Another little evacuee.

One little evacuee heading off for a day of spam sandwiches and gas mask practice.

A couple of years ago Amelie managed to sneak in on an evacuee day only a couple of weeks after joining school. Today Josie, otherwise known as Ivy Wilson, visited Stibbington to do the same day. From spam sandwiches (she woosed out and went for jam) to an air raid and having to write with an ink pen to see whether she could win her spot in the big kids class, she had a day filled with 940’s drama and intrigue.

I love these types of learning. It is how it should be all through school. Josie’s school do “wow” days which immerse the kids in the new topic and let them really absorb it. All education should be that way.

And doesn’t my little evacuee look adorable?

 

 

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We flowed from the high of GCSE results day to the final decision on what Sixth Form Fran would attend, to last minute tweaks and changes to A Level choices and the scheduling in of enrichment activities around personal commitments. And all of it, for the first time, was judged up against the future. Lists were consulted, pathways considered and options – in the sense of the word far bigger than choosing school subjects – looked at and assessed.

I’m an enormous believer in it being possible to change your stars at any time. I’m not one for panicking about making the perfect choice at one moment and never wavering, as I wrote about here. I played safe and took no risks for fear of failing when I was at school and not following my heart meant nothing more than I look back not knowing if I would have been good enough but knowing for certain that I never really tried. And our home ed life certainly taught us to think differently about the paths our children might take – to try the unconventional, to follow your (and their) instincts and be prepared to carve out a way personal to the child, not carve the child to the accepted norm.

Fran has plenty of aspirations; like me, she has a tendency to think whatever is laid at her door is a great idea. having passed her Level 1 British Gymnastics coaching last week she already knows she can work as a gym coach. She;s likely to be a decently qualified coach well before she leaves school. And she is aspirational about her academic future and her career too, with physiotherapy and sport science at a good uni both high on her list of hopes. That means she has had to consider her A Level choices far more carefully than I did because some careers do become closed off once you turn your back on science subjects. She’s settled on Sport, Biology and Psychology for her AS Levels, knowing that they not only excite her but also support those careers that call to her. Carrying on working and training as a gym coach give her the tantalising possibility of having back up, skilled earning power through uni and gap years or even while she hunts for the perfect job afterwards. And if things don’t go to plan, if the high A level grades she needs don’t happen, she has a cast iron fall back plan.

It’s a set of subjects I find myself surprised by, my bookish, humanity subject loving, history conscious daughter choosing so far away from anything I would have imagined. I catch myself wondering what she would have done if she had continued with home education.

But in all that, there is another thread.

The stage calls her. Alongside those subjects is a BTEC in Performing Arts which, judging by her all round good parents evening last night, filled with all the normal praise, is where she excels. And sitting next to her in her exam success West End show treat a few weeks ago, it is  clear that the desire to perform at a high level tugs her bones even harder than it did mine.

When I was at school, the message was clear; get your education first, no matter what and then, if there is room left, follow your dream along the side.

I’m not sure if I agree with that. There are some things – gym and dance to name but two – which have a shelf life. It’s not only gathering qualifications that matters, though once you are in the system, doing well is clearly a good way forward. But passion and desire and total commitment will get you a very long way. There is little worse than regretful wishing – whether it is wishing you worked harder back then or wishing you had tested the footing on a different path..

For Fran, this looks like taking a few different forms. She’ll gather these A levels at school and give it her all but she plans a gap year before uni, if one of the courses she wants will take her. And in that gap year she plans to finish her basic gym qualifications and do a course that will give her some skills that link dance and performance and gym all together. And alongside that she plans to do some West End auditions (because why the hell not? The worst that can happen is a no) and apply to some performance colleges too.

And that’s as many doors to universes kept open as possible. Which is the subject of this rather lovely video, all about helping teenagers see the possibilities that science can bring them and all the ways their lives can pan out depending on whether they make one choice or another. Your Life is about the benefits of studying maths and physics at A level. It’s a 3 year project aimed at inspiring young people to see the career pathways they open up, the employers who value them as subjects and how being informed at up to date about technology and the sciences at drive them leave you able to step into any ‘universe’ you want to.

