Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Safeguarding access to my home and family

Thank goodness I have my diary back, because I see we have an imminent visit from Aunty Dee - that's the children's Aunty, not mine - she's lucky enough to be my sister-in-law.

Aunty Dee is also a social worker, and has been totally supportive of our decision to home educate. OK then, she has not yet threatened to have me sectioned and the children farmed out to foster homes, so we can count that as the same thing.

Nevertheless, in her honour, we are all now engaged in screwing on some doorknobs, clearing up the trip hazards from the floor, and nailing the gate back together.

Clearly, this involves some necessary child labour.

But of course we are not mean employers. No. We have bought off our small employees with the promise of some cheap Neapolitan ice cream from the Co-op.

A day spent mostly at home in general maintenance is also a good time to wander round blogs and take stock of opinion around the BadmanBalls review of home education.

As Shark finishes painting the gate, I reflect on Recommendation 7 that to routinely monitor the education Shark, Squirrel and Tiger receive, a local authority officer could be given the legal power to enter my home and interview my children without my presence.

That's more powers than the police. It is also a power that can be extended to any family in this country with children.

I would just like to say for the record that if anyone were to try and enter my home, we are not just going to remove all the doorhandles again.

You will have to break in past Shark's newly painted gate and navigate the garden and floors which will be strewn with plastic junk.

Assuming, of course, you can get past my dead body nailed up over the doorway.

Monday, 29 June 2009

This could be a match from heaven

We head off at short notice to a field. In this field there's a drama workshop for home educators. By the time we leave, at 7.30pm, I round up three kids, keys and glasses ... but forget my diary, packed with details on all forthcoming activities.

When I realise, at 8.30pm, that I am diaryless, I suddenly feel totally and hopelessly lost. That's a feeling not unlike someone just threw me off a tall building, lopped off both my arms and plunged my face in vinegar pickle.

Fortunately, Richard Gere* has been running this workshop, and I have his telephone number stashed in my mobile. He rescues my diary, saves my sanity, and delivers back to me this forthcoming week. I may now have to fall madly in love with him.

And with these glorious green spaces.

* He just seems to me to bear an uncanny resemblance.

Sunday, 28 June 2009

And just when I thought no one cared

Thank you, Maternal Tales, for the award.

Some weeks ago, I took Shark, Squirrel and Tiger to a workshop. We'd driven a long way, everyone was impatient to see friends and grumpy with the journey. I'd tired my passengers with This Sceptered Isle and we'd grown impatient with word games.

But then we arrived. Shark, Squirrel and Tiger bounced out the car and started off to their teacher and group. As they sprang away they came to a sudden halt, investigated a fluttering moth, trapped between dandelions, and ran on. Our learning is like play, and I doubt the children know much difference.

I sat on a bench to wait, along with other parents. Some had phones and diaries, busy arranging lessons, workshops, outings, social meetings. Some chatted. Several sat with younger children, scattering crayons, teddies, paper, workbooks, enjoying the summer sun.

A woman, about fifty, sat next to me.

We are like all mothers, when you wait at school gates, or in the doctor's surgery, or in queues, when you might be called forward. We offer the same things. Nice weather! How many children are you waiting for? Aren't the roads busy? Her name is Mary, she says, and her son is Don.

With a laugh, Mary says she'd point out Don to me, but he's already disappeared from view, because Jack's here, and when they get together, those two are as thick as thieves, but she doesn't worry about that, only about how expensive are Don's exams and she'll suppose they'll manage somehow.

Then our talk gently turns to how difficult it is to home educate right now, how things are changing and how betrayed we feel. And then Mary tells me her story.

Don went to primary school. He was happy. There were times when the balance went wrong and school overturned family life. Mostly because Don had trouble reading and writing and Mary gave up time she didn't really have to help him at home, more when there were too many tests to do. But on balance, she said, Don was well supported, the teachers took time, and the classes were friendly.

But then school went horribly wrong. Don moved to the big school. He needed to be out earlier every morning because he had to catch the bus. And when he arrived at school, he talked different. He looked different. His new shirt looked too big for him. His hair stuck out. His shoes were too clean. He didn't fit.

At first Don simply said he didn't like school because he hadn't friends and people weren't nice to him and he felt lonely. Mary did what many mothers might do; she had a part time job, a husband to attend to, a daughter to encourage with GCSEs, and two dogs to feed. She assumed it was first-term nerves and everything would be alright with a little encouragement. Do the first half term, she coaxed, then at the holidays, we'll buy a new game for your player. Your sister was alright and now look! Loving school! Keep going. Sometimes we all have to do things we don't want.

