Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Questions, questions, questions

Imagine this. Grit sits in a cold school classroom, late in the evening. The fluorescent light spreads a bleak, shadowless pall over the desks and chairs, and us, five adults.

And we are trying, and I mean trying, like struggling with our souls trying, to find something, anything, to speak out on behalf of Jade.

This is the meeting of the English department. And we are struggling to predict a G grade for Jade's GCSE English, to satisfy the school's aim that fewer than 5 per cent of children leave school with no exam passes.

And we can't find anything.

She can write her name suggests one.
I've never seen it
says another.
What about speaking and listening?
She can speak, but not always appropriately
(Does that cover the time Jade jumped up, shouted I'm a dinosaur! and threw a chair at the wall?)
She threw a chair at my wall.
In your lesson too?
Did she do that thing about the dinosaur?

OK, things are looking bad for Jade. When she finally wrote nothing on her exam paper, she got a U grade. At least Wayne wrote a poem titled Piss.

So that was a poor outcome for over ten years of schooling. But hey, Jade went on to work at the local stables picking out horse shit from horse tails. I guess she was happy enough to work there because years later someone said she was still there, aiming to be a farrier.

And with Jade ghosting in my head - Jade who probably wanted only to worship horses, and to that end could not see the point of sitting in lessons, taking exams, squashing her own sense of rebellion and frustration, reading Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry at a speed of one chapter a week - with the memory of Jade here, I face this next question from the UK government in their 'review' into my home education.

2. Do you think that home educated children are able to achieve the following five Every Child Matters outcomes? Please let us know why you think that.

And this is my first question, as much on Jade's behalf as those kids of my own.

What is an outcome?

For what is Jade? Was she a computer program? Should I have stuffed my teaching notes for Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry up her nose, then pulled her ears, and out of her mouth spewed an essay on the minor characters? That would have been convenient. But Jade was not interested in our outcomes. Or anybody's. She was finding her own 'outcomes'. By that, she taught me a great deal.

Like Jade, my children will create their own outcomes, regardless of any outcomes other people would like to dream up, write down, and set out for them. And they'll do it in their own time too, and at their own pace.

But I'm assuming something, aren't I? That you parents of schooled children know all about these outcomes.* That you've got them inked in your mind, that you walk your children to school each day reminding them you will be disappointed if they don't make their five outcomes today.

If you, schooled child parent, do not know what the outcomes are that your children should achieve, then here they are.

  • Be healthy
  • Stay safe
  • Enjoy and achieve
  • Make a positive contribution
  • Achieve economic well-being
And here is my second question.

Are these 'outcomes' of any use to any parent?

But some of these outcomes seem very reasonable, don't they? They fall in with phrases like nothing to hide and show some common sense. Of course parents want children to be healthy and safe and achieve that which gives them happiness and satisfaction. So it seems with these I should have nothing to argue. We could overlook the way things get a little tricky at the end. Achieving economic well being. Because if we paid attention to that, every parent should get their child economically active now because unless your kid's bringing in a wage we're all failing.

But really, are these 'outcomes' useful to you, any parent? We should all be questioning how these statements help anyone: you, Jade, Squirrel, the ten year old over the road who walks everyday to school.

And here's my third question.

Why are these outcomes given to me as something my child should achieve?

Because here is something that bugs me, deeply, about 'common sense' outcomes like this; the sort of common sense stuff that no-one in their right mind would disagree with, unless they had something to hide.

These statements, these ordinary everyday good-for-our-children statements are a way of getting a foot in the door to my family life. Here are statements we can be held by. And every parent, every family, is held up to scrutiny.

Did the judgements and decisions you made today contribute to your child's sense of achievement of these outcomes? Did you do the right thing when you had granny look after your child, or the neighbour, instead of a registered, inspected childminder who knows what outcomes your child should achieve?

And through such questioning of our personal judgements, our family decisions, we are really being given the parameters for our thinking about ourselves as parents.

So what's the next step? Can these outcomes can be tested and measured? That means you, as a parent, need to be monitored, and assessed in your ability to provide these outcomes. And I wonder if a league table for their achievement could be set up? Where would you, and your children stand in that measure today?

And here's my fourth question.

