Posts Tagged education

The Teacher’s Strike is not Black and White

Today Boy’s school is closed due to a strike. Having written about my concerns over his education (and my growing opinion that Michael Gove is an imperious cockwomble) you would perhaps expect me to be in full support of the walk out. But it’s not quite that simple.

Firstly his school seems to be ever more at odds between what they say to parents and what they do. A stream of letters arrived last school year urging parents to make every effort to get their child to school whenever they could. “Even missing one day can have an adverse effect on their education” we were told. The head teacher was even in the local paper saying that she would be requiring a letter from parents’ employers if they requested holiday time in term , to prove that was the only time off they could get.

This was rather unfortunate as the school’s reopening was delayed by over a week due to the building work needed to turn it from an Infants to an all-through Primary. A week of “inset days”. Now they are just beginning to settle in to the new routine and they suddenly have another extra day off. If you believed last year’s letters home this will be an absolute disaster for them. They’ll probably forget how to count or something. Or maybe parents are just expected to take education more seriously than, say, building contractors employed on school projects. Or teaching unions.

Obviously, education apart, the strike means parents (including us) suddenly have to change our plans to provide child care. As an employee on a regular salary at least I’m not losing any money myself but this won’t be the case for all the parents. The school is in what is euphemistically known as ‘an up and coming area’ and many parents will lose a day’s pay or have to spend today’s money on childminding. Some of these will be earning considerably less than a teacher. So is it fair to economically and educationally inconvenience parents in a deprived area to protect a middle class salary and final salary pension?

You may find this surprising given what I’ve written about Gove in the past but if the strike was just about pay and pensions then teachers would not have my support at all. Working, as I do, in the private sector then pay freezes (or even reductions) are common place. At the lower end of the sector zero hours contracts have become more and more enforced. At the upper end it is now impossible to get a final salary pension. The company ones based on fund value have been devastated both by Gordon Brown’s tax changes and a volatile equities market. While pound cost averaging  will help the long term prospects of pension funds there is no guarantee at all that a future government of any colour will not further raid the tax concessions offered by a proper pension. If they do we won’t be able to strike.

I know. I sound like a Tory. It’s actually quite liberating.

But here’s the flip side. Firstly there is another issue being raised by the strike, that of workload. I know several teachers and trust me, it is not the 8-4 job with enormous holidays that some people like to paint it. There are lesson plans, marking, inset days, parent’s evenings to be done. Again comparing my hours to a teachers there was actually very little difference. Since the pay issue being raised is that performance related pay will be introduced then it’s not hard to forsee a situation where teachers have to work even longer hours just to keep their salary the same in real terms.

Which begs the question is teaching a career or a vocation? Strike action, for me, should be a last resort. There is no doubt that the miners in the eighties, while led by the truly hideous Arthur Scargill, were facing not a pay cut but the devastation of the industry and their communities. I’m not suggesting that we will suddenly see mass school closures and long term graduate unemployment, but what if teaching becomes so unattractive that young people no longer want to become teachers? A shortage of newly qualified teachers, particularly in the many areas where there is already a shortage of school places would be disastrous.

Already the government have allowed Academies to employ unqualified teachers. My strong suspicion is that this is a way to save money and put bums on seats. If the teaching unions genuinely believe that the new conditions will stop teaching becoming a career choice then the strike becomes far more justified.

Is it a just strike? I can’t decide. But just in case, how about we just have a national “Michael Gove is an Imperious Cockwomble” day instead? That should be fairly memorable when it comes to the 2015 election.


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The Problem with Teaching Children about Africa

I want you to use your imagination and conjure up a picture in your mind for me.

By 2050 there may well be 9 billion people on the planet. The climate may well have warmed making crops harder to grow. And children will go hungry. Very hungry. The poorest of them first. I want you to imagine that poor, hungry child. But not because this is a rant about environmentalism or a counter rant denying global warming. I’m just interested in what you thought the child looked like. Where they were.

Was it “Africa”? Dark skinned, rural, tribal? A mud hut in the background?  It was for me the first time I read the nine billion people stat and yet nowhere did the article mention Africa. It was just the first thing I imagined.

Will global warming be kinder to poor children in India’s untouchable castes? The Phillipines typhoon belt? Central American former warzones? Rural Laos? I doubt it.