Mary's tactic didn't work. Don became difficult, reluctant at the morning routine. He was sick. He missed the bus. He didn't want to go. His stomach hurt. The family, because they are supportive, and close, and worried about their son, were tender and understanding, and sat with him and tried to find out what wasn't right. He was being bullied, that much they found out, but who or why, they couldn't understand. Don was worried that if his mum went to the school, everyone would know and it would become worse.

Mary was discreet, of course she would be. By now she was feeling guilty, anxious, troubled. She was worried about the future years and how things would work. But the school was supportive, they listened and said they would do what they could. For a short while things seemed to be better and everyone was hopeful.

But the bullying didn't stop. It became sly, insidious. Don was punched on a bus. A child grabbed his crotch. Another grabbed his breast and twisted, hard. Janet, the school's pastoral head, was appropriately concerned. She removed children from classes and investigated. Letters were sent, back and forth, and the bullying didn't stop. The terrifying bus journeys continued.

Janet defended the school and said they had effective anti bullying policies in place. She wondered had Don in any way been more involved than he said? In any case, said Janet, the bus is not school grounds and they cannot be responsible for discipline on board the bus.

Mary said home life became hell. She used that word again, and again. Over the first year at the big school, Don had changed from a happy, outgoing, growing boy, to one who was withdrawn, difficult, obstinate, aggressive, fearful.

During the long summer holidays, Don relaxed and his parents saw glimpses of him return. He was helpful, engaged, wanted to plan the car journey on holiday to Wales, helped pack, suggested outings, looked forward to the beach, wanted to climb mountains.

Then September came again. Immediately Mary's son shrank, grew small, cried. Mary worried late into the night, argued with her family, husband, older daughter, then followed her gut instinct and gave up her job. She withdrew Don from school, and set about working out what to do. For several months they played at nothing much. She took him shopping, gave him books at home, found websites, talked with him about what he'd like to do, where they should go from here.

And that's why she's waiting now, in a workshop about trees, or beetles, or mud, or whatever, because Don loves the outdoors. More than anything in the world he wants to be a gardener and run his own landscape company.

But it's not enough. Because here comes the news reports that insist Mary is not only wrong, she's dangerous. By changing her lifestyle, ambitions, changing who she is, what she does, she's not helping her child, she'll hurt him, hinder him, stifle him, possibly abuse him. And how betrayed she felt by that, and how angry she had become, and how she thought few people outside the world of home education, which was now her main support, how so very few people would understand what she felt.

Shark, Squirrel and Tiger have never attended school beyond a summer at nursery. They've never been asked to stay in a situation of fear, physical attack, dread of loneliness. But I can understand how Mary feels now, and I want other people to understand too. I try and make sense of the criticisms of home education peddled through the media, whether they've been slipped in the back door by government-spun press officers, or written by journalists who shone at school, won awards at Oxford, have chips on their shoulders about religion or difference, or who are given a monthly pay cheque to write anything they choose that disregards all our families so casually and callously.

Home educators are not a threat. We don't deserve the whiff of suspicion. Right now many feel they are caught up in a battle; we have to challenge negative views, work together even though we are very diverse, persuade people of the consequences of this review for all parents of children any age - and all the time, with potentially damaging legislation hanging over us - compulsory access to inspect homes, our children interviewed alone, an obligation to deliver 'minimum standards', plans, assessments annually, in advance and in retrospect, requirements imposed on us by the state, regardless of whether the state education system has already failed our children. Recommendations like these may put off people like Mary from considering home education. And Mary's family, and Don, will suffer as a result.

If your children enjoy school, do well there, have no problems, then please consider what it is like if the opposite is true.

Saturday, 27 June 2009

Another day of failure and misery

Especially for Mrs Gradgrind, here is more proof of the solitude, oppression, restricted life, emotionally insecure parenting, and general intellectual torture that passes for another ordinary day in the land of home education.

For today, without the clear guidance and direction of experts like Balls and Badman, I am left alone without an educational plan to wonder how we should squander the hours, and I alight on the Museum at St Albans, and their Tudor experience day.

Here we are deprived by being invited to take part in a workshop of Tudor music and dance. We're able to listen, handle, use and talk about a range of faithfully reproduced Medieval and Tudor instruments. I am sure every school music department keeps those in the stock cupboard, so of course there is no advantage to us to be here today.

