Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Behind the home ed front

Welcome to the home ed front! Especially if you are the lonely reader chained to a council desk. Have an extra special cuddle, because we know how hard is your job, checking up on we ungovernable home ed types.

Here is your reward. Grit Skool educational endeavours and achievements. Offered up for general informed perusal etc.

Yes, mixed up with life, but that's education round here. Now please don't come calling; the door is locked, and anyway I put the bath against it, so it's tough on the reformed burglar trying to sell me dish-cloths, too.

1. Shark is in Hong Kong. She has gone there with Dig. Her priorities are to examine her rock pool, celebrate Chinese New Year with Chum Zo, and visit the Maritime Museum, now in its new location on Pier 8. Yes, she will be insufferable on her return.

I wish all parents would hoick their children out of school and enjoy holidays in term time. This would be good for you all; you could have a great experience, come home glowing, and produce children who are knowledgeable about strange matters.

Frankly, I do not understand why school-head-types say that travel is not learning anything, because when Shark comes home she will be able to recount in detail all the news about her shrimp.

2. I have moved Shark's stuff. I told her on Skype, when I was safe, and she was far, far, away. (I recently got myself banned on that medium, thanks to 'being embarrassing').

She was surprisingly sanguine about this, including my casual disregard for the sink (probably much like you, if you were off holidaying with shrimps). But! I bet this laid-back insouciance lasts only until she returns. Then I will hide in the coal shed until her red mist departs.

3. The house is peaceful. I thought, since the awkward members of the family are out the way, it would be an ideal time to remove the bath and renegotiate the toileting facilities! For the remaining quiet ones, off their faces with chemistry books and a Latin primer, I can call it a practical lesson in plumbing and interior decor or summat.

 Goodbye, bath! It was fun, but we both knew, it could never last.

4. I have attended my Naughty Driver Course, after I was caught speeding at criminal speeds in Norfolk. Personally, I think this blip was not fair. I maintain there are issues here, like, signage. Whose responsibility is it? Mine, apparently. I have to do all the thinking.

Anyway, if you have never attended one of these courses, they divide up the material to be delivered by Mr Nice and Mr Nasty. Mr Nice is helpful. He tells you how to be a good driver; better than all other drivers on the road (that includes you). Mr Nice makes you feel special and important. I am now clever for attending my Naughty Driver Course.

Mr Nasty is the opposite. He says, 'I'm not going to make you feel like a shit. Of course that is not why we are here'. Then he shows you animated sequences of motorway pile-ups and says, oh look, they were speeding, not that it's important. But the passenger died. Yes, he's dead. Dead DEAD DEADDEADDEAD. And he was only aged three.

5. Finding an exam centre is almost as gruelling as a Naughty Driver Course. We must now do unctious ingratiating to get the Chemistry and Geography IGCSE exams. One bit of me is worried about this, because I have a mouth and sometimes it doesn't know when to shut the fuck up. My other brain is reassuring. It says, Everything will be fine. Let's face it, you have a long experience of being a backsliding weed, so should be able to do as necessary.

6. A great many kids have been coming and going recently, probably taking advantage of a vacant Shark bed.

They are bringing all teenage larks to the house, including Monopoly game-board playing by rules I never heard of; mud all over the v. expensive carpeted stairs (Squirrel); loud videos of a cat in a tutu; and an assortment of blocked toilets.

I can cope. In fact, I like it, especially at going-home time when they don't want to leave. This is very flattering to me, and I hope I am fast gaining a reputation as an uber-cool, laid-back parent of teens. (This is only a half-view, of course. They have seen only my resignation of fine whatever when they set the lawn on fire. They are yet to witness my temper tantrum with the vacuum cleaner.)

7. On Film Family Fun Night, we watched David Tennant again in Hamlet, this time with the voice-over commentary by Greg Doran. I recommend it. The commentary communicated thinking, and not the normal, tedious, in-joking, with that story about when they sat on a train, inevitably followed by guffawing.

8. I have laughed at Mr Wilshaw suggesting good parents tell bad parents what to do. Is he not aware, we already have this in our culture?