Yet the reason I even reconsidered the image in my head, thought about it more, made all twenty of you do a bit of imagining, was a question from the Boy.

“Why don’t they have any electricity in Africa?”

Luckily he asked my wife who started giving a simple answer in six year old terms about relative poverty and not having power stations. And probably some other stuff. By this point I’d tuned out and my brain was doing the sorts of somersaults that usually result in my having to leave somewhere hastily having completely insulted the wrong person. What I wanted to say was “of course they’ve got fucking electricity in Africa”. Only without the expletive.

I often think we identify with the victims of an atrocity if they are like us or close by geographically. That’s not to say we don’t empathise with other victims. Merely that if we can imagine what someone was doing at the time of a terrorist incident it becomes more real to us. The terrible events in Nairobi were shocking because people were randomly killed, men, women, children and foetuses. But as stories and pictures emerged they were not of a Nairobi many had considered. This was no crime and hunger ridden shanty town. Here were TV presenters and poets, people shopping for a special gift for a loved one. A children’s cooking event was going on. It seemed far closer to home as each report hit. The place must have had electricity.

The same goes for the hotel in Cape Town that Anni Dewani left on the fateful night of her death. Or the tourist information offices in Egypt that service the divers of Sharm-El-Sheikh and the pyramid junkies. Or the Souks in Morocco or the bank and IT offices in Namibia or my mum’s favourite restaurant in Senegal.

I’ve chosen these places because they are so different. Or at least I assume they are. I haven’t been. Friends and family have and I’ve read about them and seen documentaries and travel programmes but I’ve not been. Perhaps when it comes down to it they are all exactly the same but somehow I doubt it. Africa is a continent full of VERY DIFFERENT countries damn it. And yet, from the school room to the all night fundraiser we lump them all together as one entity. Poor Africa. No electricity you know.

Wikipedia says there are over 2100 languages in Africa or at least it does today. That’s the first result that comes back when you type in ‘how many languages are there’ in to Google. Google completes the search for you to ‘how many languages are there in Africa’? No one is that bothered about how many there are in Asia or Europe. Even in wanting to know about the diversity of a continent we are lumping it all together in one giant google.

Of course this is too complicated to explain to a six year old. But not even challenging the question? Isn’t that wrong? Where has he got this from? He didn’t ask IF they had electricity. He asked WHY the whole continent didn’t. He already “knows” they don’t. Who told him? One of his friends? The teacher? Is this why people home ed? Will my brain PLEASE stop doing somersaults?

In the end I managed to add to OHs explanations of relative poverty and power supplies by saying that not all Africans had no electricity and indeed that some Africans were actually quite well off while others lived in cities a bit like us and him. Yet there were certainly people there who were terribly poor. I’m not sure it helped.

On a macro level, surely understanding the world’s diversity and culture in full can only help prevent other atrocities and can only help deal with inevitable floods and famines in the best possible way for the specific people involved, rather than treating them as one giant, homogonous super country. On a micro level I have been wholly inadequate in explaining this to an impressionable six year old mind. Just admitting I tried seems arrogant.

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Free School Meals and Phonics

So every child in Reception, Year One and Year Two will get free school meals from next year. An announcement made by Nick Clegg to no doubt try and put a positive spin on a car crash of a Lib Dem conference where scenery has crashed on television and spin doctors accidentally emailed strategy directly to hostile journalists by mistake,

Still it’s been largely received in a positive manner with people such as CBeebies Dr Ranj tweeting support. But I have to say I’m far from convinced. Why?

Firstly the current system works fine. Children are not going hungry at lunchtime if they are disadvantaged because they already qualify for a free school meal. Those on the margins either side may have a problem in that some under may be too proud to claim and those just over may struggle to meet the cost. The thing is this will still be the case when they’re eight. A means test has been replaced with an age.

And people really shouldn’t be too proud to claim. In fact what they should do is register for the free meal even if they have no intention of using it. Why? Because this allows the school to claim extra funding (free meals being used as a measure of the poverty level of the school’s attendees) and boy is that funding needed. Especially when you consider the nonsense a lot of funding is going on of which more later.

