Monthly Archives: July 2016

Hatecrime

I had a nightmare last night.  It wasn’t the sort where there were horrible monsters or anything (my dreams are much more mundane, more the sort where no matter how hard you try you can’t find a toilet, and when you do, you can’t get the lid open, that sort of thing), but once I had woken up, heart pounding and sense of dread smothering, I couldn’t get back to sleep.  I tried to re-enter the dream and change the outcome while I was still in that semi-somnambulent state, but nothing.  All it would do was repeat itself, or expand its awfulness, leaving me with no option but to turn over and wake properly, to shake off the sense of powerlessness with the light of the morning.

It’s been a while since I had a bad dream.  Towards the end of August my dreams take on the hue of anxiety that ensures that during the early hours my subconscious is to be found attempting to tell small people things that they have no interest in and will not listen to, but this one was nothing like that.  This one involved one of my own children; Sam, to be precise.

I suppose it’s not strange when I think about it, but anxiety dreams about my children usually involve my losing them somehow.  One time, I dreamt that someone stole my car when baby Sam was still in it, and it ended when I woke up, tears spurting from my eyes at the thought that the robbers had discovered him, and left him, on the side of the motorway, on his own, cooing and tapping his little feet together happily.  This time, no one took him from me; instead he took himself away, he didn’t listen, and was lost.  And I woke up with that horrible sense of the not-quite-real.

I know this dream will repeat itself.  I know that over the next few nights, in those moments between waking and sleeping, when I could reasonably expect to lie, comfortably relaxed and drifting, I will return.  Again and again I will attempt to influence my mind, and again and again I will be defeated.  I will have to wake myself up and give myself a talking to.  It’s only a dream, I will say, stop being ridiculous, think about something else.  And me, being a well brought up sort of person, will attempt to do as I am told.

I know why it is.  I know why I am experiencing an anxiety spike.  I know why I have this feeling of loss, this sense that no matter how hard I try, that nothing will change.  I know why, when Sam rushed up the road to post his application form for a summer holiday activity day with the local RDA on his own yesterday morning, I stepped out onto the end of the drive in my raggedy old pyjamas, in full view of the neighbours and the postman, just to check that he had made it there safely, and was on his way back, all in one piece.

It’s the same reason that I cried, the day he was lost for real and I rang the police for the first time ever, all over the traffic warden and the staff from Tescos, and they cried too, when he was found, and I didn’t have to make a statement after all, or make a cup of tea for a police officer sitting politely on the edge of the sofa and explain that he couldn’t really make himself understood very well, and I didn’t think he knew his address.  It’s the reason I keep an eye on him, make sure someone is with him on the way to school.  It’s the reason that understanding what it means to have a good friend, and be a good friend, is on his EHCP.

Because, you see, the violence against disabled people, against learning disabled people is shocking.  It happens in books and films, and people think it’s romance.  It happens in assessment units and care homes, and people think it’s natural causes, the culmination of a tragedy that started the day they were born.  It happens in a hundred careless, heartless ways, and it happens with murderous, sickening intent.

It’s hate, and it’s fear.  And it frightens me.

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Prize Giving Day

This one is for the losers.

The lasts,
The also-rans,
The Johnny-come-latelys.

 

For you, the quiet ones,
The sitters at the edge,
The wouldn’t-push-yourself-forwards-if-your-life-depended-on-its.

 

For the sad ones,
The cross ones,
The ones who have yet to overcome.

 

The mourners,
The grievers,
The lost.

 

For the poorly.
For the ones who went before.
The ones-who-ain’t-ever-winning-an-attendance-award.

 

For the strugglers,
The stragglers,
The fallers-over,
The confused.

 

For the ones we get up for in the morning,
And the ones who haunt us at night.

Dare to Hope

It’s been a while since I last attended a leavers’ assembly, or other such end-of-the-summer-term-extravaganza with the knowledge that I wasn’t entirely 100% well.  Last time I was behind the piano, sweating and shivering at the same time, my fingers slipping off the keys, the Victorian school hall a million miles away from the 80s structure I will attend tomorrow.  Then, I was at the front, slightly to one side; tomorrow I shall be at the back.

Then, I was at the very start of my career, such as it is.  A term in Year 6, and I didn’t have quite the connection to the children who were moving on as I do today.  Tomorrow, The Leavers are children I have known, and loved, coaxed through SPAG, insisted on taking turns and capital letters, full stops, persuaded to explain themselves when answering my questions and answered endless ones of theirs, for four years.  My professional children, well, some of them anyway, are flying the primary nest.  Tomorrow, their primary education will be over.

I occasionally see their predecessors around and about.  Only the other day, one of them came to collect one of his younger siblings from the classroom door.  It was great to see him, looking shyly grown up, so sensible.  Usually, I am in the car, and they are in their uniforms, multi-coloured blazers wending their way home through the playpark, waving and smiling at the teacher they knew so briefly.  It’s lovely to see them again, to momentarily renew the connection.