Speaking as one of the problem mamas (children do not go to school; possibly broken family; maybe mentally ill; child abuse not far away; also drunk; could be dealing drugs; Who knows what goes on behind closed doors? etc. etc.), I have lost count of the times I have felt obliged to answer that question, Not at school today?

We live in England, so we check up on each other's business in our English way. But I guess he has one thing in common with Gove, even if they have had a tiff - the lesson from Mao, how the party line takes precedent; and merely to deliver it effectively requires the complicity, submission, and unquestioning agreement of the parent.

Therefore! Grit Skool lessons this week: Shrimps, Plumbing, Politics, Citizenship, What's in the news today? How to avoid death by Speeding, Hamlet, Social renegotiation of traditional board games, and Oh Look, Mother's Got All Awkward Gittery (again).

ps. Geography! I forgot about the geography. Two hours a fortnight. Includes problem-solving situations of a geographical nature in one room, and cooking in the other. In this case, High-Income Country scones contrasted to Low-Income Country scones, with some discussion about farming techniques. Not that I am an expert there, but we have a book.

Sunday, 19 January 2014

This week...

I have sustained two cooking burns and fallen down the stairs. Falling down the stairs wasn't too bad, maybe a touch undignified, but no serious damage. Until I got out of bed the next morning with what felt like a bruised coccyx (a fine word; I am delighted to use it, although tailbone comes a close second). It would make sense, I thought, since the fall was a sitting one, bumping my bum one step at a time in a rapid progress to the cellar. (I must get the decor sorted out.) Anyway, it put paid to my morning Ramblers, even though I had out my fancy boots and all.

Also out of time, I am behind on my Knicker Drawers. I have a beautiful commission for a lovely young lady and I want to do her proud. Not that I've ever met her, nor likely will, but if I pass her in the street I should like to imagine she is thrilled by the long tendril ties and soft wrapping cover of her book. May it see her through happy college years.

I bought a roof rack to take Tiger's windsurfing gear to our local lake. Stupidly, I have only now begun to consider the consequences of this one.

My washi tape arrived! (So much for the free delivery. It cost me a tenner to get it out the Post Office.)

And of buyer beware... I visited a car boot sale this week, and bought from a lovely gentle elderly man a pair of leather gloves for one pound. Then I discovered they were both left hands.

However. I have been amusing myself with Squirrel's appalling spelling. On the worksheets she submits to the indefatigable tutor, she has hydrogen making a poping sound when it is lit. I like to imagine it also softly incants In spiritu sancto as it goes up in flames.

And I am becoming expert on Brazil. Thanks to the long hours spent talking about how you can present statistics and why Brazilians have 360 holidays every year. (But I would like to add that I am not worth kidnapping by your local drug lord to extract my up-to-the-minute, world-class knowledge because actually I am only half listening to it, chipping in whenever I have a petty whine about why can't I go to Rio? Why can't the children go to Rio, etc. etc.*)

I am in continued negotiation with a local exam centre. They are now at me with demands for character references.

Speaking of the children, on the home ed front, they made it to a (cut-price) ice-skate session. Tiger also enjoyed a workshop at Buckingham Palace, Queen's Collection, on Castiglione. As a non-attendant adult, I had time to enjoy an excellent chin-wag with Mich. She impressed me hugely by knowing the local pubs and taking me to a toilet that looked like a brothel.

But forget the children! They are busy hot-housing themselves with chemistry, geography and Latin. I also had a great time talking with my-twin-sister-separated-at-birth-even-though-we-are-ten-years-apart who told me about her fab start to 2014! It involved not only punching a public servant, but also spending an uber-glamour evening out, sat on a toilet sulking for two hours while listening to the bulimic vomiting going on in the cubicle next door! (I think you can probably see why I get on with her.)

*Worse, I once went to Rio and had dinner with A.S.Byatt. Not that she'll remember. But then I had kids. The end.

Sunday, 12 January 2014

End of week review

Aunty Dee has been staying with la famille Grit all week. We put her in the cellar. It's the place we put all visitors, whether they like it or not. I simply must must must do something about the decor.