So could the money be better spent? Undoubtedly yes. Firstly the principle is that a hot school lunch is more nutritious than a packed lunch. Well it only is if the school meal really is nutritious and the packed lunch junk. When I tweeted about this I got a reply with an example that someone had sent their child in with a kebab as a packed lunch. But this policy shift is only putting off the junk food lunch till they’re eight. Instead of educating parents on what makes a tasty AND nutritious packed lunch the responsibility is being passed from the parents to the schools. At the same time tax payers are now providing free food for little Tarquin and Matilda. Another £400 a year for mother to pour petrol in to the BMW X1 that she parks on the yellow zig zags when she drops them off.

The assumption that school meals are nutritious also only holds if they are tasty. Up to last year Boy’s school did not have it’s own kitchen. It was reheating meals (prepared on a very tight budget) from another school. This was not Jamie Oliver revolution. This was reheated food prepared on a shoe string budget. The result? Mostly he didn’t eat it and wanted a snack when he got in.

So if the middle classes don’t need free food (and they really don’t) how can we spend on children’s nutrition positively? By increasing breakfast clubs for the most at need. This excellent piece by Jay Rayner highlights why breakfast clubs are needed far better than I could and yet they are continuing to disappear due to funding cuts. So if my taxes have to go on schools taking responsibility instead of parents then how about we support organisations like Magic Breakfast instead of tut-tutting at the chocolate bars in the packed lunch boxes of kids who can afford to be fed by their parents?

In fact I think the idea is a load of vap. Who really puts snemp in their kid’s lunchbox these days?

No I haven’t gone mental. These are actual words used in phonics tests according to this government document. So they must be real words? Right? Wrong.

While Education policy is now proposing re-routing funds to feed kids from rich families it is also spending money on teaching your kids to read nonsense words.

At the end of last year the Boy had his phonics test. Boy reads very well. In fact he’s registered gifted and talented for it and ploughs through chapter books before using the words he’s picked up to create stories. Yet he did less well than many of his classmates in this test. Had the test been using mixed methods to read actual words I can’t help thinking he and many others would have done a lot better.

But why are we testing 6 year olds anyway. I say 6 year olds – I mean Year One so some could still be 5. And there’s another point. At this stage the development of a 6 year old may be very different to that of a 5 year old. Yet the school is marked solely on the ability for very different children to be prepared for a uniform test.

In other words your kids are being taught nonsense words so the school can be rated by OFSTED and a mini housing bubble can be created around the good ones. Which is even more good news for BMW X1 drivers. Frankly it takes the steck.

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Some Totally Made Up People’s Attitudes to OFSTED Ratings

Lilliania-May Thompson is 36. She works in social care and reads The Guardian’s Education section. She has considered Steiner education but couldn’t afford it. Her daughter Alfafa Bean is in Year 2.

“Of course the whole thing is a scandal. I don’t even know what they’re rated for and they take no account of alternative means and methods of education. Who says playing all day isn’t conducive to developing four year olds? Or that vegetarian only school lunches don’t provide proper nutrition? These people would have them sat in rows of desks repeating their times tables by rote and getting slapped with a ruler if they dare speak out.”

Reporter: “And what is the rating of Alfafa Bean’s school?

“Well it’s outstanding. It has been since they started inspecting I believe.”

Reporter: “And how did you get her in?”

“Well I may have fiddled the council’s residency records a bit.”

Oliver Bastard is a commodity trader for a firm of Swiss Nazi brokers in the city, specializing in jackboot futures. He likes rugby, champagne and following Jeremy Clarkson on twitter. His son Timothy is in Year Two at Station Primary.

“Bloody good idea I say! Makes sure they’re learning with the right kind of chap if you catch my drift. I didn’t gazump that Web Designer for the house right next to Timmy’s outstanding school for nothing you know. Now he’ll be able to read and write properly before we send him off to spend his teenage years in buggery and cold showers. An entire education spent without having to speak to a fucking chav. I just wish they did Latin.”

Reporter: Because it’ll be useful at private school?

“No you idiot, because it makes you fucking miserable and I had to go through it.”

Sara, 29, is a teacher at a satisfactory school. Her son Sam attends the nearest school to her house which has just been rated as “good”. He’s in reception.

“To be honest we’ve had so many inspections where I work and yet I’m sure we’re marked down simply for being in the catchment area of Bernie Grant House over there (here she points to a burned out shell of a block of flats with an Uzi poking out of a top floor window, clearly visible from the Head’s Office at her employer’s, Shameless Primary). We put Sammy in to the nearest school because we don’t think the OFSTED is as important as getting him and me to school on time and having some nice local friends to play with. In any case they always mark you on something different. I’ve literally no idea what we’ll be marked on next.”

