Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Summer stuff

In an attempt to keep this blog alive, here's another post! Since returning from St Ives, we have been enjoying some lovely weather at home.

On Monday, Dani took the kids on a bike ride. They got the train to Polegate and then rode about nine miles on the Cuckoo Trail. Leo fell off rather dramatically but got off lightly with just a skinned knee. They saw excellent wildlife but I'm not allowed to give you any details because they want to.

There's been lots going on at home as well as out and about. Both the children have been writing letters. Once again, I can give you no details but will say that it is great to see them getting their opinions out there. They are both fans of snail mail. Leo was thrilled to hear that a letter to the US would go airmail. The fact that an email whizzes about the world in a flash is not exciting to him - just normal. Isn't it odd how we have such different ideas about 'normal' to those of our children?

Also going on at home - more zine making, drawing, making a string bag (P) and sewing (L) and some maths stuff (both). Recent conversations have been good - lots about current affairs.

Yesterday, Pearl, Leo and I went to the beach hut with an auntie, two cousins and a grandmother. It was a beautiful day and just right for some swimming in the sea. A neighbour from across the road, who happens to have a beach hut a few doors away from ours (yes, weird!) was there with a canoe. He took each child out for a little paddle, which cousin D declared to be,

"the experience of a lifetime!"

The sea in Brighton (Hove actually) is far less cold than the sea in Cornwall, so it felt like a bath to me. After lunch, the sea was a bit more choppy (not at all dangerously so, just some bigger waves) and several of the kids had fun letting waves break over their heads and so forth!

A sparkly day on the beach

A happy Leo

Pearl and cousin B finding interesting stones.

The kids have just popped to the post office and to Dani's work to do some important photocopying. Then we're off out again - to a favourite park.

Monday, 17 August 2009

Follow up letter to our MP

I've just sent this, after receiving a forwarded letter, apparently from Delyth Morgan but actually containing the same wording as this blog post by Ed Balls:

Dear David,

Thank you for forwarding to us the pro forma letter you received from Baroness Morgan, dated 29th July 2009.

As we had already received an identically worded letter from a DCSF official, and had seen the same text on Ed Balls' blog, published on 27th July (, the content of the letter was no surprise to us.

We are sure you will appreciate that we are in no way reassured or satisfied by this letter. We made several very specific points in our letter to you, and we think Baroness Morgan could have at least done us (and you) the courtesy of reading and directly addressing the letter she was purporting to reply to.

We do not accept the logic of the letter's third paragraph, which outlines the government's stated reason for commissioning the Badman Review in the first place. There is no inherent conflict between the principle of parents having the right to decide how and where their children should be educated and the principle of children being safe and receiving the education they need. The two things do not therefore need to be balanced against each other.

In fact, parents do not, in English law, have a "right to decide how and where their children should be educated" except that which is conferred by Section 7 of the 1996 Education Act. The rights of parents, in this context, are entirely bound up with the parental *duty* to ensure that children receive an education suitable to their age, aptitude and ability and any special educational needs they may have.

Parents do not have a right to choose to deny their children the education they need, nor do they have a right to choose to put their children in danger. There is no conflict between the parent's duty to provide an education and the child's right to receive an education; these are both enshrined in the very same piece of statute law.

We remain extremely concerned at the prospect of hasty legislation on the basis of the flimsy logic displayed both in this letter and in the Badman Review report. The letter you have forwarded to us includes a statement of the government's intention to legislate "at the first possible opportunity this year".

This seems to us to be another clear indication that the current consultation is a sham, as the consultation results are unlikely to be published until January 2010. As we mentioned when we met at your surgery, the government has already made a commitment to "improve monitoring arrangements for home education" in the Improving Schools and Safeguarding Children Bill, which has been included in the Draft Legislative Programme for the next Parliamentary Session.

Clearly, then, the consultation contravenes Criterion 1 of the BERR Code of Practice on consultations ( which states that consultations must be undertaken when there is time for the consultation result to influence policy outcome.

