Thursday, 1 April 2010

Edinburgh trip

We just spent a few days in Edinburgh. We stayed at a Travelodge for £26 a night and got advance train tickets, so the trip was rather a bargain. Edinburgh is fantastic. We went three years ago and this time we did some of the same stuff - tour of the Vaults (this time with silly ghost hunting equipment!) and yummy vege burger dinners - and some new things - excellent guided tour of the Scottish Parliament building and eating in Edinburgh's oldest vege restaurant.

The breakfasts at the Travelodge don't really compare with the same deal at a Premier Travel Inn. We found that we were always in need of something - milk, bread, knives etc! But the room was really nice and we all enjoyed evenings in bed watching the big tv on the wall or reading our books.

The Scottish Parliament was probably the highlight of the trip for me. The building is really beautiful and we got a free tour from a very sweet, enthusiastic young man. The cafeteria was great and we all sat around eating baked potatoes and avoiding the hideous rain. It rained pretty much non-stop for the whole trip and it was *cold*! When it wasn't raining it was snowing.

We all got lost (in various combinations!) in Jenners department store. I spent an enjoyable ten minutes browsing round the bathroom department imaging what towels I'd buy if I had an unlimited budget!

People bought books and yarn and other stuff. I read a Patrick Gale book I'd borrowed from my mum. I am always completely absorbed and full of admiration when reading one of his books. This one was excellent. I like the way he sometimes writes himself a lovely man into the work - a farmer this time!

We returned to a museum we'd liked before and which featured in a book we've read since our last trip there. There was an exhibition that was very much to my taste - Treasured. It had various beautiful objects, from insects in amber to exquisite glass models of undersea creatures.

The journey home was rather loopy. We weren't due to leave until 1pm but we decided to go to the station early as heavy snow had fallen across Scotland. Most of it had melted in Edinburgh but we rightly surmised that the trains would be affected. At first we thought we were looking at a bus to Newcastle! Eeek! But then we were advised to get a train heading for Birmingham using the west coast line. We changed trains at Carlisle and got a fast train to London. The whole business probably only added a couple of hours to our journey time but was a bit worrying. We were never entirely sure our tickets would continue to be accepted as we headed further south by a strange route. But it was fine. We didn't have reserved seats (of course) so we were sometimes a bit squashed up - but I've had far worse journeys!

I really love to get away. We live a rather relentless schedule as a family and getting away just changes the pace entirely.

Friday, 19 March 2010

Leo is ten!

Nearly three years ago we did a blog post on our old blog in honour of P's tenth birthday. It's hard to believe that it's time to do the same for L. But it is!


Here he is aged nine months. A lovely, happy chap!

By his second birthday he was well into two of his first passions - frogs and The Singing Kettle. That birthday he got frogs from nearly everyone and he was thrilled. He also had a selection of little kettles.

Here he is aged three. The bits of paper were claws and scales. We spent a lot of our time helping with costume.

Eating his fourth birthday cake. He was dressed as Batman and we all sang the Batman theme instead of the traditional song.

On the beach in the Isles of Scilly - aged five.

Here he is is at six - reading an Edge Chronicles book.

Seven years old and being The Doctor.

Drawing and writing and always creating. Here he is doing it age eight.

Nine.

Ten years old with birthday bag and leather notebook bound for him by P.

Happy Birthday to our lovely boy!

Saturday, 13 February 2010

Last ditch letter to MP

We sent this to our MP today. There's still time to write to MPs before the Third Reading of the CSF Bill on 23rd Feb. Hope someone might find this useful/inspiring when composing their own letter - sorry it's so long!

Dear David,

Thank you for sending the DCSF response to the Parliamentary Petition you presented on behalf of your constituents in December, and for your letter dated 9th February.

Unfortunately, you are mistaken about the process of the Bill; there have been no successful amendments to Schedule 1 or to any other parts of the Bill which affect home educators. The effect on our lives would still be just as we described in our previous correspondence.

For the DCSF simply to repeat their assertion that the proposed monitoring would be "light touch" and that guidance would provide for it to be "proportionate and focused on support and encouragement for home educating families" does not alter the wording of the Bill, which contains no such guarantees.

It is very poor legislative practice for laws to be passed which rely so heavily on guidance for their implementation. Once the law is passed, there is no need for the guidance to be subject to Parliamentary scrutiny. There is nothing in the proposed Bill that protects home educating families from local authorities or future national governments who may choose to implement the provisions in a much more draconian and intrusive way than the DCSF's pronouncements would suggest.

It was pointed out to the Public Bill Committee in a submission from Canadian home educator Kelly Green, that Graham Badman's review of the legal position in other countries was highly selective. There is evidence from North America that the degree of regulation of home education in different jurisdictions makes no difference to the outcomes for home educated children. Ms Green's short submission can be seen at http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200910/cmpublic/childsch/memo/ucm2602.htm

The DCSF response to the Parliamentary Petition is simply the latest in a series of misleading statments made by DCSF representatives over the last year. We attach a short document outlining some of the others we have identified, and would be grateful if you would take a few minutes to read it.