Reporter: Here’s Michael Gove’s latest proposal.

“If you want me I’ll be in the toilet weeping.”

Wendy, 34, is a Stay At Home Mum who is also a qualified accountant. Husband Simon is in IT. Their son Toby is due to start school in September.

“Well we’re right on the border between two good schools but when we looked at last year’s admissions it was touch and go whether we’d get in  either. The nearest school to us is a church school and it’s outstanding but neither of us are religious and we just didn’t feel right sending him there. Unfortunately we didn’t quite get in either of the other two so now it looks like Toby will have to do a 3 mile return bus trip to Shameless Primary. It’s not ideal but at least they’ve cleared out the last of the crack dealers from Bernie Grant House.”

(noise of reporter choking)

Nigel, 37 lives next door to Wendy with his wife Mandy and their son Frank.

“Come in. Have a pew. And I do mean literally. They gave us that for the kitchen when we made up 60% of the collection for the new church roof. It’s amazing how connected I feel to the church despite only having gone for the last year. What’s that? No that isn’t a Richard Dawkins book on the shelf. Get out! OUT! I need to pray.”

Dave, 40, is “on benefits”. He likes Special Brew, Jeremy Kyle and farting. His son Tyrone is currently excluded.

“What’s an OFSTED? Whaaaaaarrrrrrp!”

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Respect, Education and the Far Right

Yesterday saw small protests by far right groups the EDL and BNP and counter demonstrations. The story is not very high up in the mainstream media but it dominated my twitter timeline. A chat about it all last night with @JimmyBHAFC set me thinking.

First let’s state the obvious. The EDL / BNP do not own paying respect to Drummer Rigby or any other fallen soldier for that matter. If you want to do that you can go to a memorial and leave a tribute any time you want. The far right tried to turn a fallen soldier in to a ‘Princess Diana’ issue. Back in the day it seemed you had to publicly outpour your grief for Princess Di (not to mention buy Candle in the Wind) or you were some kind of sick, uncaring bastard who wanted her dead. Now here’s the EDL trying to say that unless you were with them you were against Drummer Rigby. They failed massively and once again were outnumbered by both protesters and the police. Good.

However it also has to be said that while I think that peaceful counter demos are fine the UAF was in danger of scoring an own goal yesterday. They do not own ‘respect’ either. Stand by the side and mock by all means but even fascists have a right to lay wreaths at a memorial in this country. I think it would be a worse place if they didn’t.

So that’s the respect part dealt with but why think about education in all this? Because, for me, politics is starting to polarise as it so often does in times of forced austerity. As the credit crunch hit initially, here in Brighton people veered left, leaving the City with a Green MP and Green led council. (This gave the City an excellent MP and terrible, incompetent joke of a council from the same political party but that’s a whole other post). As further austerity has bitten, as benefit claimants continue to be demonised and as the Tory party obsesses over Europe again a significant portion of the rest of the country has veered right. UKIP support is probably at an all time high, at least in terms of poll ratings. And UKIP (or at least their spokesman) seemed quite happy yesterday to hop on the EDL bandwagon.

So we worried in our chat that this sort of ideology might become more and more attractive to the working classes. How do you stop people from making the two plus two equals five choice that you have to join the right of politics to show respect to those who fight for this country?

Education. I’m not going to beat around the bush here. The EDL may stand for English Defence League but spend just a few minutes looking at their communications on Facebook and you will see that English is not their strong point. In fact most of them can barely spell simple words. Some of them seem to think that Brighton Pavillion is a mosque (should they know different? Of course. It used to be a Royal Palace and is therefore as much part of English history and culture as fish and chips or The Sun. Plus they could have Googled it.). In short we are talking about people whose education is appalling, You could call them thick and you’d be right but that’s not a good thing. As a society we’ve failed them.

But it isn’t enough just to teach children to spell and that two plus two equals four if you ask me. Teaching of respect is equally important and something I worry Michael Gove (yes him again) does not understand in his drive for grammar tests, OFSTED inspections and Free Schools a la Toby Young. Teach a child simply to read and write without thinking and they may not know what to do with it. Teach them to think for themselves and the spelling and reading will come because they will darn well want to express themselves.

