Monthly Archives: January 2016

Vacancy: Apply Within

Wanted: one maths teacher

Must be able to teach the KS3, 4 and 5 maths curriculum.

Essential – good communication skills, high expectations, strong behaviour management.

Desirable – maths degree – but if you haven’t got one and you’re a bit rusty, don’t worry, we will plan all your lessons for you, so that all you need to concentrate on is delivery (because it’s all about the delivery, when you think about it), and you can get on with the job straight away.*

*If we like you enough, and think that you have a really great way with kids, but haven’t got any of the qualifications, consider looking at our Teacher Apprentice Scheme and earn while you learn.

For all enquiries, please contact the Head Teacher, Anytown Community School, Anytown.

PS Apologies if you were expecting a post about Sam – I just have this hunch that all the rhetoric we hear coming from the DfE is, perhaps, because we can’t seem to attract the people we really need into the profession. Like I say, just a hunch.

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Read All About It

I read an interesting thing the other day. It is an important story. I’ve written about it a fair amount myself: this war of expectations that we seem hell bent on waging on our mainstream schools. We set the bar in terms of exam (or end of Key Stage Test) results high (in the name of raising expectations and closing gaps), we orate on the subject of banishing the soft bigotry of low expectations from our schools up and down the land, and yet on the other hand, we demand, indeed, it is enshrined in law, that there is a presumption of inclusion – that all those difficult to teach kids, all the ones with tricky behaviour (and I’m not going to go into the reasons for that right now), all those ones with real, big, brainy type reasons that learning is so difficult to do, are educated cheek by jowl with the most academic.

We seem to like the idea of inclusion. As a parent I certainly do. Yesterday it was Sam’s birthday, and he and a bunch of his mates from school (some of whom are now at their local colleges and doing very well) went ten pin bowling. They had lunch together and then a game, and they had a really great time. We were looked after by a young woman (who was rather run off her feet) who, when she first saw them, was a little bit unsure of herself. I prepared myself to step in as interpreter, but then something rather magical happened.

She sidled up to me, and she whispered in my ear, “Excuse me, but did that boy,” she pointed to one of Sam’s friends, “did he go to ——- Primary School?” It turns out that so did she. She used to play with him when he was little and she was in Year 6. It turns out we know her brother. She relaxed and breezed about, full of confidence – and everyone carried on having a great time.

Social inclusion is important. It allows moments like these to happen. Fear of disability is reduced in the typical population, and, as a result, birthday parties like Sam’s go with a bang, rather than ending in tears. (And believe me, birthday parties are a Big Deal.) As a society, our inclusive education policy seems to me to stand as a testament to who we like to think we are – the kind of community we like to think that we are building. It makes us feel good about ourselves.

And yet. There it is. Exam Results Matter. And it seems they matter more.

They matter so much that these inconvenient children, you know, the ones who, despite all our hard work, all their hard work, despite all the interventions, all the special groups, all the input and nurture and all the everything we do, are shuffled off out of the way before they can do any damage to the position in the league table. Who’d have thought it?

But this isn’t the thing that really interests me (despite the fact that my name is in it – thank you @fredamoya for pointing it out!). No, the thing that really gets me going is this:

This is a really big story. It’s a really important story. It affects us all and I, for one, am glad that the education media are picking it up.

But let’s face it, it’s going to be an uphill struggle to get the story a higher profile.  After all these years, we are too used to the big school stories being about failing teachers and failing schools. Teacher-bashing has been the thing you read in newspapers for as long as I can remember. There hasn’t been a positive story in the mainstream media for years.**

And, of course, the stories we want to hear about SEND are the cockle warming stuff of inspiration porn. The sort of story I have just told you.  Despite the damning figures we don’t seem to want to hear about the other sort, where the policies that we all agree are A Good Thing act against the interests of the most vulnerable.

Our politicians and policy makers don’t want to be told that their actions are causing the problem. They’d rather it was us.