On the plus side to the cellar experience, Dig connected a garden hose to next door's boiler, ran it through the garden, in by the window, round the schoolroom, down the stairs, and into the wet room (once used as a cupboard for the old stuffed mermaid). I was very impressed with this new shower arrangement. I have a photo somewhere, and I must show it to you. (However, I note that Aunty Dee did not take a shower in the entire week-and-a-bit that she was here.)

I finally got round to watching The Thirteenth Tale. This is basically a story about three looky-likey triplety-type girls living in a falling-down house, running feral out of school, and using weaponry. I thought, that is spooky.

I walked la famille Grit over Dunstable Downs where we could show Aunty Dee the Five Knolls execution site. Here they are, playing en route with a kite; a touch Antony Gormley in capture, I think.

I also took Shark, Squirrel, Tiger and our travelling Aunty to the British Museum's gold of Colombia  exhibition. I got them in with my member's card, then went off to discover the Enlightenment with a guide called Mandy. I would have liked her to be more indiscreet about the Creationists. I bet that if she was egged on a bit, she would oblige. (I have half a mind to go back and try bringing it out of her.)

On the search for El Dorado, I admit I have a problem. If I was a Spaniard discovering South America I frankly would be appalled to discover people cutting each other up, dismembering themselves, and chucking living hearts about. I would be saying, You have GOT TO STOP THAT. It is not easy to defend a culture you simply don't agree with, is it? I am led into an uncomfortable ideological tangle. I like to keep my history simple and superficial, which is why I legged it to the Enlightenment where I can just tell myself everyone was rethinking everything.

I am suffering with Brazil now, actually. Dig is up to his neck in it, and it dominates all conversations. And that economist on R4 who claimed to have discovered the BRICs and now the MINTs? He got Brazil wrong, that's for sure. IMO, there's no chance Brazil's economy will take over the planet because the place is filled with Brazilians, and they have a party to go to.

Finally, I have joined the Ramblers. I have been threatening it for years. Even better, I surprised the Good Ramblers of Bedford by launching three teenagers into their elderly midst. Then I fended off many inquiries about why these teenagers were gallumphing enthusiastically about the mud and not sexting over the internet.

But I was mistaken about the Ramblers. I thought they were a mild and gentle retired folk who enjoyed a country walk of a weekend. They are nothing of the sort. They are like a pack of Conan the Barbarians, performing heroic deeds of citizenry, reshaping the land by pounding ancient byways, preserving us all from the Evil Lords of Enclosures - who we know would rob the public of their Common Right without a moment's hesitation. (And they enjoy a country walk of a weekend.) I feel quite suited, actually.

I see vegans are sexed up. At long last. I have been long arguing for years that vegans need a make-over. But it's typical, isn't it? As an on/off vegan for years I have been Ms Hippy Wacko, and now it looks set to be all the rage, I start drinking milk by the gallon and picking at a chicken breast.

The MOOC is going well, thank you very much. Even though I am well behind. I already emailed the organisers, asking whether the materials will be available online after the course is finished. The answer is yes. I expect the same glacial speed with Hamlet.

Thursday, 9 January 2014

'The degree is doomed'

I've been saying to Shark, Tiger and Squirrel for a while that - all things considered - I'm not expecting la famille Grit to come busting out from home education at age 16 with your conventional 10 A* GCSE exam set (x3).

Frankly, the rate I'm going, we'll be lucky if we manage one IGCSE grade between the lot of us. Not because my kid brains aint brite, but I am having awful difficulty finding a local exam centre.

Then half of me thinks, feck it, why don't we give up on the IGCSE exam route; I could direct the kids straight to A levels at college and see if we can by-pass the conventional curriculums. Let's continue picking through the subjects our way - fish; more fish; looking at rocks; reading; drawing horses; stitching orange peel together; talking about the world; walking in woods; music in the year 1445. Some good will come out of this eclectic set, no mistake.

Of course this strategy of going straight to A levels to some extent depends on how open-minded and forward thinking is our local college.

But I can reassure them. We can all watch the educational world changing right now as we live it.

For a start there are the online MOOCs, and if you are not taking one of these, you should. Know the educational landscape. Accreditation is a step away, requiring a remote admin structure to monitor a student; an additional step of submitted work; a procedure to confirm an identity; and your credit card.