I remember when Boy came home and told me about the various festivals they had been taught about (Eid, Diwali) and being once again proud of the school he is at. They do a Nativity too though. He has a couple of Muslim children in his class who were, nevertheless, part of the Christmas concert. This is what true multiculturalism means. Not terrorism or creeping Sharia but learning about one’s own culture whilst learning to respect other people’s. I worry how long they will be able to do this.

When I bang on about education it’s because that is one place where we really can start to make a difference. The UAF blocking the Cenotaph yesterday may have lost a few more to the far right who were heading that way anyway but surely the long game is to not have anyone heading that way in the first place. Not through indoctrination or forced political correctness but by giving everyone a fair chance to think for themselves and to discuss problems in a reasonable manner. This goes for Islamic extremism too. Islamic terrorists have been poorly educated. They are vulnerable people easily brainwashed by hate preachers. They need help to extricate themselves from hate just as much as the EDL.

Wouldn’t it be great if, instead of just having plans to subject 7 year olds to high pressure grammar tests (to start SORTING THE FAILURES at 7), Mr Gove also came up with ways to prevent children, particularly from poor backgrounds, being led into worlds of crime, extremism and hopelessness?

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Gove’s Reforms are for Gove not Children

So Micheal Gove wants to increase the school day and shorten holidays. Specifically he would like the school day to run until 4.30 and to have a four week summer holiday instead of six in an attempt to “catch up” with East Asia and be “family friendly”. Good job I was on the train when I read this or I would, once again, have choked on my cornflakes. It’s rare that I agree with a Union but on this occasion I have to agree that he seems to be making this stuff up on the fly. So let’s take the reforms one by one.

Firstly running the school day until 4.30. For older children, especially those doing GCSE and A levels I can actually see this making sense. It gives the children more time in a focussed environment to concentrate on study and revision rather than relying on them doing it at home. But as soon as the children are younger than this then it does seem to be, well, monumentally stupid. Very little children certainly cannot study until 4.30. Boy is in Year One at the moment and he is regularly shattered and pale when he’s picked up. In reception some of the kids are still 4 at the end of the summer term and, when I did the pick up as I do once a week, you could see that at 3pm they were on the verge of meltdown.

Finishing at 4.30 for little ones would see them going home in the dark every day in the winter whereas the current day end allows them to get home before dark even in winter. Whenever a proposal is made to get rid of the idea that our clocks change one argument is that children further north would have to go to school in the dark. Now we seem to be quite happy to send them home in the dark. Is it more dangerous or not?

But the worrying thing about this is the desire to emulate East Asia. The exam focussed learning there goes back to the 1890s and before – exactly the reason Gove says the school day needs to change. In Imperial China your best chance of a good job in the civil service depended on your ability to pass exams, each one harder than the next, that you could in theory take unlimited times. Long after Sun Yat Sen and Chiang  Kai Shek’s revolution the Chinese culture of cramming remains but is it healthy? I lived in Taiwan for nearly three years and the children there, while ostensibly focussed and studious, are actually only that. They are not children. Huge pressure is put on them to succeed so that the stress of their education and a lack of role model has led to a notoriously high teenage suicide rate. Not having a role model  may not seem connected but, of course, if your thinking is purely based on cramming and how to pass an exam, you may not have the creative ability to understand what it is that you want to do with your life. This is something they are starting to understand in Singapore for, ironically, as Gove wants to make us more like Singapore, Singapore wants a more creative and holistic education system.

Ultimately though, and most importantly, I think that children should be children rather than little adults. To have time to play, explore and be with their families.

Now the holidays. Do you like going away to somewhere foreign and sunny in the summer holidays? Because under Gove’s proposals you’d pay a lot more for doing so and have less chance of having your leave approved. In my day job I manage a team of three people and all of us have school age children. Every summer there is a balancing act that needs to be done between ensuring the staff have a break with their family and that work continues without the quality suffering. This is hard enough to organise in six weeks. Trying to cram four people’s trips away in to four weeks would be harder still. Your two weeks in the sun, if you have school age children, may be about to become one.

That may be ok though because it will also become far more expensive. We all know how much more expensive flights and hotels are in the summer holidays right? Well now that demand is going to be spread over not six but four weeks if Gove gets his way. The simple law of supply and demand dictates that the price will rise.

So a more competitive society with cleverer kids? Or a more rigid and tired society, prone to depression, and with a government supposedly committed to wealth imposing another indirect cost rise as a result of policy?

