothing to do with our choice to Home Educate. We are ATHEISTS.

I now routinely face the idea that we home educate because of our religious conviction. We must be Christian / Muslims / Jews, otherwise we would send our kids to school, right?

All I'm saying, is that I'm equipping the entire family with colanders.

Yes, of course there are children who are told to believe that a virgin can conceive a child after a shadow passes over her, Gabriel speaks to some bloke holding a rock, and Moses can't find the path out a desert for 40 years, and I call this passing on your values and beliefs to the next generation.

Good luck to you. Showing your child the cultural community they are born into, what beliefs can give comfort in times of crisis, and what guides can help aspire to kindness is no bad thing. If it involves a rock, a piece of thread, or a bird that the landed gentry didn't shoot already, then so what?

But it seems to me that every parent in this land is under assault for trying to pass on their beliefs.

And if only the kids would listen to us, right? I mean, kids got Planet Internet, Wikipedia, every media resource going, the news on the TV, the shops filled with people, and the street where they live.

So the idea that a child's only source of knowledge is their parents?


PS. If you want the Religion of Grit, it is Do to others as you would have done to you, and From little acorns grow big trees.

Sunday, 20 December 2015

Death of Trust

Thanks, Independent on Sunday! Thanks for dramatically opening the flood gates to every vile thing that can be said about us; we quietly studious, we quiet minorities; we not-up-to-much home educators.

Now we're tarred. Parents who take direct responsibility for their child's education? We're poison.

Right now, in law, all us parents, every one of us, we all have the duty to educate the children we bring into the world: we have the moral responsibility, a trusted position, to choose the education we believe matches our child best. That is the law, today. And trust has long underpinned that treasured position.

But look now, how trust was killed.

Parents, trust is an inconvenient legacy. There are reasons you're not to be trusted. Why you're not to be trusted to make decisions for your children. Unregistered schools are just an excuse.

Follow the money. Your children need monitoring by central government so they can be handed over to the companies who have steadily, gradually, taken control of public funds to create large private educational ventures with global reach. Your children are theirs.

When registration is implemented, when a definitive curriculum introduced, when any school inspector can do away with any educational philosophy or style not approved, then you don't have a choice, we don't have a choice.

Trust? Trust can be redefined. The old trust, the one that came with old parents, with philosophical convictions, with history, with assumed duties, obligations, responsibilities, ideas about duties of parenthood; the simple notion that a parent knows their own child best? It's gone, it's gone.

A new parenthood is not so far away. Apply to the government for permissions to educate your child. The set curriculum will be delivered to your home computer via a corporate* who will remotely supervise and evaluate your child, keeping them 'on track' and 'on target' to better feed their test scores into global league tables. A qualified supervisor will visit your home to inspect your child and sanction your environment.

The New Parents, government and corporate, they will take decisions for your child. You, Old Parent, what they tell you to do, you do, or be punished.

* My money's on Pearson.

Saturday, 19 December 2015

Christmas preparations underway

We all scour the car boot sale for Christmas presents.

As Squirrel rightly says, we have to do the bootie, because 'the skips have locks on them'.

Monday, 7 December 2015

Arriba! Arriba! √Āndale!

Okay! This home education malarky? Okay!

Thanks for asking.

It's just ...well time, please don't assume I teach. Look, my Big Grits are now aged 15. They jolly well teach themselves. They do learny-stuff by their own endeavours; they work out what to know, and how to shake it down in a language that an examiner will tick a box for.

Anyway, my little gribblehoofs busted me when they were aged about 9. I failed their primitive area maths questions! But then, I did teach them life's most useful lesson. It's no use asking your mother. Find out for yourself.

Take it all as living breathing proof that home ed works. The kids must do things for themselves: we can help only with Lingua Latina (aged 95) and Sam Martell. (Shark now allows me to tell you she got A grade in IGCSE Physics this year.)

Ah yes! The children! Shark, Squirrel, Tiger. My experiments! Bwa-ha-ha-ha-ha!

Well, Shark has set her course for Life Domination. Having ticked Physics, sorted a newspaper delivery job, joined the Sea Cadets, learned how to cook 150 different bread types, and taken a course in Marine Engineering, she is now studying sea maps and has plans to build her own boat. At this point, I understand it is my job to close my mouth and hand out cash.

