Shame on them

This week saw the details of the tragic case of Khyra Ishaq hit the headlines. Khyra Ishaq was failed by a system that knew about her, and did not protect her. And yet her sad story is being used to justify an attack on another group of people. People who may have to prove yearly that they are innocent of any wrong doing; people who may be forced to “allow” officialdom into their homes; people who may be coerced into presenting their children for interview without them present.
So who are these people? Surely they must be guilty of some crime? They certainly can’t be decent, honest, law-abiding people like us. Like you? Like me? Can they? Yes, they can. This story could become your story. All you have to do is to decide to exercise your legal right to educate your children outside of the school system. And then every year officialdom will come along and monitor, evaluate and judge you – not even as a good educator – but as a suitable person to be with your own children. Because this isn’t even about educational provision. This is about not trusting parents with their own children. And as an added bonus, every time some poor child dies, you will be vilified in the media, suspicions will be raised about you and your motives, and you will be required, yet again, to divert energy that you might have spent with your kids, into defending yourself and your life style. Sounds like fun.
Yesterday I was driving to a meeting and listening to Fern Britton on the Jeremy Vine programme, and I cried. She asked something along the lines of “should home-educators be required to follow the same rules as the rest of us?” Does she mean the rule that says “all children should be in state sanctioned childcare settings?” She can’t have meant that, because that’s not a rule. It’s an expectation, but not a rule. Or perhaps she meant the rule that says “parents are only allowed to be with their own kids after 4 pm, at weekends, and during some government sanctioned holidays?” Surely not. I don’t think that’s a rule yet. Most people do it, but it’s not a rule. Ah, then she must mean that new “rule” that government is trying to push through – that rule about evaluating, monitoring and inspecting parents, interviewing their children, and giving them a permit to continue to live within the law for another year. But wait – she can’t mean that either, because that doesn’t happen to MOST parents.
And neither should it. Not to you. Not to me. Not to the thousands of families that lawfully home educate their children.
But home education is a convenient distraction to what really failed Khyra Ishaq. And to pretend otherwise not only vilifies a community, it does nothing to ameliorate the system failures which allowed her to die. The government is using the death of a little girl to hide its own inadequacies.
The new proposals would not have saved her – Khyra was not a missing child -in fact she was known already to Social Services, and while at school her teachers had expressed concern. And yet no one acted on these concerns. Khyra was let down by the systems that were already in place, and which could have protected her. To bring home education into this is disingenuous at best. Khyra was not a cared for child before she was withdrawn from school. Home education did not fail her. And to imply it did seems to be simply a means to divert attention from the fact that people failed. Professionals failed to do the job they are paid to do. Within existing legislation, there was every means to save this child – and yet people chose not to use them.
And you may say that this doesn’t apply to you – you would never home educate. Many, many of the home educators I know thought that once. And then their child fell behind at school, and no one helped. Their child was bullied, and no one intervened. Their child’s teacher went on long term sick leave, and they had a different supply teacher every few days. Their child developed type 1 diabetes, and no one would learn how to check blood or give insulin. Their child was recovering from septicaemia, and the school would not accommodate her exhaustion and need for sleep in the middle of the day.
So never say never.
And if one day that parent is you, making that choice you think now you would never make, think about how it might feel to have yourself under suspicion. Simply for choosing to exercise your legal right to take back the responsibility for your child’s education. A responsibility that was, after all, always yours. You had only elected to delegate that to the school, you know – you were never required to do so.
Or perhaps you are right – and you will never want or need to home educate. But this is the thin end of the wedge – because after all, how long will it be before we can stop assuming that under 5s are generally safe with their parents. Starting to feel worried? You should be.
And finally, may that little girl, abused in life and then used in death, have some peace.

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Please help save a life this Christmas

Not sure if anyone actually reads this poor neglected blog any more, but if so, please help……

Steve, Jo, Amelia and Sammy before Steve became ill

This is a photo of a friend of mine, Jo Isaac Jones, with her family. Shortly after this photo was taken, the lives of Jo and her family changed suddenly and completely.

Her husband, Steve Jones, is 44. A few months ago he developed a sore throat which didn’t respond to the usual remedies. When he visited his GP, he immediately ran some tests. Twenty four hours later, Steve was in hospital, diagnosed with Acute Myloid Leukaemia (AML).

Steve has had three gruelling rounds of intensive chemotherapy, and has spent many weeks in isolation. He has now been told that for long term survival he needs a bone marrow transplant.