And now she is 10.

My youngest little girl is ten.

One of my friends said something yesterday that I’ve been thinking all week.

When my big girls were ten, they were practically grown up. Josie is still just a baby.

Surely, she is still just a baby?

One of my ancestors, great, great aunt Josephine.

But she isn’t. She is, as all ten years old girls are, a little girl on the cusp of a waft of hormones that will bring curves and strops and worries and attitude. She is all about becoming now, even though her heart and mind, like her biggest sister, is all about staying little.

This birthday I have bought her, I imagine, one of her last dolls. This year she chose Lego, and boyish Lego at that and she will cling to childhood through the games it will give her for just a few more years.

This year she is still a little girl.

Being 10 means she has lived half her life in the shadow of something which took away her smile and left her brittle boned and tough as a tree that stands against a gale.

Being 10 means she is having to hear the words that she is too old to still be able to catch up in the sport she loves.

Being 10 means she is becoming one of the big girls of the house, though she clings to her little status fiercely.

Being 10 means laps are getting too small for her, though being the size of a 7 year old is delaying the inevitable.

Single-minded. Stubborn. Serious. Sensitive. Strong.

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This day, which was difficult and damaging in so many ways, is so far in history now. What is left, is a beautiful girl, as is only right.

I’ve watched her trying to perfect this move over the last week, the piggiest of pig moves for half way decent gymnasts. I watched her stand and do 20 or 30 of them, shaking with rage at herself for not being quite there. She has tenacity and determination, all wrapped up in a tiny parcel. Not for nothing did she deserve this post on talent the other week.

And when I watch her being like that, self motivated, driven and talented, I can hardly wonder that school has lost whatever edge it ever had for her. She’s been feeling very sad there, having found herself lonely at lunch after last years friend re-found her own friend of the year before and bored with the humdrum of the national curriculum and waiting for people to settle down to do tasks that come easily to her anyway or do not ignite the fire within her.

She’s in a lovely school, with a lovely, lovely teacher who has been there for her from the very start. The one who wrote this:-

Love this. Given to Josie from her teacher.

And who I know would do anything to make the environment as good as possible for my littlest girl.

Josie needs something else at the moment; she needs to be home educated and I can’t give her that, so the school and local authority have agreed that it is in the interests of Josie’s mental health to be home tutored (by us) one day a week.

I have so much admiration for a headmaster who will work to make a system suit a child. He has a beautiful ship, with a wonderful crew, that he works very hard to steer down a river of education system that is filled with something too toxic for too many children.

I really feel for teachers.

And I’m realising that while she has always been a funny little thing, Josie used to smile more – and we need to get that back again.

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Happy tenth birthday Josie – our Fridays are my gift to you this year because you are, as you have always been ‘Just Josie’ and you need to feel like life is right for you.

The results are in.

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I have so much to write about, big and small. And so I’m hardly writing at all. But today was a big day. A very big day indeed, the first full public exam results day.

Fran and I drove in to town first thing and got there at 9. There followed one of the trickiest of parent waits… Out in the car park while faces, happy and sad, ran or trailed back to cars.

One of those days where people who have arsed about discover that not working might not get you what you want.

And you have to hope that hard work and application and sticking power counts for something.

Then a text.

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Proving that she might have, against the odds, got a B in maths but she can’t actually count ;)

A* in Sports Studies, A in geography, A in RE, B in English, English, maths, science and a Distinction* in Dance to add to 3 Bs last year.

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She’s so happy and we are so proud. She has an ability to organise herself I have never learned; throughout the first half of this year she juggled gymnastics, coaching, dance, cello grade 4 and 2 huge dance exams as well as rugby training. She was only at home for a fraction of her week but the topics got ticked off the calendar and she stuck at it.

Well done Fran. Love you.

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The end of (this year’s school) days.

We made it. Only just and not without some pain, but we made it.

Maddy in a major Greek tragedy.