Why are these outcomes made especially applicable to us, as home educators.

Are you parents of schooled children given these questions from school? Are you asked to consider whether your chosen school is meeting these outcomes? Whether each teacher your child met today delivered these outcomes? Are home educators being particularly singled out here? Why?

Well I could go on, with questions, questions, and more questions. Like what is the agenda here? What is the required answer that would best fit that agenda? Who is the audience for this question?

You see, to me, question 2 of the government 'review' simply doesn't make sense. Reading this question feels like looking at a lot of broken threads, but together, they don't make up a full embroidery. Yet this question, and the others, purports to 'review' what I do, everyday, which is to home educate my kids. No doubt the answers I give will be used as a 'result' and may be used as evidence against me.

So who is this question really for? Is it for the person who has an opinion, but no experience of home education? Is it the person who would like home education to be monitored, assessed, regulated, controlled, put under surveillance, made illegal, because everyone knows, common sense tells us that home education can be a cover for brutality and neglect, all a front, a set-up by lazy, idle parents who would rather loll about at home all day long rather than get out of bed, send their kids to school and earn an honest wage? If this question is for people who believe these things, I guess they'll respond No.

Grit's response, meanwhile, is No response.

* The five outcomes originate from the Every Child Matters consultation document. It has opened up a huge range of database-driven surveillance on children and families. And if you are keen to find out more, go here.


The Finely Tuned Woman said...

Yes, I wonder why you are being singled out to have to live up to those 5 points and if any other parent has even given them a thought, let alone knew about them and why it is automatically assumed that their school educated children will be safe and healthy, etc. I remember elementary school as being not such a safe place for me personally, due to both the adults and the children.

Elibee said...

Did you hear the latest on the news today. Someone 'who knows' says it is better for children to go to nursery than to be looked after by grandparents because grandparents don't allow children to socialise properly???????

Ruth said...

You should read the analysis of the outcomes on http://sometimesitspeaceful.blogspot.com/

I thought the outcomes were straightforward, stupid but at least meaning what they say. Seems I thought wrong. Take "Enjoy and achieve" the five aims are:
# Ready for school;
# Attend and enjoy school;
# Achieve stretching national educational standards at primary school;
# Achieve personal and social development and enjoy recreation; and
# Achieve stretching national educational standards at secondary school

So ALL HE kids are going to FAIL automatically!

kellyi said...

Soon we will give birth and there will be a government official waiting on the labour ward ready to take the babies away and get them in placed firmly in the system, because there will be some twit some where who thinks that newborns left with their parents for five minutes aren't meeting these outcomes.

Katherine said...

In New Zealand the Home Educator's requirements were (and I think still are): "TO TEACH (NB not mention of *achieving* anything) AS WELL AND AS REGULARLY AS IN A REGISTERED SCHOOL".

Given that studies prove that registered schools teach one on one about (generously) 10% of the time, we're pretty safe on the 'AS WELL' bit.
And 'REGULARLY'? Well, that just means you can't teach 100% for 10 days running and then take the rest of the year off. So that's sweet, too.

The NZ Home Educators' Association has worked hard over the years to keep the criteria flexible, and encourages homeschoolers not to be specific as to times and subjects in their applications, as they would be held to it. (You didn't read that, ok?)

Unfortunately the NZ Education Review Office checks up infrequently, but if you have some stuff made of paper and glue with feathers stuck on top, lots of photos of the kids in museums, swimming and collecting shells and feathers with other homeschoolers and reading books, but not in the shop serving customers all day, they are usually quite happy.

I exaggerate, but it seems to be much easier to give kids a quality home education here than in the UK...

Katherine said...

Opps sorry I just posted on your blog.

Anonymous said...

Not always purile are you Grit?

Angela said...

In Germany, home schooling is forbidden. Don`t ask me why. When my (smart) daughters were going to school and felt bored and unhappy and pushed around for learning easily, I wished I could have taught them at home. So instead, we went to museums in the afternoon, and I taught them English at home (with which they were always the star in class), but I could not take their unhappiness of school days away. is THIS what school boards consider so desirable???

Potty Mummy said...

I think you should forward this post to School Gate at Times Online. It's relevant to all of us, homeschoolers or not.

Anonymous said...