But Steve is of mixed race: part Sri Lankan and part white (British) and has no siblings.  This means that it will be a world-wide search to find a donor for him.  Jo and Steve are urgently appealing to people of mixed race, Asian/white, to go onto the bone marrow register.

Steve is a kind man, a wonderful husband and fantastic father of two beautiful children, Amelia, 11, and Sammy, 7.  His family love him so much and desperately hope to find a match for him so that he can live to see his children grow up.

If you are of mixed race, please consider putting yourself on the bone marrow register and contact the African Caribbean Leukaemia Trust. Many of you reading this will not fit into that profile – but the world has become a small place with the internet  – please, please put this appeal on your blogs, on facebook, on twitter, and email it to your address books. Someone out there WILL be a match. Please help us find that person. Help Steve and others like him to get the life saving treatment they need.

If you are white, and would like to register as a bone marrow donor, please contact The British Bone Marrow Registry or the Anthony Nolan Trust rather than ACLT, who can only process enquiries from people of mixed race.

If you would like to help ACLT to fund its on-going search for donors, please text ACLT to 84424 to make a £3 donation. For less than the price of a scented candle, a bunch of flowers, or a box of chocolates, you can make a difference. But most importantly, if you can do nothing else, please pass this appeal on. You could be the person who makes a difference.

Please don’t wait. Please take action now. Help save a life.

Thank you.

Comments (1)

Dear Mr Balls

I have no interest in holding up a mirror to the effectiveness or otherwise of the school system. We do not define ourselves by an institution in which we have no part.

We are fortunate to live in a part of the country that is as yet unaffected by your proposals, but we are not naive enough to believe that this will protect us long term from the ever increasing creep for information. You have become a government which does not trust its electorate, you are making us into a country that does not trust its citizens. You are attempting to make society believe that family life is dangerous, and children must be protected from it. In this case, your focus is EHE, and I wonder which minority group you will stigmatise next?

With this review, you are proposing that parents will lose their freedom to choose the form of their children’s education. The law as it stands gives us that right, and you now propose that we justify, explain, register and be monitored and regulated forexercising that right.

I know many families who like us, have never used the school system. I have seen many children who have come to home education as the result of failures of the system to protect them from bullying, to meet their educational needs, to be flexible enough to support their gifts. There are as many different reasons to home educate as their are home educators. There are as many different methods of doing it as there are home educators. But there is one common theme – the parents who have decided to embrace the responsibility for ensuring that their children receive a suitable education, tailored to their own needs, aptitudes and abilities. Children by their nature are in a constant state of change – to ask for yearly plans fails to acknowledge this, and demands a one-size-fits-all approach which is completely at odds with the whole ethos of home education.

If I were the parent of a child at school, I would feel very aggrieved that you are proposing spending a vast amount of resources – money which presumably will need to be diverted from the education budget – into monitoring something that doesn’t need it.Home education is not a risk factor for anything.

I would urge you to reject the proposals in the review.

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The whys, the hows, and the where fors..

So why do we home educate? At its simplest, just because we can. I’ve never been into explaining that decision – home education is (still) equal in law to school education, so at its simplest, we just chose that option.I’ve never asked someone why they chose to send their child to school, and I’ve always resented the implication that we need to explain our choices. Of course, there is curiousity about why people ever choose the road less travelled, whatever the context. So for us, that decision was based around the needs of a sick five year old. Having had major surgery as a baby, Hannah had a relapse in the few weeks before she was due to start school, and then developed septicaemia after a bout of tonsilitis went badly wrong. She was already enrolled at the local school – the best in the area apparently. And one completely incapable of dealing with the fact that she could barely stay awake for more than two hours at a time, or needed to drink 2 litres of water ever day, on the orders of her renal specialist. I think I knew it wouldn’t work out when they told me it was impossible for her to be allowed a sport’s bottle on her desk, and that the school auxiliary would measure out the requisite mls of water she needed every hour and come to the classroom to deliver it and ensure Hannah drank it.

And then there was Hannah herself. I had gone back to work two days a week when she was 18 months, and she went to a local nursery. Articulate from 11 months, Hannah informed us on a daily basis that she didn’t want to go. Firmly, and relentlessly. I was assured, of course, that she loved it the minute we’d gone, but most evenings when she was picked up she’d not be doing the socialising I was assured she did all day, but would be sitting in a corner with a book, her teddy, and her thumb. Around three, she worked out that when kids left nursery, they went to a place called school, and from that moment she started a war of attrition, informing us, her grandparents, the nursery staff, her paediatrician, random shop assistants, and anyone else who enquired, that she would not be going to school. Not ever.