It’s the end of our first full year of schooling all of them. I’m pretty disgruntled about it, as I said before, but there are positives too. None of them want to leave so I suppose that is a positive. They all have positive relationships occurring in their schools, which is good. They’ve had some great teachers and they’ve had some dreadful ones.

As things stand, this is how we are. Maddy will remain at the school that all three big ones started the year at next year and probably for the next two years, till her GCSEs end. I can’t access her report but since it will be meaningless sentences and numbers, I won’t pay it much attention. Amelie moved mid year and came home with a report of sparkling, blinding intensity, that spoke of a talented but quiet (!) girl with a bright future. In 10 weeks they found out a lot about her (if not ALL, clearly!) Fran has left her current school and intends to join Amelie’s school for 6th form in September. Josie is going back, though she is adamant that she won’t be going to senior school until it is exam time, if then. Personally, I’d happily have her back at that point and I’d happily have Maddy back for the A Level years; it would make decisions of what to do with Bene far easier since I wobble between wanting to home educate and no. The school system for kids of that ages seems terribly pointless and sending him to school if all his sisters are in because he’s busy and boisterous and sociable and I think I might now be too lazy to home ed.

We’ve had a child in school for 3 years but it was this year that was my wake up call really. I learned some good things and some bad things.

This was the year I learned that metrics and league tables mean that a teacher might just choose not to prepare a child for an exam at all because Literature is not measured and accountable the way Language is. I learned that my big mistake was trusting that all people doing the job of a teacher are doing a good job and coping with the situation they are in. I learned that education truly is still my job because it was only spotting the crashing gaping hole in the middle of her knowledge that saved her at all.

I also learned there are are other teachers who will step in and try to help when they see how wrong something has gone, even when they, like I, know it is too little too late. But at least they tried.

I learned that, while it was too late to do enough this time, I would be really good at coaching English and that I will not make the same mistake with Maddy.

I learned that sometimes a kid will go into an exam having never done a single practise paper for it, because a teacher is too lazy, or too ostriched, or too inept to do what was needed and that when the results come out and the country only sees kids with D or E in exams about famous books, they will conclude it was the kids who are inept or lazy, they will think we might as well strike literature from the curriculum and those same kids, totally failed, will leave school believing that they are rubbish at literature and hate reading.

And that’s a tragedy.

I also learned that in a different school fabulous written work gets rewarded and the teachers are savvy enough not only to push that kid further but also to check their mum didn’t do the homework for them.

I also learned that a good junior school will listen to a parent who feels they might have made a mistake, will work in partnership with a parent and will correct the error because they happen to still think a parent opinion is important.

And I learned there are some amazing, passionate, fabulous teachers who will step outside the constructions of school etiquette to do what is right for a child, no matter what.

They get nice presents.

Unbelievably I warped the frame... So, it was supposed to be rustic, okay?

I learned that Fran had an amazing form teacher who is brilliant at spotting kids with talent. Maddy is part of a great gang of actors now who put on an amazing and very, very funny show.

I learned that Josie is developing just as I imagined she would, with slow but self driven language skills and a knack for maths. She got an amazing report but wrote on it that next year she wants harder work.

I learned that I have not paid close enough attention to helping Maddy organise herself and I need to support her more in that next year. She often quietly slips through the gaps, which isn’t fair.

More than anything else, this year I learned what a privileged schooling I had and how little harm I did the girls by keeping them out of the state system. I learned that I support teachers who strike because they are worn out with interference from the government and being asked to treat children like numbers. I cheered for them as Gove went down.

I also learned not to be afraid to bang the curtain down on a kid who can’t cope with the complexities of school and online life clashing. I took a Facebook account away, not without some personal angst and not without many warnings. I might have got outrage and fury but in fact I got relief and a happier girl.

There is a lesson in there.

I miss home ed terribly, I still do. I’m more disillusioned with the education system than I ever was even though I have more respect for teachers than I ever did. It is so broken though, so very broken and so very ineffective. We’re staying with it because the positives are there and you can’t go back really but six weeks of summer will not be enough.