But as the final evidence of the bleak educational desolation and sheer horror of our lives, simply look at the faces on the little grits, forced by Tudor Richard to join in!

What more can I say?

I could say, go book Richard York now for his excellent, sustained introduction to music of the Medieval and Tudor periods, and thanks to Dame Currant for her teaching us about cookery of the 1500s and the local history of real people who lived and died in St Albans. And, especially I could say a huge thank you to the Museum of St Albans. Your Education Officer deserves a pay rise.

But happiness, achievement, and success don't make a good story.

Friday, 26 June 2009

Am I threatening you?

Home educators are smug bastards who think they have a monopoly on good parenting. It's about time they got their comeuppance, poncing about museums and swimming pools when the rest of us have to work. We have to suffer, so why shouldn't they.

Let's take this opportunity to put the boot in. Let's suspect them of beating up their kids. Either that, or we can say home schooled kids have no choice and are locked up all day with NO rights and NO contact and NO social skills. And they grunt, yeah, and cannot count. Then we claim the parents are emotionally needy and leave a question like this hanging in the air, like should poor innocent children be subjected to the clinging parent who keeps their child away from school for their own SELFISH ends? Is that justified? Ever? IS IT?

OK, not those words exactly. But I would just like to say I can sniff a whiff of schadenfreude coming out from those comments over here.

Which is a little confusing for Grit, who imagined, like so many other hard working home educating parents, a different vision of what life could be, released from factory farms and battery pens, and rearranged her life, sacrificing salaries and new shoes so she could bring about that different vision and different lifestyle.

And despite giving up some of the stuff other people might value, well, we find we can live a content life, grow a family an off-template way, build the days how we want, and create the way we live, well that's sort of threatening, is it?

No. I'd say threatening was stalking you, keying your Audi, and shoving a dead mackerel through your letterbox. Which right now, I'd like to do very much. Should I give in to those urges, go ahead. Pour suspicion and vitriol down on my head.

But not until I get to the mackerel, OK?

Thursday, 25 June 2009

Warning: unplanned life ahead

In Recommendation 1 of the recently published Badman review of home education, we read this:
At the time of registration parents/carers/guardians must provide a clear statement of their educational approach, intent and desired/planned outcomes for the child over the following twelve months.

Guidance should be issued to support parents in this task with an opportunity to meet local authority officers to discuss the planned approach to home education and develop the plan before it is finalised. The plan should be finalised within eight weeks of first registration.

Hello Mr Badman and Mr Balls. When I taught in an actual school with penned up human beings who clawed at the windows on sunny days, desperate to run outside, play, be alive, I doggedly stuck to the lesson plan that I had so carefully prepared, and it was of this type of reproduced crap.
Teacher led introduction of new topic how language varies (15 mins): 1. according to context and purpose [for example, choice of vocabulary in more formal situations] 2. between standard and dialect forms [for example, in drama, the effect of using standard or dialect forms] 3. between spoken and written forms [for example, the differences between transcribed speech, direct speech and reported speech]. With support, children conduct brainstorming session (15 mins) to create wall display on types of talk. Teacher led wrap up session (15 mins) on what we have learned about types of talk in preparation for written exercise in lesson 2.
I knew this would tick boxes should OFSTED drop from the skies, dribbling with the forthcoming pleasure that if I didn't deliver some goods pretty quickly they could point the finger of fate in my direction and denounce me as a BAD BAD TEACHER. So basically I protected my job, fed the kids garbage and became little more than a dead delivery vessel for prescribed knowledge sanctioned, regulated and inspected by the government.

Making teachers perform pointless exercises is nothing more than making them count number plates to keep them busy. Shoving it in front of parents is an attempt to make teaching sound professional, because we hope it will confuse the average How's-Joe-doing parent. And for the kids? Sorry - educational consumers - it is a load of arsetwaddle acting as a facile replacement for real-world experience and real-world interaction and nothing more than containment.

But now I home educate, we can kick this shite into the long grass - and then go jump up and down on where it landed.

Out here in home education land we may discuss language use in real-life contexts with real-life human beings because we are part of this society, community and city. And we can do that when and where we want because it has arisen as part of being alive.

So you can shove your vacuous planning. Today the weather is superb. I take Shark, Squirrel and Tiger swimming at the outdoor lido. And hey! THAT WASN'T EVEN PLANNED.

But do you know what the local council plans to do with this wonderful lido and community resource?

Close it down and sell it to a developer so they can meet the government's new homes targets and build another housing estate.