The final straw came when the school informed us that our traumatised five year old, just out of hospital again, could not take her teddy to school with her – apparently it would mark her out as different, Effectively, they were telling us our child would be bullied, and they would do nothing to stop it.

Having worked with travelling families, I knew that HE was an option. Everyone told us it was my issue, the longed for only child of older parents, who couldn’t cut the apron strings. Nursery suggested family therapy to deal with Hannah’s separation issues. Both sets of grandparents were horrified. For us, we kept coming back to the fact that no one could promise us that we’d still have her in year’s time – did we really want to think she’d spent that year in a place she didn’t want to be – a school with a 1000 pupils.

We went to open days, I worried all that summer, and then we went away in our caravan for 6 weeks, and suddenly away from home, with Hannah gradually regaining some strength, we decided to go for it. At 10 pm in the evening the night before school started, we hand-delivered a letter saying “Thanks for the offer of a place, but over the summer we’ve decided to make private arrangments for Hannah’s education, which we feel will be better suited to her needs at the moment.” Hannah had stayed up and insisted on seeing the delivery of the letter -she whooped with excitment as we looked at it on the mat. I felt sick.

The next day we took the requisite “first day at school” photos at the door, with Hannah complete with teddy, and Bob, like thousands of other dads, off work for the day. We had planned to go to Arran for the day, but the sea was so rough it wasn’t possible, and we went to the Science Museum in Glasgow instead – to discover city schools were off for another day, and we didn’t stand out as much as I had feared.

I had some daft idea that we would play schools all day – I certainly bought enough resources in that panic striken first year. We still fully intended that Hannah would go to school at 6, so we bought the reading and maths schemes that the local school used. I’ve written before about my embarrassment when Hannah was trying to explain the symbiotic relationship between feeder birds and elephants, and I shrieked excitedly “yes, elephant – and what sound does that begin with?” But we rubbed along – I took a career break, and then Bob went back on shift, and that made it all much easier as he was around for two days during the week, and I worked those days. At six, we realised that the classes would be reconfigured at school when the kids were 7, so it seemed sensible to wait till then. At 7, it was working so well that we decided one more year….Bob went back on days, so we found a lovely childminder, so I could carry on working.

By that point, we were throwing the reading schemes etc out, and just doing what interested her – a schooled family in the next caravan one summer were aamazed to see Hannah sitting listening to Greek Myths – the boundaries between work and not-work became blurred, and eventually disappeared completely. We carried on pretty much like that for 5 years.

Hannah is now a young woman. At 13 she is bright and mature. She is starting to do more “school-type” work again. She reads everything from National Geographic to Jodi Picoult novels, to the pack of the cornflakes pack. She has a passion for history, and is more than comptetent in maths. Her writing and spelling is probably not as good as they would be if she’d gone to school, as we’ve never done drills or busy work, but she CAN and does write competely legibily. She is learning Spanish and Latin, and wanders through sciences as the notion takes her. She makes and sells jewellery fairly successfully, plays keyboard, is learning violin, and is a keen athlete. She’s won multiple medals for field events, is in netball club, and loves Guides. She is still quiet, but confident and capable, frequently earning money to go to various residential camps.

She says she will never go to school, and I feel slightly sorry that she will never have that experience in common with others – she will always have that gap on job applications, will always have to explain her “weird” upbringing. Sometimes (not very often) I wish I’d never hear about home ed. I wish I could have a day to myself. I wish the house wasn’t always covered in half finished projects. I’d like my dining room back (never a school room, but annexed by Hannah a few years ago for “stuff”), I worry about socialising -not socialisation, not at all, but we’ve never had a local HE community, and I envy others having that. We’ve never had the chance to do HE groups or outings. In those early panicky years I got all my support on line from the Muddle Puddle list and camps – something I will always be grateful for – and for knowing all those women who were walking the path as well. Their humour, kindness and support meant such a lot – I’m assuming you know who you are ;-), but there has not ever been anything which offered Hannah that same sense of normalcy.

But at the end of the day – I consider it to have been an absolute privilege to have spent so much time with her.

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The good, the irritating and the seriously grumpy..

The best was really enjoyed work today. Several coaching meetings, and a team session, all of which I love doing (and may even be good at). So even though it was Edinburgh, and an early start, it was a good day.