Similarly, we fail to see how the Parliamentary Select Committee's inquiry into the Badman Review and the associated consultation can have any meaningful outcome, if the consultation and legislation proceed on their current timescales. The Committee has called for evidence to be submitted by 22nd September, less than a month before the closing date of the consultation. By the time the evidence has been considered, and a conclusion reached by the Committee, the consultation will have finished, and the process of drafting the Bill will presumably be well advanced.

As you may be aware, Liberty are concerned about the prospect of legislation to implement Graham Badman's Recommendation 7, giving local authority officers the right of access to private homes. As they explained in letters to home educators last week, "A right of access to the home engages Article 8 of the Human Rights Act 1998 - the right to respect for family and private life. Interference with the right to privacy will only be justified if it can be shown to be necessary and proportionate in all the circumstances."

With such serious concerns surrounding the proposals, we think the most sensible thing for the government to do would be to halt the consultation, withdraw the proposal to legislate this year, and take some time to give these issues appropriate consideration.

The Select Committee should be allowed to complete its inquiry, and there should be a full Impact Assessment carried out, before a new consultation (lasting at least 12 weeks) is started. In accordance with the BERR Code of Practice, there should be a possibility for the consultation to influence policy, so it is not acceptable for legislation to be drafted while a consultation is underway.

We would appreciate it if you would pass this letter on to the relevant ministers, and we look forward to receiving a reply which actually addresses our concerns.

Finally, we are intending to visit Parliament on 13th October, as part of a mass lobby being organised on this issue. We are planning to arrive at 2.30pm, and would greatly appreciate the opportunity to meet with you again and discuss this matter further. We expect that there will be around 6 of your constituents taking part in the lobby, accompanied by their children. Please can you let us know whether you will be able to meet us on that day?

Yours sincerely,


As ever, feel free to link to, use or adapt this if you find it useful.

Saturday, 15 August 2009

OK, so what happened to blogging?

I have no real excuse for the total lack of activity on this blog. I could blame it all on the Badman Review (tempting to blame everything on that really...) but the truth is that we've been doing other things. Here's what we've been up to in the last week - our family holiday to St Ives!

St Ives is my second favourite place in the world. I love the beaches and the way the town is almost surrounded by sea. I love the light and the hills and the damp air. I love the ease with which the local economy relieves you of your money without you ever feeling ripped off. Whenever I am there I feel free to read and think and cut off from the demands of life at home. I think we all get different things from the place but it works very well as a holiday destination for us. Here's why...

We arrived on Saturday, after a fairly trouble free journey from Brighton. The train down to the west country does tend to suffer from random (usually fairly minor) delays, and this one was no exception - twenty minutes, for some reason. On the whole, train journeys are a total pleasure these days. The children have books and paper and pens and Leo's portable dvd player. I read most of a Barbara Vine book I'd borrowed from my friend, E. Dani knitted and was quizzed on her knitting. Pearlie went off to explore the train a bit and found that a woman was travelling with a large, placid rabbit in a holdall on the seat beside her.

After picking up the keys to our apartment (expensive but with lovely view) we went out to get some pasties for tea and began the work of relaxing...

View from the balcony of our flat.

We had our first swim on Porthminster beach on Sunday and then pottered around the shops buying books and so on. The tv reception is awful in St Ives and we soon gave up on the tv and played lots of games of Bananagrams instead. Then we all tended to read in bed - so much more relaxing than being shackled to screens... In the evening, Leo and I went on a lantern ghost story walk. This was a very good example of such walks - being led by a man who was a local historian, so we did get some history in with the usual apocryphal tales.

On Monday we went to the local museum, which is very odd! Leo was in search of the bible of James Wallace, the last ghost-layer of the town. We looked at that and the other, bizarre assortment of objects they have on display. It is one of those museums that has photographs of nameless people in unusual costumes. My favourite was of a middle aged man in some druid-like get-up, with a campervan in the background, in which a young, bearded fellow was smirking. I'd say it was about 1975 - judging by the young fellow's cheesecloth shirt...