Squirrel lives in a faraway dimension where everything else makes sense. Squirrel is Shark's identical twin and her binary opposite.

While Shark purposefully handles the family laundry, Squirrel watches dust fall through sunlight. Shark marches off to source ingredients for her new-found bread recipe while Squirrel examines soil. This week, Shark learned how to handle herself on a sail, while Squirrel built a fifteen-foot articulated dragon.

I think no further explanation is needed, except to tell you my fears were unfounded, and four children could indeed hoist a fifteen-foot articulating dragon out of my house. Squirrel may arrive for a Theatre Props or Fine Art instruction near you in due course.

Tiger? Tiger is a swot for Latin, Anglo-Saxon grammar, and I'm damned if I can find a teacher of Ancient Greek.

PUBLIC APPEAL: If you know of, or you are, a teacher of Ancient Greek, please talk to me.

Apart from swotting (making dragons, sub-aqua diving, climbing, joining the stitch 'n' bitchers, taking up with the local park rangers, helping make a panto, and - joy of joys - running in teen spirit about the Wild Woods with The Wide Games Crowd), since my last missive, we have galloped through the following:

British Museum Celts exhibition; to the cinema for Fassbender in Macbeth, girl power with Suffragette, and fun with The Martian.

Live screenings of Our Lord Cumberbatch as Hamlet, the RSC's Henry V, the ENO's Mikado.

To the Globe and Sam Wannamaker theatre for Richard II and The Odyssey: Missing, Presumed Dead by Simon Armitage (I still love him, even though he spoke to me with cold, dead eyes).

Then chuck in Glyndebourne's touring production of Mozart's Die Entfuhrung aus dem Serail (I hope you're impressed I typed that from scratch).

And! We did a family team challenge which involved driving a car with a bucket of water strapped to the bonnet. (I say family. Dig was away and Tiger wouldn't join, on the grounds, It Is Silly.)

Somewhere in this, we all went to Mexico. I would tell you more, except it was werk-related and Dig says I ought not to blab about clients on a public blog.

But it wasn't all werk! Have photos! Templo Mayor, Anthropology Museum, to the Belle Arts for Diego Rivera, a couple of hours on the canals (thanks, Shark), Teotihuacan, and Shark cooking us cactus for dinner.

Speaking of clients, one of my finest moments happened recently when I was asked if I 'take part in the sex industry' thanks to my preference for leather.

Just to reassure everyone, I did not go to Mexico looking for work as a hooker. I just dress like that.

Saturday, 10 October 2015

Counting the days...

Exams make life BORING, do they not?

Here is the conversation I had today with Shark:

Grit: Would anyone like to go to the PICTURES tonight with me? You are all aged 15! We can go and see Sicario! It has drugs and violence on the Mexican border!

Shark: I have my Jane Austen essay to write.
Tiger: I need to do an hour of maths.
Squirrel: Silence. (Not here. In a field with a bundle of old Astronomers, somewhere on a dark site.)

Grit: Goooooo OOOOOOONNNNNN. Come with meeeeeee! It will be FUN. We can eat ice cream while men blow things up. Then a woman will face a moral dilemma before becoming bitterly disillusioned with law, order and the justice system in today's USA. PLEEEASE. If you do not come with me I will have to go on my own!

Shark: Be back in the house by 10.30.

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Steampunk Asylum, Lincoln

Thank goodness I'm not alone in wanting to wear plumbing joints, shower hoses, top hats, pith helmets and corsets. I don't care what the Daily Mail says. This is still Britain, we are still British, and there are hundreds of us.

The annual Steampunk bash. Get thee to a plumbing shop, get out the leather, make the corset, and join us.

Hopefully, I shall be there again with my Knicker Drawers and The Undeniable Husband. Here I am, occupied with the gin and ghost tour (a combination I highly recommend),

taking tea at the Very Splendid Lady Roses Edwardian Tea Room, Lincoln Assemby Rooms,

and taking photos of The Undeniable Husband aka Professor Pragma and his Language Translation Machine.


Monday, 10 August 2015