You will be asked to vote again on the Children, Schools and Families Bill at its Third Reading on February 23rd. Following a truncated Committee stage, the Bill is almost unchanged. The Committee did make time to discuss a large number of amendments to Schedule 1 and other amendments regarding home education at its final session on February 4th. Although the session ran out of time before most of the amendments could be voted on, the debate was very interesting, and we would urge you to read the transcript. You can find it at http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200910/cmpublic/childsch/100204/pm/100204s05.htm

In particular, the contribution of Caroline Flint MP (beginning at Col. 493 in the Hansard record) was thoughtful and striking.

Ms Flint described the Government's proposals as "bureaucratic and overburdening to families and local authorities".

Having listened to her constituents and other home educating families who made submissions to the Public Bill Committee, she expressed her concern that the information required of parents would be excessive; that the provisions of the Bill would be applied inconsistently across the country; and that the Bill, as currently worded, could leave the government open to legal challenge.

She concluded by calling on the Government to step back from the proposals in the Bill:

"There must be a way forward that can bring the relevant communities together, whether they are parents, local government or the Department. I hope that we can find a way forward, because I am concerned that we will otherwise end up with something that cannot be delivered on the ground and that will create division when people
should be coming together, and I am sure that that is not what this Committee or the House want to achieve"

During the whole debate, no MP other than Diana Johnson made a substantive speech in support of the provisions outlined in Schedule 1.

There is one last opportunity for the House of Commons to remove these ill-considered proposals from the Bill. Amendments 63, 64 and 66 would remove Clauses 26 and 27, and Schedule 1, giving everyone an opportunity to step back and consider the best way forward. As Caroline Flint said, "for a number of different reasons, there has been a breakdown in confidence and trust on the issue." The first step in rebuilding trust with the home educating community would be for these amendments to be carried at the Third Reading.

We believe there is widespread agreement, even among Labour MPs, that Schedule 1 is now an obstacle to the Government's stated objective of working in cooperation with home educating parents, in the best interests of children.

We urge you to represent our views on this once again to ministers, in the hope that they will agree to accept the amendments. If the government refuses to be swayed, even by the arguments of its own loyal backbenchers, we would urge you to vote for the amendments when they come before the House.

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Consent and the Ticky Boxy World

It’s been a long time since we posted anything on this blog and, I suspect, that will be the case from here on in. Having older children, who spend a fair amount of their time online, makes it just too weird to be blogging our day to day lives. But, with today’s second reading of the bill in parliament, I had a vague spark of the anger that has got me blogging before.

The truth is that I’m worn out with the whole business of the government’s intention to start licensing our lives. Most of the time I just heave a sigh and shrug. They can’t bear to have us all out here just living our lives. Not with *children* who we (without any proper qualifications to do so, you understand) claim to be *educating*. What if we aren’t doing it properly? Surely we must be counted and checked and monitored – on and on and on and on, I suspect. Because that way they can make sure we are doing it properly...

Well, we’re not, of course, doing it properly. I know about properly. Properly would involve us (the adults) making plans all about what they (the children) will learn and then teaching it to them and testing them to make sure they were listening. Any spare time not devoted to paragraphs or fractions should probably be spent telling them not to get pregnant/get anyone else pregnant, abuse substances, carry knives or run up debts on credit cards.( That people insist on doing these stupid and feckless things is obviously down to the fact that no-one ever gave them in a lesson about the consequences.) Of course, even if we did it all as properly as properly then it would still be a substandard education because the children aren’t properly socialised. No, they suffer from the lack of the normal social environment of an over-heated room packed with twenty nine other souls who were born in the same academic year. So we are, I think, doomed when it comes to a passable level on the Scale of Normality.

There’s no way the Ticky Boxy World will let any of us pass without something that needs to be addressed and improved upon. No doubt, we will all be encouraged to live every moment in a *reflective* way, questioning how we could do it all better next time. So that when the Ticky Boxy Lady comes round again we can move up a level on her Ticky Boxy Sheet and enjoy a sense of *achievement.* Or, alternatively, they might just decide that we’re all failing and need to be put in special measures, which will probably mean School Attendance Orders aplenty.

They will arrive in our lives, I suspect, from Ticky Boxy World, and gasp in horror at the chaos of it all. The child who has reams of writing scattered around the house, all illustrated with mythical creatures and not a sheet of it marked! And, where is the child? In the garden playing with fire... The other one is out at a fundraiser down at the local anarchist club – talking to adults we have not met, vetted or barred. And, no, you won’t be reading her essay because, actually, it’s not really very useful to her if you do...

You see, the thing is, that out there in Ticky Boxy World, the people never do like it, you know. The Ticky Boxy Ladies and Men that come and inspect, they’re never welcome. No-one quite knows what to do about it, of course. Everyone is very used to a structure where no-one is asked if they consent. Not the children sitting on the mat doing their Jolly Phonics, not the bored teenagers doing as little as possible, not the teachers sitting in long meetings about strategies and approaches, not the head teachers burning the midnight oil before the Ticky Boxy People arrive. Being asked if this is what you want, if this is useful for you, if you can even agree to this as part of a deal – that doesn’t really happen much out there. You are in the Ticky Boxy Structure and you do as you are told.

And yet we have pottered merrily on – picking and choosing and not worrying too much. That is what they don’t like. I’m pretty sure of it. However they dress it up with concerns over this or that. It doesn’t wash with me. The truth is that they can’t let us be. It just doesn’t fit. Having sold their souls to the Devil of Inspection they cannot let anyone escape. But I think they might find that people used to living by common consent will not be as easily awed by the Ticky Boxy Lady. I hope not.