We are told this is a better future than the one we sought.

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Surely Queen Elizabeth II is entitled to some privacy

One reason the Grit and Dig marriage has lasted so long - despite the fact I have launched several mental traumas and a tin of baked beans at it - is that we respect each other's privacy.

Admittedly, for the first three years, life was a bit odd. After I broke into his house, cooked food and lolled about the sofa, Dig resigned himself to the fact that I wasn't going away. He didn't complain, much. He probably just wondered who I was.

Likewise, I respected his privacy in return. I never asked about the lack of detergent, the severed head in the window, and why all the doorknobs fall off.

Because of this respect for each other's privacy, or total lack of curiosity about each other's lifestyle, we got on pretty well. So well in fact that I have a theory about the way we got married, and that was I never went away, so Dig thought it would be a good idea to try marriage, and see if that would get rid of me.

It didn't. And now we have children. And still no-one's come to collect them, so it looks like we're stuck with them. But we still value our privacy. Dig leaves me alone to warp the brains of his offspring, and I wave him farewell when he travels around the world being important and earning money. So long as me and the three aliens can travel along for the ride once in a while, that's OK.

Now we live like this. I subject Dig only to a small amount of web cam surveillance of hotel rooms around the world, and I let him get on with his life. He lets me live mine. We are both happy with that. Of course there are sharing rules. I demand access to his bank account, but I do not touch his computer stuff. He does not have access to my bank account, and he does not touch my ipod or phone because if he does he is DEAD.

And like this, we endure. We can maintain this privacy because it is based on respect. We both assume we have each other and our children in our hearts, so we don't need to bother accounting for what we're doing, justifying or explaining it. We simply trust each other, unquestioning. From that, we and our children live in a safe, supportive and loving world we have built and shared.

More, our family life gives me a way of looking at the world, like I think trust, respect and privacy should inform my dealings with others.

So when an expert tells me someone I don't know should have the legal right to come into my home and talk directly to my children - unsupervised - and I need not have given anyone any reason to think I've done anything illegal, then it sort of crosses my beliefs about privacy, trust, and respect, and I want to start chucking baked beans about.

This is Recommendation 7 of the recent Badman reviewof home education which has been accepted by the government.

Personally, I do not think the state should have the right to enter my home on a two week warning. And I do not believe any government official should have the automatic right to separate me from my children to interview my children alone on the basis that we home educate.

Because by logical extension, everyone with children can expect a visit. It's any child at home, perhaps ill, taking a day from school due to family circumstance, not taking up the state nursery provision from age 3. Which makes me think Mr Badman and his like must be fair desperate to know what goes on in our private life, that they're so keen to get inside our home.

And I know there will be people who say Fine! Anyone can inspect my home anytime they wish! And all they'll find are happy children!

Then I hope we can trust everyone to do their job fairly. I hope the day when someone calls, and claims they are within their legal rights to enter the home, interview the children alone, that they choose a day in anyone's life when no-one is ill, when the front room is in disarray, the laundry not done, that there is no ordinary life circumstance that has caused disruption and unswept floors.

Because what if there are children with dirty faces? The lawns not maintained? The ironing not done? Is that visitor there to help and understand? Or is that visitor there to ensure minimum standards are maintained, to police and inspect the environment? To assess the suitability of a home? How much mischief could a visitor make if they chose?

So Mr Badman, let me tell you now, when you find out what my husband keeps in his bathroom, then you will realise we would all have been better off not knowing.

By the way, if you are thinking Queen Elizabeth is just a gratuitous name to pull in those desperate Americans in a keyword search, you are partly right.

Today the gritlets visited one of Mrs Windsor's castles, saw the changing of the guard, the round tower, the state rooms and took part in a workshop about Henry VIII and his very large armour.

Of course we are only allowed to see a very tiny bit of Windsor castle, and there is some intensive security and monitoring of us, so don't think you can just call in like the Local Authority would like to do to us. And most certainly we are not allowed to visit the private rooms of Queen Elizabeth II.

Do you think she has something to hide?

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

But it's not surprising my hair is turning grey

So I'm getting ready for bed, in the upstairs bathroom brushing my teeth, trying not to remove what's left of the enamel, concentrating on making sure the teeth in my head at the age of 99 are mine and not plastic, when I hear a blast of noise from the street below - like kids WHOOPING and SCREAMING - which is not particularly strange given that it's 10.30ish at night. But it is strange I hear some kid shout SHE'S GOING TO BLOW!