Tuesday was warm and sunny, so we went to the beach again. The sea down there is certainly colder than the channel and I had to talk firmly to myself to get my shoulders under the water. I tend to remind myself that I got through childbirth, so I really can't shy away from a moment of discomfort on getting into the cold sea... Once in, it was lovely. Layers of mum podge mean that I no longer turn blue and shudder - unlike our poor children, who do an impressive line in full-body shivering. We bought them some towelling robes, which proved useful.

On Tuesday night we went on a trip to the beautiful Minack Theatre. I had never been there before and it was as lovely as I'd always hoped it would be. The seagulls and the waves just embed you in the play in some way. It was the Ilkley Players doing The Crucible and I was very impressed. We'd actually watched the film version with the children the night before, which I think was a good idea. They were both total stars, sitting though the whole play in virtual silence. I would guess they were the youngest people there by about three years in P's case and more like six in Leo's! Unfortunately, both kids fell asleep on the minibus back to St Ives and, on waking, Leo threw up rather dramatically down a steep pavement as we walked home. He startled a woman the next day by exclaiming, with some delight, "that's my sick!" when we walked past the splat! It had been a long day - lots of sea swimming and then not in bed until well after midnight.

We were all rather tired on Wednesday and took things easy. We decided to go to the Tate. I have a rather edgy relationship with art galleries - unlike D, or the children, I think. I often feel rather boxed in by the pressure of looking at the art and get nagging thoughts that I'm not looking at it 'properly' or not getting what I might from it. This time I had a surprising and joyous experience when we entered the gallery with the work of Laurence Weiner. Instead of feeling tense and unsure, I felt like my head was exploding with images, characters and stories. I wonder if this is what people generally experience in art galleries? If so, then maybe I do 'get it' after all... The children declared that they had enjoyed the exhibition and we discussed the artists. Both Dani and Pearl like Barbara Hepworth's stuff a great deal.

We popped in at the library that afternoon, just to browse around a little. I read some of the story of the creation of the Minack Theatre and felt I'd like to know a bit more about Rowena Cade. We had tea at Blas Burgerworks - yum.

Thursday turned out to be another beautiful day, so we went to Porthgwidden beach cafe for an extravagant breakfast. After a bit of swimming there, we popped home for lunch and then went over to Porthminster for more swimming.

Leo sets off across the Atlantic.

Pearlie in a hole.

As the tide went out, Dani and the kids managed to get right across to the harbour.

They are the little people right in the middle of this beach shot!

I was devouring the latest Patrick Gale book.

Friday was a bit grey. We set off on a walk along the South West Coast Path. We ended up doing the whole six miles to Zennor. Six miles doesn't sound like much of a walk, does it?

We looked a bit less tidy than this on arrival at Zennor!

Well, on downland or ambling through the weald, it isn't a long walk. But when those six miles are clambering on rocky cliff top paths, in sandals because we hadn't taken our walking boots, it was plenty long enough... We had failed to pack enough water and virtually fell into a backpackers hostel at Zennor, gasping for a drink. Dani and I have something of a history of being over-prepared for minor excursions (full first aid kit in the park...) and then under-prepared for tough walks like this. We were reminded of a giant starway in the Blue Mountains outside Sydney, which we failed to notice was marked 'strenuous.' On setting off for Zennor, I had one plaster in my pocket and lack of boots was really rather silly. A turned ankle might well have demanded a helicopter rescue, which would have been embarassing to say the least! The children took it all very happily and tended to scamper on like mountain goats while we lumbered up the rocks... The scenery was wonderful, as was the wildlife, but I think the children will want to be the ones to tell about that.

We got the bus back into St Ives, which took all of twenty minutes. The walk had taken us four hours!

The train journey home ran a little late owing to "being held up in the west country". That was the official explanation, though there were no highwaymen that I saw.

So, that was St Ives this time. Reading, beaches, walking, beauty, art, games, talking - all sorts. Leo is into a new series of books - the Spooks books by Joseph Delaney. Pearlie has taken to reading the Guardian. Dani bought some lovely new yarn. I wonder if I will find time to blog real life now?

But, you know, we don't get to do enough of this sort of thing in real life. If things are quiet here then maybe we're all reading...