**Thank you TES for turning the trend.

Pride comes before the fall

There is nothing more likely to cause a barrage of dark looks than the appearance in the midst of a group of new mums of the fresh faced.  You know the one I mean.  Not the one who has come along to give her friend a hand with negotiating a new world, or the one who is manning the display of an astonishing array of baby cups; it is instead the woman who hasn’t resorted to a layer of foundation to give her the Glow of the First Few Months that you are sure you should have, the one who is getting enough sleep.  There sit the rest of us, or stagger if our progeny have got to the stage of injuring themselves by achieving ambulation, or each other by deciding that everything in the room belongs to them and them alone, hair stuck to the side of our heads, baby sick trickling unbeknownst down our left shoulders and there she is.  A soft smile, a spring in her step.  

But it isn’t just the contrast between her energy and our fatigue that causes daggers to fly from our matchsticked, red-rimmed eyes.  It isn’t just the way her figure snapped back into its pre-baby flatness, no diet, no exercise, no magic pants.  It isn’t even the way that her buggy never seems to get stuck in the heavy double doors. No, the thing that causes the feathers to be ruffled and the hackles to rise is the smug sense of self-satisfaction that hangs about her.  The internal certainty that she alone, amongst all of us tired, fumbling women, feeling our way through the red mist of early parenthood, knows what she is doing.  She has found The Way and the rest of us, by implication, are a bit rubbish.  Weak and over emotional slaves to the demands of our children.

It’s not as if new motherhood isn’t full enough of insecurities.  There’s a reason we gather in groups, in dusty church halls and slightly-sticky soft play centres up and down the country.  We meet so that we can know that we are not alone in our experience, that we are, despite the odd coloured nappies and the funny skin, the broken nights and the wailing and worry, doing ok; that our imperfect efforts will be good enough.

The thing is, you see, that you don’t start out on the journey with the benefit of experience.  We have our preconceived ideas of what it will be like, of course we do.  We set our feet on the path of parenthood full of the certainty that we will know what we are doing (especially if we’ve had cuddles with friends babies the odd time or two); our babes will feed every four hours on the dot and they will sleep when we put them down (after a couple of goes round of the mobile, you know, the one that plays twinkle twinkle little star so sweetly and has these colour coordinated little figures on it that match the decorations in the room, you know THE ONE THAT NEVER FALLS APART OR ON TOP OF THE BABY OR GETS IN THE WAY WHEN YOU ARE TRYING TO PUT THIS WRIGGLING THING DOWN QUIETLY AND TIPTOE AWAY SO THAT YOU CAN GO TO THE LOO).  The reality of new parenthood (and I’m including fathers in this) can come as a bit of a shock.  It can take us a while, and lots of questions directed towards people who have done it all before, to get the hang of it all.

I remember that feeling.  For all my worries and anxieties about my first born, for all the time I spent teaching him to do, well, nearly everything, he was an easy baby.  Good natured, the sort who cooed rather than screeched, he burped like an old man at the slightest provocation; when I put him down he stayed there until he nodded off no trouble.  I had convinced myself that I knew what I was doing – certainly as far as teaching baby to sleep was concerned.  If it hadn’t been for the Down’s I’m sure I would have attracted a fair number of glares myself.

Until along came A and taught me a valuable lesson.  Here was a baby for whom none of the methods I had tried before would work.  I picked him up, he woke up.  I put him down, he woke up.  We put him between us, ran the hairdryer until it shot out blue sparks, fed him until my mouth ran dry; nothing made a blind but of difference.  

Until he was ready, of course.  And we’d had enough of the broken nights to be brave enough to step away from our self-made rules if what good, loving parents were supposed to do in order to teach their children to sleep, and make up a few new ones, less prescriptive ones of our own.

You see them, these visions of perfect motherhood, as the years pass you by, baby to baby.  You see them change.  You see them move from the mountains of certainty towards the messy swamps of reality as their experience increases.  As the number of children who pass through the birth canal grows, so does the knowledge that success of her strategy – or not – is about more than following a set of book-bound rules.  

The funny thing is, though, that that moment of realisation, that moment when she knows, and we know, and we acknowledge to each other, that she is no better – and no worse – than the rest of us is met, not with I told you sos, but the smile of recognition, the solidly held hand of shared experience.