Now naturally curious about these late night impromptu street parties hosted by teen gangs here in Smalltown, I go to the window to look out with my toothbrush stuck in my face and my mouth full of Colgate foam and I see a lot of small bright fires blazing over the tarmac. One fire is under the wheel of a parked car and some kid is pumping his foot up and down on that blaze like he's trying to kick the fire out, but he's not having any luck with that because fire and rubber like each other very much and no Nike trainer is coming between that embrace.

The kid does what any responsible young adult does in our society, and runs off, with three other kids, away down the street whooping and calling. And Grit does what any responsible old adult does, tosses the toothbrush on the floor, runs down two flights of stairs to the kitchen, grabs a flower vase, chucks the flowers out, runs outside and throws the water over the fire and ppffff, out it fizzles.

Just as I stand there in the middle of the road, holding a flower vase, staring at the tyre, a vehicle screeches to a halt by me, a young man jumps out and shouts That's my car! What the hell's happening? Grit, with her mouth full of toothpaste foam, puts up a forefinger by way of suggesting Could you wait one moment please? and goes and spits in the hedge.

From that point life becomes slightly more surreal but involves the young man chasing four teenagers, a stand off down the back lane and Grit phoning the police. Over the next hour I have to hang round street corners half undressed with toothpaste dribble down my chin. It almost beats the time I stood in the business district with a plastic bag on my head thanks to a fire alarm at the hairdressers.

But I would say that it is an appropriate ending to a day here at the Pile. We have been guided by madness all day long, possibly a form of post-gooseberry disorder. Squirrel has declared she is writing a book and is copying out someone else's book as an expedient and quick way of doing it. Shark has wailed she now needs a pet so badly she has gone out and caught greenfly in a jar and is now looking after them with an intensity that will make them wish they were dead. Tiger, not to be outdone, has manoeuvred a reluctant slug into a marmalade jar and demanded I give up my organic lettuce to feed him and, by the way, his name is Nutmeg.

Given this daily environment and the routine state of Smalltown, it is surprising that I am as normal as I am.

Monday, 22 June 2009

Home school mother malnourishes children

Gooseberry and nut brick

250g butter/or hippie non dairy fat
250g SR flour
125g ground almonds
125g brown sugar
400g gooseberries
50g chopped nuts
More sugar. Don't ask questions.

1. Rub butter into flour, almonds, sugar to make 'breadcrumb' mix. Press half of this quantity into a deep baking tin.

2. Wash gooseberries and roll in more sugar. Scatter sugared gooseberries on top of the layer in the baking tin.

3. Add nuts to remaining half of crumb mix. Press down over the gooseberry layer.

4. Bake about 50 mins until golden and fruit bubbles up at edge.

5. Dredge with more sugar. Cool, slice into bricks. Begin building house with bricks. Make second batch. And third. Become delirious with sugar intake. Start to lose sanity. Babble about gooseberries and how you are going to rub them over your body and eat their lovely juicy cake brick thing. Make more batches. Become insane. Need restraint. Armed police arrive. Dig is wringing hands. No matter! GOOSEBERRY BRICK CAKE THING IS HERE AND IT IS ALL MINE MINE MINE!

Sunday, 21 June 2009

Home school mother brainwashes with religion

The kids say, this is just a phase mama's going through, what with the hairy legs, tie dyes, dreads, and Buddhist stuff.

Because look today, where mama dragged everyone again.

That's right. Peace Pagoda, Milton Keynes.

Well, kids, the line between abusing you and educating you just got blurred, so today I am torturing you with religion. And not just a little bit of religion, a lot. So next week read in the newspapers how Mama is a CRAZOID RELIGIOUS HOME EDUCATING ZEALOT.

And while I beat you, I will say This is for your own good, Squirrel, Tiger and Shark. You will thank me later.

Because today at the Peace Pagoda is the annual Multifaith and Multicultural Celebration. And right here are speeches from Muslim, Hindi, Jewish, Pagan, Atheist and Christian community leaders. Hey, they even get Bruce Kent up to the microphone. So let's kill several birds with one stone, metaphorically speaking, and you call this your annual assembly.

Well that's your home ed. Now what they do with religion in mainstream schools these days? I'm out of date there, so if anyone can tell me, please do.

Because my only contact with school religion is completely and overwhelmingly half-heartedly Christian with overtones of slightly mad.