Then study a range of MOOCs lasting three years or more, and potentially you have a degree, taken online, sourced from a dozen universities, all accredited: a portfolio higher education, chosen to match your existing expertise, professional experiences, amateur interests, practical skills.

So why follow that conventional slave route of 10 GCSEs, 4 A levels, and one very expensive degree culminating in 30,000 pounds of debt? It's a well-travelled road that makes less and less sense.

Which is why, as Shark, Squirrel and Tiger start to sign up for their 2014 MOOC programme, half of my brain is saying, this is so much more of an interesting, updated, individual-friendly way to study. These wonderfully open-ended courses require individual thinking and all of your study skills - the how-to-study approaches we use as ordinary out-of-schoolies - and why am I opening up an IGCSE text book with its implication that there is one way to do things and one right answer only?

Obviously I am not the only person scanning this future scenario. If you're interested in education, then go and have a gander at a blog in the Harvard Business Review.

Monday, 6 January 2014

I commend Befana to you all

La Famille Grit has this story. We stole it from a confused Italian and made it our own. But I utterly recommend it to you.

Use it, and let it become for you, as for us, the final nail in the Christmas festivities.

Yes, this little ritual story-making will finish off celebrations nicely. With it, you can attend to what the offspring wanted all along, but were too dense to tell you. Then was it any surprise, on present-opening time, how it was all a sad disappointment? Like this year. When gritlet after gritlet opened up their wrapped present in great hope of finding dangerous weaponry (not that they actually told Santa they wanted knives), but received instead one pair of socks, a tin whistle, a Teach Yourself Geometry book and a Kit-Kat with one bar removed (and no apologies about that).

Never mind! We can be redeemed! Thanks to Befana (or Befano, depending on how I remember).

Then here is our telling.

The three wise kings set out looking for Baby Jesus. They carried presents of gold, frankincense and rum. (Yes, it is like that. I told you it is our own.)

On the journey the three kings became tired and emotional after drinking all the rum. In this state they would never steer their camels on the right path! Indeed, they were soon in danger of falling down a mountainside and plunging to a certain death. The only solution was to stop their journey and hope the star stayed put while they slept it off.

Luckily! They came upon a peasant hovel, the humble home of Befana, an incredibly old and kind-hearted woman. She must have been, right? Because here are three men with hats and camels stinking of rum who bash at her door demanding a free night's sleep. Let us rest there and have a glass of sherry.

In the morning, the three wiser men got up to a delicious breakfast of gruel and donkey pee (which for a peasant is a very fine spread indeed). Then, with ne'er a thank you for her kindness, they mounted their camels and made ready to leave. Befana (kindly, old, wise) asked them, 'Whither are you going?' They became very rude and surly. One snorted We are off to see the Baby Jesus with our gold and frankincense, so what is that to you?

Befana overlooked their rude manners, but in very humble way asked, 'Can I come with you? I would very much like to see the Baby Jesus, and I have this carrot.'

The three kings became hoity-toity. They said things like 'Shut up you old woman, we are much too important to talk to you with our camels and our hats. We are certainly not waiting for you, old crone.' Then they left. (Happily the star had hung about a bit and waited.)

Now let us pause there to have another glass of sherry and contemplate the folly of men who are supposed to be wise.

Well, Befana was bloody annoyed and rightly so. She had given up her floor and her morning glass of donkey pee and for what? For some damn ungrateful blokes on camels with pointy hats, solidified tree sap, and a glass of gold (which you are sure is glitter painted on a jamjar because he would have been mugged by now if it was real gold). Cheapskates.

So Befana set off behind the rude and rather foolish men thinking I'll show them! I shall take my special present to Baby Jesus, which is even better than my carrot, and it is not fake gold, nor a bit of tree sap dolled up to make you think it's special.

That's what Befana does. She takes the special present and walks for many miles over hills and dales and mountains and rivers and swamps (you can make up this bit, add crocodiles and killer ants and poisoned apples and everything, depending on audience participation).

Then she arrives at the stables.

Oh dear! Baby Jesus has gone.