I can’t help but think that if you thought about it for more than five minutes you can see that this reform is not about the children at all and as such loses any claim to be ‘family friendly’. So if it’s not for the children who is it for?

I am sure that deep down many Tories think of teachers as lazy, militant public employees working 8.30 to 3 and doing nothing in their huge six week holiday than rolling out of bed late and catching up on Jeremy Kyle. How UNFAIR they cry when employees in the private sector are pulling 13 hour days EVERY DAY for the love of it! Taking aside the fact that teachers are actually marking and lesson planning, and preparing and hosting parents evenings, again what is so healthy about the alternative? You’ve watched The Apprentice right? Where in a rush of testosterone and duty (especially the girls) the teams roll their sleeves up and pull an all nighter for the good of the task. The task of course goes horribly south because it’s being carried out by people who are tired, inexperienced and unnaturally competitive. They all head back to the boardroom to remark on what a spectacular failure it’s been and to turn on each other like savages. Not quite how I want my kids’ teachers to behave.

But I don’t even really think this is the motivation behind the changes. I think the real reason is that Michael Gove goes home at night and imagines people in ten years time referring to ‘the Gove reforms’. He’s after fame, not improving your children.

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Home Schooling – Guest Post by @eddsnotdead

Last year I started a writing project that has now totally changed direction. However, part of the original was the below. I had been musing on the difficulty of finding good, local school places and had wondered about alternatives. One of these was home schooling. I knew nothing about it other than I had some prejudices that I felt needed challenging. Luckily, one of my favourite tweeps, Edd from @eddsnotdead home schools and also writes intelligently and humanely. I sent him some questions, wanting my ignorance challenged and he certainly came through.

I thought the least I could do was reproduce it here which Edd was happy for me to do. My questions are in bold and his answers in regular font.

You can read more of Edd at


Why did you first decide to home school? Was it something you always intended on or did something happen to make your mind up?

It was a joint decision (as all our decisions are) but my wife was the driving force behind it. I had reservations as to how effective we could be at meeting the education level I felt the kids needed to be at and I voiced them. She showed me websites, gave me print outs and in time convinced me that it was an option. Once I considered it a possibility it came down to the question of should we?

Well, my wife is a smart lady, qualified to degree level in research and Library studies and has vocational teaching experience to back that up. I looked at that and I knew she could get the job done, but should we remove them from school and the ‘normal’ environment for one that’s certainly sitting in the ‘alternative’ section of society?

She had always wanted to have a go at teaching our own kids, wasn’t overly happy with the official provision being offered and didn’t like where some of the current teaching trends were heading. She wanted to make it work and so we agreed to review it in a year’s time and see what happened.

We’re still going five years later and though it’s not getting significantly easier it is something that is beneficial to our family and the development of our children.

Is there a typical day? Or is that the point?

There is a certain amount of work that needs to be done a day. Diaries, handwriting practice, mathematics, English, reading and work recognition. It depends on the child as to how much they have to do and at what level.

Once the small amount of basic ‘table time’ is completed we have a more fluid approach. Obviously we need to get out and about to the park or Library, sports clubs and various tutors we sometimes use for the older children but that’s all the standard stuff really. The exciting things we find ourselves doing like getting involved in filming projects, visiting places that are quite when everyone else is at school and following personal projects and interests make the day’s fun, unpredictable and exciting.

How are you monitored?

The local education authority has a representative that is sent out once a year to check on us and make sure we haven’t eaten any of the kids. I think it’s fair to say that some people are very wary of these visits and see them as an intrusion by the very authority they have escaped from; we see them as an ally.

A month before the visit we try to send the L.E.A a document that details everything that we’ve been up to, what the kids are reaching for, how they are developing and whether we have any concerns or questions. Each child has a dedicated section and our aspirations for the child and the coming year’s education is detailed there-in. The document is over sixty pages long normally and we try to make sure it gives a fair, honest and clear picture as to where we stand since last we saw the L.E.A and where we hope to be by the time the next visit is due.

The document helps to cut away any time the L.E.A representative would waste asking us about what we do so giving them more time to talk to the kids, the people they are really there to see! In the five years we have been going we’ve always gotten on with the rep, found them to be open and helpful and welcomed them in with open arms. We tell the kids they don’t have to show the person their work if they don’t want to but to be honest we find they do want to share and interact with the strange adult that we have sitting at the table.