Sometime after the Norman invasion I attended a primary school where one morning in assembly the headteacher broke the news that we grubby kneed, snotty nosed latchkey kids had sinned at the moment of our birth so that was it, kaput. Your parents may love you, but let's face it, you're doomed. The only way back to goodness, nice things, clean knees and everyone else loving you was by being good. Good meant doing exactly what you were told. Now stand up, close your eyes, put your hands together and we say the Lord's Prayer, and you will say it five times until you get it right. And that was a sort of education, but probably not the one they hoped for.

The next contact I had with religion was a grammar school, time warped into the eighteenth century. They did assembly and hymn singing. Probably about eighteen months spread over five years of pain. The time was wasted on Grit, who spent her assembly hours trying to work out Plan A) Run away to Brazil and Plan B) Starve herself to glorious perfection because she'd worked out she was just the Wrong Sort to be saved by Jesus.

And that was it. We had Christianity, and we had nothing else. Heck, I even worked in schools as a fully grown willing adult and they still had no religion I can recall. Maybe it was just too contentious.

So several times a year I do this non-coercive round up of the religions, beliefs, aspirations and interpretations in the expectation that one day, Shark, Squirrel and Tiger will be free and choose for themselves, nothing, anything, something.

Including, should they wish, Flying Spaghetti Monster.

Saturday, 20 June 2009

All dog owners are at liberty to hate me

Hey! Folks who own DOGS.

Here is the sign at Burnham Beeches.

Grit, Dig and the little gritlets drove to Burnham Beeches today for part of the education we build with Shark, Squirrel and Tiger. That's an EDUCATION. Today we're looking at the geology of these ancient woods.

Kids don't study much geology in schools. We study geology because we like rocks, and think they are pretty cool.

So we drove a long way to Burnham Beeches to join a geologist on a walk-and-talk. Hopefully, he'll tell us about clay, chalk, limestone, sink holes, gravel deposits, ice ages and how not to fall off cliffs.

You see, we are not just here with nothing to do, kinda mooching around, like I THINK I'LL WALK THE DOG.

Which dog is that?

Would it be a dog like a cute little Rottweiler?

The sort you let off the leash. The sort of dog that comes to chest height on Squirrel, Tiger and Shark, who are scared of dogs that bound up, unpredictably, make sudden jerky movements, slobber, pant like a wild man chained up for forty years and just let free with HAHAHAHAHAHA so we can barely hear what the geologist is saying, never mind come close to the group, because the damn dog is leaping and bounding everywhere, sending Squirrel off into fifty types of fear and clinging to me like she has seconds to live.

So of course Grit says something to the lovely dog owner. And you won't believe it, but Grit is polite, really, like I'm sorry, but could you keep your dog from near my daughter?

You see, we had a very bad incident, no actually, we had two very bad incidents with dogs, where the owners let their animals from the leash, and then demonstrated they had no voice control over these animals.

And, by the way, before you tell me how lovely your dog is and how he would never harm a child, can you imagine, for one second, what it feels like as a mother with three babies, and this dog with its head down and a mean look in its eyes is making a bee-line for your babies, and you, mother with only two arms, can only snatch up one of your babies, and you have to leave the other two exposed and vulnerable, while you kick at that animal and yell and scream while the owner is running up and hitting out in all directions with a stick because they have no voice control at all. Can you imagine that?

And indulge me here for one second, because while mama Grit does not pander to this fear at all, no way, because we are going to that field, dog or no dog, she has to understand that child's fear, work with it, be gentle, find those strategies to cure that fear that do not rely on bullying, intimidation, coercion or bribery, and one day the fear will be gone, and everyone will wonder, what was all the fuss about?

So before you tell me how silly is my child and how lovely and meek and mild is your dog, would you just see what impact you are having, understand what I am saying, and for the two hours you are with us on this geology walk, please put your damned dog on the leash?

In those snatched moments when I have freed one hand from Squirrel, still clinging to me like a limpet - because I am determined not to give up the reason why we have come today - here are some photographs from the gravel, clay, flint and chalk landscape of beautiful Burnham Beeches.

Friday, 19 June 2009

This should be titled, PAIN IN THE ARSE

After today I have to stand up for the next two weeks, thanks to the world's sorest backside.

This is not the result of Grit's new profession, this is the fault of Ed Balls.

Just in case you are lagging behind, dear reader, I'll quickly let you know that the scheming Ed Balls and the world's foremost expert Mr Badman cooked up a review into home education that basically says, WAIT A MINUTE! YOU HOME EDUCATORS ARE HAVING FUN! IT IS NOT STATE APPROVED! YOU MUST BE STOPPED!

