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.