But Befana (wise, old, extremely shrewd) is not deterred. She leaves her special present in a magical place (maybe a tear in the time-space section of the stables, or a free-floating fragment in the time dimension, dunno, depends how many sherries I've had), and - get this - the special present is still there! Or here! Depending on where it is!

And that, gritlets large and small, is Befana's present, the last present, the missing present, which will magically appear under the magic tree on the magic morning i.e. January 6th (or 5th), the date we take down the tree and put it in the box for another year.

Now let us reflect how the wise men were foolish!

They bought unreasonable and inappropriate presents for Baby Jesus. They would have bought a tin whistle and Teach Yourself Geometry if you'd let them. But rum, solidified tree juice, and gold? What is a prophet going to do with gold if they go on about the virtues of giving away all material possessions? Duh.

But consider this about the old woman. Befana is wise. She brings you the present you wanted all along! In your case, my darling gritlets, knives.

Saturday, 4 January 2014

Dear 2013...

...I am glad to see the back of you.

Furthermore, 2013, please do not bother coming back, not even when I have dementia, and confuse 2023 with 1963. Please absent yourself. Recollection might tip me over the edge, send me dotty-do-lally, and have me wandering about Smalltown in my nightie wearing my second-best pair of antlers.

Why, you say? I speak, specifically, of My Little Year of Medical Miseries*, for which I am in remission, but which utterly ruined my otherwise happy days, as can be evidenced by the following low:
Me: I can eat white rice.
Dr: You can drink milk.
Me: White rice and milk?
Dr: Sure! Your body can live on white rice and milk. For a long time!
Dr: Why are you crying?
Apart from that. 2014 promises all good news! The griblets burst into the year via Alice in Wonderland courtesy of The Hat, who took them ice skating and dining in a post-show haze of general bliss.

The little grits might have imagined 2014 could promise for them what it seems for The Hat, to wit: international travel, party, party, party, concert, another party, and a turn about an ice rink.

I disabused them of that sharpish, by reminding them I am having a miserable time on their behalf trying to find an external exam centre for IGCSEs. Not a good start. The previous centre used by home educators is now declining us.

I know I am under stress with this one, because of the nightmares. Last Friday I sent the demons packing but woke myself by the soft incantation of my comfort word (which I know will be looked upon with kindness by those who have a similar fetish); stationery.

But I am forever annoyingly positive, or forever in search of that which lifts me up. So I zipped the clan over to Cambridge Early Music to enjoy the fantastic Les haulz et les bas with the utterly brilliant Ian Harrison, he who manages to turn the shawn into some new jazz instrument of the twenty-first century. Highly recommended if you are into folk music from 1456.

* No cure but sit it out and wait for it to go; chronic condition; the sort of thing I wish on my worst enemy, the man at number 82.

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

The education predictions for 2014 (and on)

I'm having this discussion, mostly about the secret world of Michael Gove.

Not his kitchen arrangements, or the way the housekeeper organises his sock drawer, obviously! But what are his educational visions inspired by his Damascus visit to China? (If you see what I mean.)

My current thoughts are roundabout. But here I'm calling them predictions.

1. Education as a business. When wasn't it? But I'm expecting to see it gather strength across all educational outlets.

2. Learners become consumers. More shifty footwork to be done. For example, whose responsibility is the learning experience? Especially in accreditation. If you buy a service (Tinkertop's Physics course) and in the terms of its trading standards it is deemed to have failed (Tinkertop gets a pathetic Grade D) then someone's to blame and it's not going to be Tinkertop.

3. Probably why the political class don't want to unseat primary education law. If it's the parent's job to educate Tinkertop, then it must be made their fault when Tinkertop turns up with her Maths Grade E, even when the dutiful parent signed Tinkertop up to the local Bash Street Academy. If the law changed to imply her education is the responsibility not of the parent but of any other body, then party support from the edu-business might no longer be forthcoming.

4. Yes, the parents must be the ones to blame! They must be the administrators and technicians for the school too. Their administrative co-operation must be enforced, somehow. This has been happening in one way or another for years, but I'm waiting for when our school-choosing neighbour complains how Bash Street has announced they're running an exciting new online learning opportunity. All parents (or at least those who would like to show they care about Tinkertop's education) are requested to sign in for the online homework group run every evening between 5-9pm. Parents are expected to supervise this exceptional learning opportunity. (Not that it's obligatory for your child's education! Only if you care.)