On publication, Grit immediately soars off to Planet RIGHTEOUS INDIGNATION and resolves to SHOW THE WORLD WHAT FUN HOME ED IS.

Thus today's PE lesson. Normally this means shove Shark on a dingy, Squirrel in a dance class and Tiger on a horse. Then leg it to the lakeside cafe to loll about in a leather armchair drinking Pimm's.


Thanks to her recent injection of righteousness, Grit says we are going to show Mr Balls what fun we home educators can have ON A BIKE and then we are going to be taken by ambulance over to his house and die on his front lawn.

Because Grit's home education version of PE FUN is to cycle approximately one thousand miles via Abu Dhabi on a bike with a non-springing saddle to arrive at a local festival for this evening's performance by Cock and Bull.*


And here it is. Not photographs of my bottom, obviously. Although if, in the next two weeks, you happen to cruise around the world's goriest medical sites displaying hideously deformed bottoms, you might just cop a look.

Such a tranquil start!

How we laughed!

Even at Squirrel's ballooning skirt which shows all the passers by her knickers! But by now the horrible realisation is sinking in. She is still laughing because she has a FOAM SADDLE.

Things are getting a little tough, now.

But we make it!

Sadly, the photographer is not up to much.

Thank goodness The Hat can take over and dance with Shark while mama Grit tries to furtively rub her bottom to relieve the CONSTANT AGONY. But oh no! What is this?

The long dark night of desolation and bottom PAIN back home AGAIN.

I'm not making this up, you know. Great Linford Waterside Festival is here, and over here is the highly recommended Cock and Bull.

Thursday, 18 June 2009

This child bait plan is rubbish

Fule Grit takes her little grits to the farm.

She does this because she wants Shark, Squirrel and Tiger to be compliant, agreeable, sit down, and shut up. Then she can get her head around some boring typesetting work and hopefully put clothes in the washing machine.

If command and control is not taken of the laundry soon we will be chasing my trousers down the street because those beauties are now walking under their own momentum, striding round the front room and issuing death threats to the milk man.

Taking the little grits to the farm this morning is part of Grit's grand plan.


Either way you look at it, it is a rubbish plan.

Don't try it. It is nearly as rubbish as the world's most rubbish plan of child care dreamed up by Big Bro in desperation at 11pm while his little niece grits are boinging around the beds. That plan was, I will give you a Kit Kat if you go to sleep. That was, and still is, the winner of the world's most rubbish child control plan, bed time category.

Of course once we are at the farm, the little grits scarper into the fields. After two hours sitting alone by a wheelbarrow I'd buy a laptop there and then should anyone passing be selling one.

When the gritlets emerge they have picked the equivalent of a month's wage in strawberries, boxed them up and are marching towards the pay desk anticipating a cooking session with a strawberry tart when we get home, thank you very much.

Well the advantage of the day is quite lost. I have spent more than I earned and gone off entirely the idea of working at all.

So we invade the gooseberry fields, come home, and make gooseberry fool.


Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Dwelling on thoughts is usually a bad idea

Because I'm not giving in, and writing about my feeling today, as I march the gritlets along the street to Bedford Museum for a workshop on the siege of Bedford.

That feeling, like everyone's read those newspaper stories now. So the woman who passes me? When her eyes glance for a fraction of a moment as her brain checks out a mum and three kids trailing behind, and what comes tumbling next into her head to spread that shadow over her face and cause that flickering frown?

Huh. Another parent condoning truancy. A parent who's kept their kids from school, one of those pretending about home education. Religious nut. Warped person. Someone not like us, like normal people. How can their kids ever be normal? Look, no friends. Isolated. Locked away. It's a disgrace. Something should be done.

Wondering what other people think is probably a bad idea, because it won't make much difference to how we live, and what our values are. I'll carry on doing what we do, everyday, because I believe for me and mine, it is right. But it all just got harder to get over our ideas, free from prejudice, free from those thoughts, and those press insinuations.

We meet a group of home educators of all types up on the windy Castle hill. Some are outraged by the Badman report, angry at the attack on privacy and choice. Some shrug their shoulders and say, with resignation, it's what this society is moving to, what can we expect? Others say home educators should accept visits, should enjoy them. Another says they're leaving the country. They've had enough. A last, optimistic, says look on the bright side, says something good will come.

