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.

Another crochet hat with a Hungry Caterpillar theme.

This book has been Bene’s favourite since the earliest of times. In fact, it has probably been all their favourite book at some point; I imagine that is why after 45 years, The Very Hungry Caterpillar is still going strong. I imagine that is why “pop!” and “caterpillar” and “sun” and “be-uuuutiful butterfly!” have been among his first words.

I imagine we will be doing lots of hungry caterpillar crafting over the coming months, if not years, and it is not hard to grasp, from that link, that it is a subject that captures an awful lot of little hearts.

“In the light of the moon, a little egg lay on a leaf.”

I think you could all do a line each in the comments box and we could get to the end, word perfect, without looking at a book at all.

(Top marks to the person who can do the junk food line perfectly without help.)

He loves it. They’ve all loved it. We read it to Fran in hospital, to all the others in their early days. Even to Freddie.

It’s the perfect book, written before literacy goals and learning objectives and worrying about developmental stages. A little story that sums it all up and ends so perfectly that I bet we all raise the book, flap the pages and help the butterfly fly away.

I made Bene a hat, one night when I was feeling kind. It’s all red, in MyBoshi yarn and a 6mm hook, following a basic beanie pattern and then I winged the face with circles I sewed on, a green rim and silly purple antennae made of a tight circle of 6 stitches. Maddy has pointed out I need to correct his eyes to be the perfect shape. I’ll probably never get round to it but even if this version does end up looking a bit like a gas mask, he will grow up knowing I took the time to indulge him.

The #hungrycaterpillar #myboshi #crochet hat

He wears it everywhere. I’m so glad he gets to do that.

“…and he wasn’t a little caterpillar any more…”

Oh, Gove Away! Frustrations with School

I’ve had this post in draft for a while, trying to find a time to write up some of the nagging doubts that are resurfacing about having our children in school. Debating the Paul Kirby blog post (a former advisor to the government) yesterday caused me to say, among other things, this:-

This man may have left his secondment but you can bet your bottom dollar it is discussed elsewhere too. And Gove just can’t be trusted not to say ‘I like this, make it so!’

And look, less than 24 hours later, Gove has the same miracle idea – keep all kids in school for 10 hours a day. I’ve linked to Sky as it has some of a video of him speaking, but the press of all shapes and sizes is erupting in discussion about his radical ideas. Twitter is alight; it comes to a pretty pass when I retweet  Alastair Campbell.

It’s almost like he listened to that man who wrote a blog post. Or maybe, I guess, they’ve long been discussing these ideas in Whitehall.

I’m not sure what bothers me most about this; my kids arrive in school at 8.30 and rarely leave before 4.30pm. They do their lessons and they go to a school that doesn’t have a lunch break and they fill their after school with homework, netball, singing and dancing, CCF, music, trampoline and more. Fran spends a further 3 nights a week and a Saturday morning doing 16 hours of gymnastics at a club, Josie does 8 hours, Fran does 5 hours of dancing and she and Maddy play rugby on Sunday, Amelie does 5 hours of dancing too, they all play instruments, they all help out at home too. They are busy kids, learning to be meaningful humans but it is their choice to be at those places. And part of what makes them who they are is the choosing to do it.

I’m not clear (is he clear?) whether he means these ten hour days should be compulsory. Should it be for reception too? All the way through or just for some kids? Will ones with lives classed as fulfilling outside school be let off or will they have to give up gymnastics to attend a compulsory school club? Will they come home with more homework to do, all that meaningful poster making they do at the moment… Sigh.

And when am I supposed to see them? When will they play? Chill out? Eat meals with us? Read a book? Get to know each other? And should I be worried? After all, this is no longer just a former advisor writing a blog post, it’s the Education Secretary! Or shall I just hope that like Badman, Balls and Brown, he’ll be out of office before the hammer drops on our family life?

At least Kirby seemed to just be being a cold heartened economist about it – let’s get those annoying kids people insist on birthing and then don’t know what to do with out of their hair so they can work – but as an experienced teacher on my Facebook thread pointed out, this is not about parents flexible working hours, the key point here is the welfare of children. Gove seems to actually think he’ll be doing the kids a favour too. And he’s going to do that, apparently, by making all schools as good as those (£30K a year) private schools.

Okaaaaay.

I looked round a private school last week. I went to private school. Gove is NEVER going to make our state schools like our private schools. There is more to them (and they are not perfect themselves) than length of hours, facilities and attitude. They are infused with something you can’t easily inject into a state school for reasons far to complex to bother listing. And apart from anything else, they get very long holidays compared to our state schools. I just can’t see the likes of Kirby and Gove liking that idea.

I’ve had a passionate, hands on role in my kids’ education for their whole life. Sending them to school was a wrench and recently we’ve begun to re-evaluate that. Fran is fine, but in some subjects we now have to help her as she has fallen behind after being ahead when she started. She won’t do as well in her GCSE’s as she would in a different school, or maybe even at home. It makes me sad when I go to parent’s evening and hear her teachers aspiring to mediocrity for her. Maddy gains in social joy what she loses in brilliant teaching but Amelie is sinking fast. I’ve kidded myself for a while that at least they are in the hands of people who know what they are doing and then…

And then…

Fran is predicted an A* in Maths and that prediction was holding over lots of reports. In half term I asked her to do a practice paper to reassure me all was well. She could barely do 25% of it. I started to investigate and discovered the following.

Her prediction is based on her SAT score (at age 11) and her SAT score is on her record as 5A, so she gets predicted a GCSE (5 years later) of an A*. Only she never did SATS, so they took her very good CAT score when she joined them in Yr 9 and extrapolated backwards to guess what she might have got at SATs and then used that imaginary data to guess her GCSE prediction.

That’s pretty bad use of statistics I would say, but wait for this.

They don’t use current data (ie the marks she is currently getting in class, homework or tests) to make assumptions on her GCSE grade. So had I not made her sit that test, no one would have flagged up that she was not even going to get a D in an exam 5 months away. It’s lucky I did – and that she has able and interested parents who coached her in the 3 weeks before her mocks to try and remedy the situation. She missed a B by 3 marks.

And so it is because there are people making decisions like that in charge of our education system, that I think it is a good idea to be alert and questioning the words of anyone who has recently walked the halls of Whitehall. And because 24 hours ago I said that in a list of reasons to be wary, Gove should be on it twice just for the sake of safety. I’ll end with the statement I started with. I think it turned out to be justified.

I shall say this politely and only once, but any government that brings in 45 hour school weeks and 7 school holiday weeks a year will lose the pleasure of all my children’s company in the school system. And they are uppers of averages, so think on Policy makers.

PS Mr Gove, I think the tax contribution to a child in the state system is something like £1600 a year compared to even a cheapish private school being roughly £13000 a year. So, you know, good luck and all that.