Leavers’ Dos are always events of high emotion.  After the roller coaster of Year Six, they go from looking so grown up, too big for the furniture, ready to move on, excited about the future, to small and lost looking, clinging to their final moments of safety.  Amongst the adults, there is the slow switch from ‘thank goodness’ to, ‘awww noooo!’  When it was Sam’s turn he didn’t really understand; that goodbye was Goodbye, but most of them do, at those last moments, when the performance they have practice for so long is over.

I’ve taught them many times before, in the younger years, the ones who don’t want to leave you when you’re out in the playground, the ones who opt to stay in your room when the moment comes because, unlike their classmates, they are moving on, not moving up.  They see the end is coming, and they do not greet it with joy, but with apprehension.

In some ways I know how they feel.  Will their new teacher get them, like the old one does?  Will they understand what it is that makes them act the way they do?  Will they be kind – or harsh?  It’s easy when they are moving up within the same school.  You can take their new teacher aside, explain, check in with them at playtime, ask if they’re OK.  They might even make the odd appearance, unscheduled, in your lessons, for old times’ sake.  You still worry, but you see them enough to have your fears assuaged – or not.

There are a few, tonight, for whom I feel particularly concerned.  There are always those whose little faces float, at the point between waking and sleeping, forever frozen at ten or eleven years old; they, and the faint feeling of unease they bring, that things for them may continue to be Not Okay, have never left me.  Their names, I remember.  I wonder how they are getting on – or not.  But this year.  This year there are those who have been burned by loss, their grief and anxiety clear in their unwillingness to leave their classroom, the side of the teacher they love, and who loves them.

I wonder how they will get on.  Not just through the six long weeks of summer, the weeks that begin with the traditional instruction not to go with strangers and not to jump of the garage/shed roof for a dare, but in the months, the school ahead.  I wonder.  And I wonder if I dare to hope.

 

To Do List

If I were the new minister, I’d really appreciate a list of Things To Do (my mum would be proud, she’s forever telling me I need to make more lists).  So I had a think, and, if it were me, if I were (by some miracle of magic) the minister, and I was in charge of education, this would be my list*.

*I don’t claim that this list should be The List, but it is my list, and it reflects my priorities.

  1. Pause on the whole assessment thing.  We are sick to the back teeth, in KS2 (actually, you can make that the whole of primary) of the nonsense that has gone on with assessment for this age group.  The reading test was bonkers.  The assessment criteria for writing was unworkable.  The SPAG was at least doable, but, really, how high do the standards need to be for 11 year olds?  The Phonics Check in Year One is highly controversial amongst infant teachers – and really, you have to work really, really hard to put infant teacher’s backs up.  And while we’re at it, can we agree that the whole concept of a Below National Standard Child is something that should be consigned to the Fiery Pit of Hell and be done with it?  They are all different – they are all at different ages when they take the tests – and they don’t all progress in the same way or at the same time.
  2.  Academies.  Now, that one backfired on your predecessor, and although it seems to be making headway through the back door, we (and I think I’m right about this) would really appreciate it if we were listened to.  It would be great if there could be a great big fat pause on that one too and some proper consultation with, and I know this is controversial, not just school leaders but class teachers too.  Some of us like working for the local authority – and some of us get worried when we see news about dodgy financial dealings (and we know this isn’t everyone, but still) or children with SEND being bussed off to other campuses, so we’d like reassurances that some sort of checks and balances are in place other than investigative journalists.  Those of us with an interest in SEND would also like some reassurance about how the support services are suppose to work in a fully academised system (and crossing your fingers and hoping the market will take care of it really isn’t a good enough plan, sorry.)
  3. SEND.  We have had a whole raft of changes in the Code of Practice, and we need support and time to get them into place.  The financial pressure that LAs are being put under is being felt by very vulnerable children and families.  I mean, let’s face it, if we can spend a bit of money now on getting the foundations into place at the start then that’s going to save us money in the future, isn’t it?  Can we please stop pussyfooting around the issue and get on with it?
  4. And while I’m at it, I, for one, speaking as a parent here, and the parent of a 15 year old boy with Down’s syndrome, am hopeful that Further Education has been brought under your watchful eye. The Code of Practice says from 0-25.  Can it mean 25?  Can we give FE Colleges some support in getting ready for the cohort of included young people coming through the system and expecting to continue with an education that is going to help them get a job and make friends – all the things that people without learning difficulties can reasonably expect to be able to do?
  5. Terminal exams. Now I’m not advocating more change here, but, inclusion is a thing and there are young people who need a different study pathway than GCSEs, or need the GCSE to work for them.  It’s not failure, it’s life.  Different forms of qualification and certification are just as valuable, and it would be great if we could hear the message coming from the department – that ALL young people, when they leave school, can leave with something they can take to an employer to show what they can do (and not just twiddle their thumbs or cause trouble in their classrooms until they leave in order to do that).
  6. Accountability.  It’s run a bit mad.  Now I don’t think there is a single teacher in the land who says we shouldn’t’ be accountable for the public money that we spend on the nation’s behalf, but really.  The tying of the performance of children in tests to accountability for adults has done a great deal of damage; to the teaching relationship, to children, to teachers – to the quality of the day that we experience in school – and especially those children who don’t fit the age expected mould.
  7. Competition.  My school sports’ day is on Monday.  There is nothing like a bit of healthy, well managed competition to pep us all up.  However, I think the most important idea I would like you to understand is that education, at its heart, is a collaborative, collegiate exercise.  No one teacher is responsible for the educational outcomes of no one child.  The A*s of August come on the backs of all the teachers who went before, and the parents, the child and the circumstances within which they live.  It is a grand adventure, but the forces of the market place are alien here.  Instead, the concepts of togetherness, teamwork, community and belonging hold sway.  If you force market ideology on us, rather than a rise in standards, you will see a race to the bottom.  Instead of confidence, there is fear.  The child is not a customer or a client; they are a member of the school.

