Women and children first? Not under this Government

Kirstie Allsopp does know what she is talking about when it comes to women’s choices. Her advice about having children in your twenties (assuming you are in the right relationship) makes sense when we live in a society where women assume the role of the primary carer of children.

I went to university, got an education, then had children. I could arguably earn more money than my husband but it is very difficult for him to work his job around childcare – so whose job has to adjust? Mine of course. I have had to decline interviews for good jobs because it is  not possible for me to balance childcare, commuting and full-time working hours.

But what job exists that makes use of an education but fits in around school hours and term-time? Not many. So I would go a step further than Kirstie and say what is the point of University for women who intend to have children when they are older? There is of course another option, where both of us work full-time hours and we enjoy our children at weekends but neither of us earn enough to make those sacrifices worthwhile.

But even though I am lucky enough to have two healthy children, why do I feel cheated out of a career? Is it really that important? Why is the onus on us all to achieve and achieve (if Gove’s new KS1and KS2 curriculum is anything to go by). Why do all children need to count to 100 by 5 years? Why do Year 6 children have to know long division using traditional methods? What is the Government really trying to achieve by all this? You dont have to be brain of Britain to get on in life and you dont have to be intelligent to be happy or to be a good global and community citizen.

I heard my daughters school headmaster use the word ‘cramming’ when describing preparation of Year 5 pupils for their end of KS2 tests – tell me Mr Gove are you pleased your legacy is a stressed out 10 year old, trying to learn an equation in order to meet objectives and improve pisa rankings?

I worry our 5 -11 year olds are being set-up to fail in this new system and the failure will be that they never got the chance to enjoy the process of learning for fear of missing attainment targets.

This blog is for Unicef.

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The worst type of charity?

I think private schools should only have charitable status if at least 50 per cent of their children receive significant subsidies because their parents do not have the income level to support boarding fees. These would be children who would benefit from a boarding school environment. There are a couple of schools in my area that offer this but nowhere near enough in my opinion. I mentioned to a mother that I was thinking of applying for one of the schools if my daughter proved academic enough, but she said ‘they have a lot of children from awful backgrounds though dont they’. I replied that a school where everyone can benefit is more desirable than an environment that perpetuates a bubble of privilege and upholds the segregation of social classes that continues to plague this country.

 If the vast majority of independent school parents were honest, they would admit that one of the prime reasons for sending their children to private school is so that their child mixes with the ‘right people’, it also helps them access more exclusive social circles. Most private schools have bursaries and scholarships that spare the offspring of aristocracy and upper middle ‘nice families’ of the state system. It is shocking that these schools have charitable status when they are, first and foremost, a business, taking facilities, teachers, modern curriculums and the best higher education opportunities away from the masses for a privileged minority that get a better access to the top jobs in this country…….and these institutions are ‘charities’.

I wonder if the MPs that upheld the decision on the charitable status have children in state schools?

I think not.

This blog is for Unicef. Thanks for reading.

British Book Off

There is an argument for losing the word ‘English’ in ‘English literature’. I often think about all the good books and authors out there that I miss out on because they havent been translated, or rather, I dont speak or read any other word apart from English, this includes ‘American English’ as I cant tolerate the weird spelling.

While I think it is good to review the current texts on the British secondary national curriculum, am I the only person who thinks it strange, illogical and, frankly, bordering on facism to dictate that young developing minds must only digest literature written by English authors.

I am going to try and remember what I read at secondary school (incidentally while under a Tory government, led by John Major, havent the foggiest who looked after education but do recall my dabble in state being disastrous, the standard was abysmal yet today now it is brilliant. Naturally Gove wants to revert to the crap system of the nineties to help broaden the gap between the privileged and the less so.

I read: William Golding’s ‘Lord of the Flies’, Susan Hill’s ‘I’m the King of the Castle’, James Joyce’s ‘Dubliners’, Charlotte Bronte’s ‘Jane Eyre’ and Harper Lee’s ‘To kill a Mockingbird’ and F Scott Fitzgerald’s ‘The Great Gatsby’ and ‘A Kestrel for a Knave’ by Barry Hines. I’m sure there were more but these were the most memorable. Most of these would still tick Gove’s boxes. My favourite thankfully will still be on the list, ‘Lord of the Flies’. I enjoyed the book so much I kept my battered original from school days. My second favourite (helped by the hit song during that time ‘Wake up Boo’ by the Boo Radleys, is ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’, i think it is criminal this is no longer on the list. It has more messages about social history, ethics and justice than Michal Gove has in policy u-turns.