Hannah had: made pizza dough in breadmaker; done Latin (English to Latin, so quite hard); did some more comprehension from her GP English book; some NVR; reviewed angles from her maths book; did her Spanish (we are using this, which seems to really suit her); and finished a Sequin Art project which has been on the go for a while. Looks surprisingly nice.

I came home, and ran her down to Tesco, as she wanted more Sharpies (really encouraging the mind mapping atm), Bob came home and assembled the pizzas. Hannah has gone to athletics, and I am fuming about the non-reporting of my recent scans and biopsies. I felt I fell through the NHS net a bit, went private, and while it accelerated the process of getting things done, I  CANNOT get anyone to call me with results, despite VIS promising faithfully he would do this (and has taken down my phone numbers 3 times now). I phoned the hospital, discovered he had now left for a long weekend, and was told “I’m sure he would have called you if there was anything to worry about”. Er no, we dumped that philosophy about 20 years ago. Called my GP, and he can’t access them as they haven’t been signed off yet. Upset, angry, fed up.

But did sell another course this evening :-)

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Struggling a little

Had a very trying session with VIS, so, so fed up of this, want some answers and some action. Reports not uploaded, so didn’t get the answers today yet.

Came home and worked for a few hours, but really couldn’t settle, and can’t walk so much because of knee and hamstring soreness, so offered to take Hannah to lunch. Very civilised. We sat in Starbucks, we drank lattes (albeit she had a syrupy one), and she did her Spanish online while I did some more work.

Came home and she did a maths test, a comprehension paper from her English book, and some Latin translations.

Bob came home and we popped out to get a case for my netbook, and then we had steak bagettes and corn on the cob for dinner. In the middle of it I got to test my new credit card terminal, as I sold two courses :-)

Bob gave me a massage, while Hannah and I watched Dragon’s Den, and now I’m thinking about bed. This day will seem better when I’m on the other side of it.

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12 twelves are….

….144! 12 elevens are 132! (Now we’ll see if Nic is still reading ;-))

Well, I thought if I was going to do the times tables, I should at least do the hard ones. (which Hannah incidentally likes to show off with, as she learned up to an including 13×13, as that’s what we did at school, and apparently they only go to 10×10 nowadays. I dunno, education these days…;-)

Well, today at least my meeting went ahead, so I’m home and feeling virtuous – although tomorrow I see VIS (very important surgeon) again now I’ve had my speech assessment.

Hannah is more or less back to normal, though she’s still pale and tired, but she went out on her bike for a little while today.  Bob’s dad however is still a worry. In some ways, this is the worst possible outcome. Last Monday they said that the prognosis was 2-3 days at most. Obviously he has survived that, and has made a degree of recovery, in that he is conscious, staggering to the toilet with a zimmer, and talking. However he is very confused, and the possibility of him living independently again seems remote. Two weeks ago he was still driving, and although he used a stick, it was only as he really needs a hip replacement, rather than any other reason. They have said if they can get him stable they will send him for 6 weeks intensive rehab. While that made a big difference after his last brain haemhorage 3 years ago, this one is much more severe. Last time although his speech and spatial awareness were affected, his mental faculties weren’t. Also, they managed to get his platlets up to 50 (can never remember the unit), from 3, by giving him constant platlet transfusions. However, they stopped these three days ago, and he is already back down at 22. Which means that his thrombocytopenia is not really responding to the steriods he is getting in fairly massive doses.  He’s currently back on transfusion. I know he would hate this, and this was something he dreaded, so in our hearts, neither Bob nor I can hope for him to continue like this. Hannah sees that fact that he is struggling on as hopeful, but I don’t think she can really concieve of what life will become for him.

On a more cheerful note, the macaroni (rigatoni) cheese was very nice, and I had to buy myself yet another pair of new trainers, having worn the last ones out in three months of anxious walking. So that must be good for my butt.

Bob and I have a show on over the weekend, but not sure if we will make it or not – every arrangment we make atm has a qualifier on it, so I’ve arranged today for an associate to do it for me – if we make it, it will be a bonus to have a third person, and if not, then really grateful to Colin for stepping into the breach.

Oh, yes, and this IS a home ed blog, isn’t it. Just hang on till I ask …. Ok:  English (possesive apostrophes), film reports, novel reading (”oops, I read too long” – 4 hours), animal husbandry (hutch cleaning and dog grooming); craft (aka entrepeneurship)

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