I gather that some L.E.A representatives are not as open and as relaxed as the ones in our area and I have read some stories of nice people being made to feel like criminals for taking an extra interest in their kids by pushy, judgmental officials. In our corner of the country I have been struck by how genuine, open and supportive the reps have been.

Do you need any qualifications to home school?

Anyone can home-school if they want to. You don’t need to be a mad scientist or rich ex civil servant to do what we do; you just have to want and need to put the work in. It’s not easy, sometimes it’s not fun and almost certainly there are days when it’s not rewarding, but hopefully those days are fewer than the fun ones.

If you have a thirst for knowledge, are enthusiastic about learning and are willing to read up on not just the subjects but on various techniques (both main stream and alternative) of teaching then I think you have a good chance of seeing results.

I’m guessing that with such a large family your children are not missing out on social interaction but would you recommend home schooling for parents with one or two children? How do you make sure they meet other kids?

This is one I hadn’t really anticipated at all; the question of ‘Socialisation’. How often in your life have you been in a work environment which is only populated by people your age? I’m betting it’s probably never. School is an odd place because even in just one class you have kids at very different stages of development because people develop psychologically at different times. Of course you have the common sorts of things like the chemical soups which are going to be roughly swimming around their systems at the same time but surely that is one of the reasons why some people find their time at school to be so negative? You’re all trapped in the same areas, have the same heightened chemical processes going on but varying abilities to control how those reactions affect your behaviour.

In the area we live in we have a large homeschooling community (is it because of the supportive L.E.A office in the area or the general affluence? I don’t know), clubs and support groups and a sports infer-structure that’s of the highest quality. Our kids have friends their own age or comparable ages to play and study with, several sporting groups that they are involved in, their old school mates and a large extended family.

All that is fantastic but it’s also the chances the kids have to connect with the local community that are so beneficial. The staff at the Library, shop workers, museum experts, work men going about their business, all of these people are there to see us and for the kids to interact with. We stop and watch them put the telephone wiring hubs back together in the streets, ask the guy checking the pipes in the hole what he’s doing, reserve books and get recommendations from the Library staff when its quiet, ask release dates for products we are looking forward to and generally encourage the kids to engage people in polite conversation with-in a controlled structure of rules (obviously we are still careful about strangers, talking to people on our own, going near cars, all the simple safety stuff).

This means the kids see the world a bit more, know people are working and get to interact with life perhaps slightly more than the school goers. Yes, they miss out on some large team games on a daily basis but due to our insistence that they all do at least one sport (normally two) they still get their team and individual interactions with their peers as well as other people.

What is the most positive thing about home schooling – the one thing that would sell it to parents?

It’s a lifestyle choice. You have to be totally committed to the idea and actuality of your goal or it’s not going to go well, that’s what I think.

We decided when we got married that we would try whenever possible to have one of us working and one of us at home for the children. I was a ‘house husband’ for five years and it was an amazing time that I wish I could repeat, but currently I work in construction. My wife stays home and educates the children and obviously there is a lot to do with our six excellent kids, so you have to be prepared to put in a shift at home as well as at work. The tidying, the cooking, the bath run, the cleaning and evening lessons all have to be pitched into. If I’m honest it is a very busy, tiring way to live, but it’s also great to know your kids are safe, well and flourishing in a loving, supportive atmosphere.

The days are not always wonderful and it’s not easy but the reward when you hear your child reading clearly and fluently, when they crack the maths problems that has been stumping them, when they make those big developmental jumps and you are there to share in their achievement, support them through the tough times and know that you did it together? Well that is one huge grin you find yourself wearing.

What’s your opinion of the school application and selection process?

I remember getting into the local Catholic school and it was for the most part lovely there. My wife was a practicing Catholic at that time but when she stepped away from the church we still sent the kids to the religious school.

I suppose it’s one of those things that people get very uptight about, getting into the ‘right’ school? Personally I think there are good and bad schools and good and bad ways to get into them. In the end if you are in a supportive atmosphere then you are much more likely to be happy and so do better at whatever it is that you decide to do.

Should people be moving to get into catchment areas or falsifying information to get there? No. Be honest. As it is the system has to process so many kids each year that it’s bound to have some frayed edges, dog-eared corners and exploitable loopholes, but I never had any problems with the system.

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