 

Schools are funny places.  They are idiosyncratic and quirky and they reflect the humanity of which they are a part.  I hope you enjoy being part of the team.

Tribe

I have reached that time where I am dragging both myself and my reluctant offspring to the end of the school year.  We are hot.  We are sweaty.  We are tired.  We have had enough.  But despite that, we have two weeks left to go, and it doesn’t look like slowing up in the least.  Of course, I didn’t help myself by accepting an invitation to attend an awards ceremony at the House of Commons in That London last Thursday, but there you are.  I couldn’t resist.

It’s a funny thing, being invited to posh dos.  I’ve had several invitations since starting this blog, and more since I won the inaugural TES teacher blogger of the year award last year, and nine times out of ten, I can’t go.  I’m a working mum, and my working life, as a primary school teacher, and my mum life, as the mother of three young-ish children, one of whom has Down’s syndrome, means that getting away from home and swanning around at said posh dos isn’t something that has become a regular part of my life.

But this one intrigued me.  Why would Premiership Rugby have thought I’d be worthy of an invitation to their community awards?  I’m not really a team sports person, never have been, and neither are my children.  Sam is the only one who is interested, and for him, the interest lies in football (I kept that one to myself).  But, as I waited to gain entrance to the Terrace Bar, after having woven my way through the gathered throngs of gentlemen with booming voices and tweedy jackets bearing ‘Vote Theresa May’ badges (yes, badges), I fell into conversation with some of the other guests, and I began to spot a pattern.

There was the man whose sister had learning difficulties, brought on from a childhood illness when she was two, and who lives in a supported home.  He worked for a charity that works with adults with learning disability.  There was a nice lady (who changed her shoes as soon as she was on the side of the Thames, so uncomfortable was she in her heels and the summer heat), who worked for a similar organisation, and whose photo I took, both in front of the river and the big wheel on the other side, and the sponsor backdrop, so that she could show her colleagues where she had been and what she had been up to.

And then there were the awards.  A woman from Gloucester who was honoured for her work, volunteering for the wheelchair rugby.  A young lady from Worcester, given a trophy for the way that, after taking part in a programme run by the Warriors, her life had turned around.  Grown men, BIG grown men (some of whom had beards), cried.

And after that, after a film that emphasised the importance of play, of doing, rather than lessons about the doing, of getting stuck in and finding about your place in a team, from taking part in the team and having fun, came the conversations.  With a couple from Manchester who were making a night of it and staying over in a swish hotel, how they’d seen the young women, with an ambition to play for England one day, and how they knew that their local club, with its single, open changing room, was erecting a barrier to participation to a large proportion of their local population in the unquestioned use of their building and that sport, and being active, was for all, not just the 80%.

And on the way out, as I made my way towards the most crowded train I have ever had the dubious pleasure of travelling in, since my university days, where one Christmas I journeyed to Devon with me in one carriage and my luggage in another, and it turned out that the tall man and his colleague were not, in fact rugby players (although they were from Devon) but working to find funding for their educational charity, I began to make sense of it all.  As we hurtled around Westminster tube station (brutal, darlings, brutal), and discussed the universal disapproval we had found towards the headless chicken behaviour of our post-referendum politicians, we found that we shared common ground.

We talked about the fact that charity, for all the appearance of the big sponsors, and the rubber stamp of establishment approval set by the appearance of not one, but two MPs, was about the giver, as well as the recipient.  That those tears, from a mother, and from a mentor, a great, big, burly man, a tiny volunteer, meant that there are people who are prepared to put themselves out beyond the call of family and a wage packet, to improve the lives of the young, and the vulnerable.   The strong put themselves out for the weak.  They were willing to make that personal connection with someone that could make all the difference in the world.

And I, despite feeling like a being from another world entirely, discovered that, while this may not be my team, this is my tribe.

Thank you, Premiership Rugby Community Awards for inviting me.

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