The education officer doesn't seem to expect anything, so we oblige. She gaily suggests the kids reenact the siege of Bedford, then hands out costumes, wooden props, and a crossbow, which she says, to everyone's disappointment, doesn't really shoot bolts, so don't try. Chuck some plasticine about instead.

We don't learn much we didn't already know. We'll come back home and read it from Wikipedia.

But it's a chance for the kids to all meet up, have fun, run about, dress up as archbishops, gate keepers, soldiers, cooks, scribes, lords and ladies. They whoop and shout, play at making grass medicine for the wounded, and send secret messages from castle walls that don't exist. The parents chat, and everything is so very ordinary, and so very normal.

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Thank you Richard Vaughan! Grit's new job is PROSTITUTE!

Hey, Richard! Writer of the article on HOME EDUCATION for the TES! Yes, you! You wrote the article published 12 June!

Richard, you might have saved us.

Since I gave up a full time job to HOME EDUCATE my children, I've become used to making decisions, like, do I buy new boots at John Lewis for £180? Or do I buy used shoes at the RSPCA charity shop for £3? Well, sometimes there's no real choice, because my kids need books, resources, outings, computer stuff and art materials. And tell me about the cost of those acrylics!

Well you obviously appreciate that home educators don't usually receive money from the state just because they've chosen a different way of education from you. Not a bit. Usually, it's a big hit on our time, commitment, energy, and pockets.

Which is why your suggestion is just tickety-boo! It could be a nice little earner, no? Don't be SHY! It was you, wasn't it Richard, who conflated the article on HOME EDUCATION with this paragraph on PROSTITUTION?
The Department for Children, Schools and Families has issued new guidance with the Home Office to safeguard children from sexual exploitation and prostitution. It revises guidelines published in 2000 in a report, Safeguarding Children involved in Prostitution. Delyth Morgan called all frontline professionals to work together to identify children at risk of sexual exploitation and take the 'best steps to keep them safe from harm'.
Of course you know that home education often means learning things together with our children. So if my child is now living in a world where HOME EDUCATION and PROSTITUTION can be dealt with as if they are pretty much one and the same thing, of course they should know about it.

Well, I'm their teacher! I'll find out first!

Now bear with me Richard, because I'm new to this game, and I may not have all the lingo just yet. I've done my advertising on the back lanes.

And I've had a little rummage in the wardrobe and come up with this. Do you think it will help?

Look a bit closer, Richard. Something might tickle your fancy.

Sorry, I don't have all the face mask stuff yet. I found these eye patch things that Dig bought back from an aeroplane.

Ohh la la, Richard!

And when we are very naughty, Richard, I could read to you about THE BATTLE OF BOSWORTH.

And then we could get down to some serious work. Again, you'll have to forgive me. It's just what we've got in the cleaning cupboard right now.

Well, Richard. Big Boy. Thanks for suggesting this angle. Me, I would NEVER have THOUGHT that HOME EDUCATION AND PROSTITUTION BELONG TOGETHER.

I should give you a discount.*

*But sadly, due to irritating ideas about accuracy, decency and fairness in this country, I've been forced to accompany the opening of my new business with a letter to the Press Complaints Commission.

Monday, 15 June 2009

My children have done this

Last year I saw the entries for the Turner Prize on display at Tate Britain.

A model sitting on a toilet wasn't quite enough to prompt me to action.

After all, I'm beyond bored with Brit art and the like. Corpses hanging from trees, people with penises growing from their faces, a pile of soil, a heap of bricks, celery, tin foil... a squatting dummy seems rather tame.

It wasn't that which prompted Grit to shift herself from her chair. No.

It was a passing comment by a Dior-clad uber tart in a London art gallery who, dripping perfumed couture and diamonds in front of a pool of yellow paint splashed over a bedsheet, declared loudly, 'It really annoys me when people say "My child could have done that!"'

That was it.

Each month, nine-year olds Squirrel, Shark and Tiger worked a day with me on this project. First we visited Whipsnade wildlife animal park, taking observational sketches. Next we looked at the work of painters listed here. Then we studied colour, form, composition, line. We converted a bathroom to a studio. There, we tried all styles of brushstroke. We worked with different qualities of acrylic. We mixed, matched, blended, sketched, considered, talked, painted, cried, laughed. Then I marched to the local community art space, booked the space for two weeks, Dig made the posters, and we spent Sunday putting up the art.

And this is my children's exhibition. It's called HIDE! If you can't come along, here are the paintings on the walls.

And here is a little of the behind-the-scenes work.

Uber tart, My children did that.