5. Expect a growing publishing opportunity for gazillions of guilt-books marketed direct to parents, roughly along the lines of How to Get Tinkertop Flying Marks in her English GCSE!

6. England's schooling system starts to look a bit Chinese.

7. But soon you can enjoy all the benefits of a regulated private market, with thousands of private schools offering many types of educational provision run by educational suppliers running independently with government approval, or part-funded by government. (If you were attached to the idea of a state education system, reflect what happened to the dinosaurs.)

8. In which system, any type of teacher who wants to support a state system is downright annoying. They must be weeded out, as they will only make life difficult for other interests. From Gove's point of view, it would be better if they just shut up. First, let's have any professional status stripped from them, so no-one listens to them. Then, they can be true servants, administering the internal paperwork, completing the exam admin, and monitoring the presence or absence of children for the benefit of other agencies. Child traffickers, say. (In data sets, not bodies.)

9. A little less practitioner resistance would assist the increasing opportunities for large-scale business involvement across all expanding record keeping, accreditation, administration and monitoring needs, using data fed from individual schools. 'Free' schools will be particularly helpful in turning up new opportunities, as their back-of-house admin must be outsourced.

10. As the role of the teacher in the actual teaching process declines, they must be put to use elsewhere. They are good at admin jobs, no? PGCE courses will increasingly have modules devoted to online target delivery and online student assessments.

11. Technology-driven educational programmes will spread. Crikey, even I'm doing a MOOC. The model will be adopted and adapted everywhere. Some 'winners' and 'losers'. Maybe the traditional bodies will lose. An OU staff member I spoke to recently (senior, so you'd expect they'd know what was going on), had no idea how MOOCs are organised, indeed had barely heard of them. (Worrying.)

12. Home educators, there is no escape. Registration, is it inevitable? Imagine a situation (we have uncontrolled migrants, running loose!) where every child must be registered in their local area with an educational supplier, and every child must be signed up to an approved scheme delivered online. Then the learning delivery organisation couldn't care less whether Tinkertop's in school, in the library, or in the garden shed.

13. All parents will be required to register their little Tinkertops on a suitable examined or assessed course because we only want to know the strengths and aptitudes of every child! Is that unreasonable?

14. As part of a registration process, all parents must prove residential status. (Remember the uncontrolled migrants, running loose!) If you apply for a grant, or expect to support in part or in whole the school fees, then you must submit details of household income, employment information, the taxation paid and the benefits received. This'll stop those migrants from dropping their kids in a school on a casual basis, and you'll all be brought under the eye of the tax system. (This is a previous Gritty prediction; and I note now how public employees are invited to think how it would look from the point of view of the immigration officer.)

15. As the where-you-can-take-it and the how-you-can-take-it educational market fragments, then central control via national testing becomes the means by which uniformity and conformity can be maintained. Expect 'essential' national exams if we are going to enter into 'the international market' and be 'global players' with 'world-class' scholars in a competitive 'global arena' etc. etc.

16. Leaving administrators to head up organisations and implement the decisions; headteachers who've worked in business development and marketing at Microsoft, for example. Not practitioners, not people with on-the-ground experience, and not people who necessarily have the full picture, but paper & screen-based operatives preferred into positions of power who are themselves implementing requirements from elsewhere.

17. The free use of doubletalk. I kicked enough against delivery of the curriculum when that began to dominate the edu-lingo-babble in the 1980s but it didn't get me anywhere. I expect it will all go on as Tinkertop continues to receive her entitlements, opportunities, rights, common goals, and national targets.

18. Tinkertop? Yes it's all about you. Preparing you for school from birth? Project begun. School aged 2? Project begun. Homework clubs and breakfast clubs and weekend school and holiday school? Project begun. Mama's supervising your homework? Project begun. Years and years and years to go, with you sat at your desk learning exactly what we tell you? Project begun. We just want you to reach your full potential.

Now, what are you thinking of, standing on that ledge?