I work at a place where students decide on the book they will study. There is obviously a long-list but they have a discussion about the synopses of each collectively with the class and then decide which one to study based on discussion. Kids are more receptive to learning if they take ownership of what and how they learn. I think this may make life more interesting for teachers too. So back off Gove and hand the power of what texts to study to the teachers and their pupils. They are the experts NOT you.

Contemplating sending a list to Gove of what he is permitted to read on holiday and see how he likes it.

This blog is for Unicef.

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Social school

“The best thing about me is my brain” said my work colleague. It’s right, she is clever, she has such a capacious brain that she never feels the need to write it down, she can retain everything and remember everything. As a result her multi-tasking ability is impressive, which comes in handy for teaching philosophy.

Her brain is the main reason why she is reluctant to jump both feet first into child rearing. “My brain is all I have, if I sacrifice it for nappy brain, that’s it”.

It’s a shame really as it would be good to pass on such clever genes to future generations, although there is never a guarantee the right genes get passed on (the Winston Churchill and Marilyn Monroe scenario is a good example of this).

With one eye on the subject of my post yesterday, to what extent is a brain genetically modified and to what extent is it nurtured. The psychology of learning is fascinating and an area that Governments should be paying good money to research to advise on education reform.

If we were to understand the barriers to learning and then work hard to remove them what could be achieved? Obviously this is far too simplistic, all that we can really influence is the school environment, the home environment is a very difficult territory to address, particularly if a child is discouraged from learning at home. Generations of children were let down by a shocking state education system and they in turn had children and passed their negative feelings on either deliberately or inadvertently.

So if a Government improves the school life of one generation, then, with consistency and progress in the right way, future generations will fare even better.

Just as older generations suffer from missing certain sociological revolutions at the right age (causing them to vote Ukip and question the number of ethnic minorities in classrooms), what was ‘status quo’ before the age of 25 remains the case throughout life and so the merry-go-round of ideological slow progress continues.

That is why education is so important for humanity and why it is so disastrous if it goes wrong. Gove you have been warned….

I am blogging every day for Unicef.

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Happiness is perfect yet perfect isnt happy

I read an article by actress and stand-up comedian Francesca Martinez. It was brilliant and inspired me to order her book ‘What the f*** is normal?’ It also made me re-evaluate some of my views, particularly relating to parenting disabled children. I had always thought that parenting a disabled child overwhelming, although I could never have brought myself to abort a baby based on a predicted disability forecast by health professionals – a predicament that would have no doubt finished our marriage. My husband’s views on bringing up a disabled child are in contrary to his own childhood, which was marred by severe hearing loss due to brain damage.

Francesca looks at it from a different angle, ‘Most parents-to-be still fear that their beloved Newborn will turn out to be -oh, the horror – disabled. My personal fear is that my future child will turn out to be unhappy. I don’t care what he or she can or can’t do, how they talk or walk or how many fingers and toes they have. Because I don’t think that is a good indicator of happiness. Forget aborting babies because of the suffering they might endure. What about the suffering they will create? Wouldn’t it make sense to develop a test to check for the arms-dealer gene, the advertising executive gene, the corporate-overlord gene, or the gossip-magazine editor gene? That would eliminate quite a lot of suffering.’