We’re all in it together.  It’s a bit like teaching really.

IMG_1154
When you’re tired, sleep.

Traps

You know, the more I write about life with Down’s syndrome, the more I seem to be hedged about with difficult moral decisions. Leaving aside the fact that I write about my own child, whose dignity I must protect, it’s hard not to fall into the Traps of Cliché.

There’s the ‘cute kid with Down’s syndrome picture’ cliché. OK, I took some pleasure in the fact that Sam was such a good looking baby. People used to stop me in the street to tell me what a gorgeous little thing he was (I think he was busy catching eyes and batting his eyelashes). There were occasions when I thought of making a fortune out of him on the baby modelling circuit (and then I came to my senses when I read that ‘children must be able to take direction’ – none of my children, then!). There are lots pictures around with beautiful, click-bait children with Down’s syndrome – and their parents are, rightfully, as I was, proud of them. It’s the comments, when they are used on social media, that make me cringe.

And then there’s the ‘everything is awesome’ one. Or ‘everything is quirky and funny’. We skip from one moment of joy and laughter to another, without pause. Not. Or the ‘everything is difficult and woe is me’ one. How hard our lives must be, and how much you must pity us. Or the ‘my child is super talented at this, that or the other special talent’ one, the inspiration porn that gives us a warm glow in the cockles. The clichés are there, everywhere you care to look – and every single one of them props up a stereotype. If you’re not careful, you fall into the trap of perpetuating them yourself, despite your best intentions.

You see, the thing about Down’s syndrome is, as is the thing about life, that there aren’t really any guarantees. Your child might be lovely – or they might be a pain in the proverbial, just like the child who has the perfect chromosomes. Yes, there will be some level of learning difficulty, but, as with all the other parents in the known universe, you don’t know how that will pan out, not until you are a long way down the parenting road, as it were.

So, there it is. Sometimes I will write about the days when it’s funny, or he’s beautiful, or those times when we are sad and lost and lonely. Sometimes I’ll be pleased and smug, and sometimes I’ll be angry and I’ll demand change. I’ll try to avoid the trap of it being all one way or all the other. It might get confusing and it might be contradictory.

Because that’s what life is – with or without Down’s syndrome.

Debilitating Disease

Debilitating – to seriously weaken, to affect your strength or ability to carry on with regular activities. Usually associated with illness or disease.
(Cobbled together from various dictionaries.)

If there’s one thing I do get tired of, it’s the constant association in mainstream media – and therefore the mainstream consciousness – of Down’s syndrome with disease, suffering and generally having a terrible life. So, I thought I’d tell you about Sam’s week, and let you make up your own mind.

Monday – rode bike to school. It was kind of an ordinary day, but I needed my gloves and Mum got cross when I could only find one and Dad got cross when he couldn’t find any.

Tuesday – rode to school with a friend. Went to a college for an art activity, went swimming, went to youth club, hung around with my mates.

Wednesday – didn’t want to get up. Got up. Rode to school with a friend. Grandma picked me up from after school club.  Love Grandma.

Thursday – Mum gave me a lift to school because my little sister wasn’t feeling too good, but the traffic was bad so I walked the last bit on my own so that they could turn around and Little Sis wouldn’t be late. Guitar lesson with Dave. Got to love guitars (although the practice not so much).

Friday – bike again to school with Dad. He couldn’t find his gloves again. He was annoyed again. Mum kept out of the way for some reason.

Saturday – football. I’m putting football towards my Duke of Edinburgh Bronze award – it would help if the parents could find the form that the group leader has to sign. Friends came to play. Much mooching.

Sunday – boring, boring, boring. There’s never anything on the telly and if I’m really unlucky, Mum’ll make me go to church or do my homework.  I don’t like homework.

 

Well, Sam didn’t write this. I did. At the moment, he is upstairs in his room playing DREADFUL MUSIC FAR TOO LOUD, in the manner of a soon-to-be fifteen-year-old.

The only debilitating thing about Down’s syndrome is other people’s attitudes. And we need your help to help change those.