I wish I had read Francesca’s article in The Guardian before I passed judgement on my daughter’s maths test mark. She described the scale of marks to me with 6 being the top score. I cant pretend that I was disappointed she had got a 3, they then get a sub mark in the form of letters, with A being the lowest and D being the top. Her total mark was 3B. I couldn’t hold back this disappointment and said that I didn’t  think her mark was ‘that good’ and that if she wanted to get into boarding school (her wish not mine) she was going to need to get a 5 or 6. What made me suddenly turn into a mother with the support and encouragement skills of an amoeba? Why did I turn into one of those pushy mothers who focus so much on grades they don’t recognise their daughter’s anorexia and anxiety attacks because of this unnecessary pressure to perform. Most parents say they just want their child to be happy, but also gets lots of qualifications and a high-earning job, the stress of which will put them into an early grave? I managed to halt the destructive path I was proceeding down when she explained to me that she had done her best and I later described it to Daddy in front of her as a ‘good’ mark, to which he said, ‘well that’s OK, it’s average’ gah! So I quickly added that no doubt Mummy and Daddy would have scored a 0 or a 1 if we had taken the same test at her age. Then I thought about the research that found those  who doubt their own maths abilities pass this down to their children. A fine case of how not to support the school life of an 8 year old. Next time I will apply duck tape to our mouths.

So tests are meant to give the teachers a steer on how the child is progressing and what additional support the child needs. I just wish teachers would give parents a steer  as to how we handle the news of the scores and whether we do nothing, praise regardless or encourage to try harder.

I agree with Francesca that kids and adults should just aim to be happy, so why as parents are we so f***in obsessed with perfection, when we are anything but.

I am blogging for Unicef.

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The mathematics of confidence

My daughter is to have a maths test tomorrow and she said that she is ‘”dreading it”. I could have kissed and hugged my husband when he said, “why? You are good at maths”. The reason for my elation is that I have been unwittingly putting my daughter off maths by confessing that I am not very good at it. My daughter is 8 and in Year 3 at a British primary school and already she is feeling the pressure to be in the ‘top group’ and do well in tests. Such is the nature of our education system. Although we don’t apply pressure to her because she is the type to apply pressure to herself supported by a teacher who uses children’s competitiveness as motivation to try harder.

Research has shown that just by admitting that they are no good at maths, mothers unwittingly lower their daughters’ attainment – so I have scored an own goal. Why does my mathematical version of dyslexia continue to plague me and now my children!

I was flicking through a magazine and I came across an advert designed to support primary school children with maths revision. One of the cartoon characters posed a question – 64 / 8. Normally I would glance at it, my inner voice would shout ‘eurgh, numbers!’ and then I would quickly move on. I decided to attempt to work it out and came up with 7. I have no idea if this is correct, I am assuming not because I have no faith in my calculating skills. I am also confused by the criticism of our curriculum being too focused on arithmetic. To me that is maths. I didn’t know there was anything else involved, other than the long convoluted equations seen in films about maths geniuses but teaching other mathematical concepts at primary school age? I mentioned it to my mother and she didn’t get it either.

I have bought the book ‘maths for mums and dads’ to try and help me go beyond my current poor ability so that I may at least be able to support my daughter, but in reading this and hearing other commentary on modern-day mathematics teaching I feel let down by my own experience as a pupil. I wasn’t aware of this wonderful concept called ‘growth’ or ‘challenge’ mind set. Because it seemed to take me ages to work sums out, I felt a failure. Particularly when my mother would show me several different ways I could have arrived at the same answer but ‘quicker’ (thanks Mum). I have had to tell her off for doing the same thing with my daughter, because she doesn’t realise that the journey helps you to understand. That is one of the reasons why my maths is founded on shaky ground, because I missed a few of the building blocks along the way.

So when I see my daughter struggling, I encourage her to enjoy the struggle – the brain is working hard so that is a good thing. I also don’t reward her for solving something quickly, instead I suggest that the sum can’t have been a big enough challenge and to attempt something that will take longer to solve. The same applies to tests, I encourage her to enjoy solving the questions and not get frustrated if some take longer to answer.

In supporting my daughter’s mathematical confidence, I am learning to enjoy maths and not to fear it. However, having read the changes planned for the national curriculum (gulp) I don’t envy the pupils of today and tomorrow.

Now this gets political. I endured a crap Tory run state system in the 80s and thankfully had the chance to go private for secondary school. I wholeheartedly support the state system providing someone good is at the wheel. I fear we are heading back to the 80s, in which case my kids are going to need growth mind set in bucketfuls to sustain any ounce of self esteem and confidence academically.

I am blogging every day for UNICEF.

Thanks for reading.