All posts by nancy

About nancy

mother, teacher, writer, ranter Writes for TES, Teach Primary, Bloomsbury.

The winds of change

Ahh, it seems that Ofsted have been busy bees and produced a new guide as to what they are looking for when they come calling at English schools to tell us which schools are good and which are bad (on a four point scale). Whether it is hoops or goalposts that they have been moving, who can tell; what we do know is that there has been a Change of Focus.

Now, I’d like to make something clear: I have not read the latest iteration of the Inspection Framework, and neither do I intend to (I am on holiday until the end of the week, after all, and, after an intense Autumn Term where I finished , not on the Friday, but the Saturday, I intend to get the most loafing I possibly can out of it) for the time being.

I am, however, very much interested in the focus of the change – the curriculum – and I am interested to see the direction we all take on the matter (I suspect it will go the same way as planning, lesson structure and style and marking, if I’m honest). Just how good will the curriculum offer of our schools be? What will a Good-or-Outstanding One Look Like? I am agog.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all in favour of knowledge. It is power, after all, and, apart from anything else, learning about stuff and things is interesting. Knowing about quite a lot of things helps you to understand the world around you and your place in it. Lots of stuff and things in schools gives lots of children the chance to find out which stuff and things they are really interested in, and which they might like to study further, if any. Being alert and interested in what is around you helps to make you less of a victim of circumstance and more able to have at least some sort of illusion of control over it.

But, as ever, there is a thing. And it’s such a big thing that I have felt the need to put some words on this page and do some Pointing Out. A curriculum offer is all very well and whoop-de-do, but what if there are a number of children/young people in the learning community who aren’t getting much, if any, of it? I hate to point out the obvious, but isn’t it all a bit like window dressing, or worse, stage setting, the reality of which is sleight of hand and one-dimensional fakery, if it isn’t available to all?

I mean, leaving aside the shrinking curriculum that is down to economics (I’ve got a child who is looking at A level choices, I’ve been investigating sixth forms) and the reduction in options thanks to accountability (don’t get me started on Year Six, we’ll be here for weeks), until Ofsted start looking at the offer for SEND, which includes curriculum, I’m not going to be thinking it’s anything much different to what has gone before.

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Unwrapped

I am the paper that wraps,
Cut, folded, held together with
Slivers,
Stretched to conceal secrets.

A one- sided decoration adorned with ribbon and glitter,
Labelled,
I am the paper torn.

Ripped.

Crushed.

Cast aside.

Rescued,
I wait.
Smoothed, I turn the tawdry, the useless, the silly and the desired
Into promises.

Count Your Blessings

I’ve made it. We’ve made it. We’ve made it to the End of Term, we’ve dragged ourselves out of bed and into work and school before the sun was properly awake and returned home, picked our way through the fairy-lit dark, long after it had gone to bed for what feels like weeks. Everything about us was increasingly reluctant the further we advanced into December and the closer we got to the End Date and finally it is here. The children, exhausted by the effort of an eight-week term, have taken themselves off to bed early.

In a short few weeks, I don’t suppose I should refer to them as children any more, here or anywhere else. Next month, S will be 18, technically a fully-fledged man. L will enter her teens.  I will be one year closer to fifty (as will everyone else under fifty, I guess) and I am considerably greyer now than I was this time last year. Time, that constantly stretching, elastic beast, for all the eternal sense of the first night of the holidays, is speeding up.

When people ask me about my children, they no longer comment that I must have my hands full. I guess it must be obvious after all these years, but now, they are far more likely to give the knowing chuckle reserved for Mother of Teens than the rueful smile of Tired with Toddlers.

But here’s the thing. My house isn’t like other houses. My tribe of teens is led by someone different. I’ve noticed it before, when other people’s children came to play, but now I see it strongly reflected in my own. Here, it’s OK to be seventeen and still, somehow, see Father Christmas as a statement of fact, not one of wishful fantasy. It’s fine to want a ‘boy band’ haircut and unselfconsciously take a trip down memory lane with Rosie and Jim. Here, the presence of a big brother with Down’s syndrome allows you to be young, to be who you are, a mixture of heartbreaking innocence and slow awakening, to take your time in growing up.

When I explain that my son has Down’s syndrome to strangers or to new friends, so often the response is, if not sadness, then sympathy. Too often, we are so busy counting the deficits that we neglect to count the blessings.

Happy Christmas.

The Funnel

I was doing some sorting out the other day. We have been decorating the sitting room (NOT the lounge; lounges are for people who live in a constant state of 1970s and have things like dark green shag pile carpets and pine-orange furniture), and part of this process has been the temporary removal of the book case (Argos) to the garage and the serious reconsideration of every book that had been shoved onto it when we first moved in, over a year ago now, upon its return. Two sets appeared: those that made it back onto the shelf, and those that have been transported back into the garage, en route to the charity shop. It’s not been easy, I can tell you.

It’s not the books that you know you really didn’t like but are somehow worthy, or the ones you didn’t really like that are the problem, or the ones you know you will NEVER give away (dog-eared tomes, some without covers, testament to how much you have loved them) that cause the difficulty; it’s the ones I enjoyed, but that I know I will never read again. They are the ones I weigh in my hands, on the shelf and off, until I reluctantly make a decision.

Old work diaries fall into this category, bizarrely. I’m not sure why this is, they aren’t ever going to come in useful for something, after all. Not personal diaries, though. I have about four or five year’s worth of them, tucked away in the bottom drawer of my desk, religiously filled in until about the beginning of March, apart that is, from 1987. In 1986, I had discovered Yes Prime Minister, and that Christmas, along with a novelised volume of Sir Humphrey’s diaries, I got a Yes Prime Minister diary of my own. I enjoyed it hugely, and, true to form, attempted to keep it (up until March, and, when I was putting the books back on the shelf the other day, I found it and I read it.

I have to admit that up to the point of perusing my old diary, I had been indulging in a bit of parental guilt over the State of The Children and giving myself a good and proper hard time. In 1987, I was fifteen and in the Fifth Year, the same age, in fact, as A. The first year group to take the GCSE, I was supposed to be getting ready to take my exams. The record of my teenaged days (lie-ins, a lot of lie-ins, Eastenders and novels) was reassuring.  Like my children today, I hadn’t given The Future a second thought, and here I am, sitting on the sofa at the grand old age of forty-six and I seem to have turned out not so badly after all. It made me feel better.

I don’t know, though. I can’t help but worry. Part pf me guesses that this all-consuming, corrosive worry about your kids is part and parcel of parenting in England at the start of the 21stCentury. The sands, somehow, seem to have shifted. It’s no longer acceptable to go along to the odd coffee morning while the kids jump on all the beds upstairs (and pull all the bedclothes off while they are at it) or send them out to play in the morning and only see them at meal times; today we must cart them round to baby gym and toddler singing, rugby/football/ballet tots, swim club, martial arts; the list goes on, it is never ending and gets worse as the children get older. The number of distractions, of things we must say ‘no’ to is exponentially increased. It doesn’t seem acceptable to muddle along, to be good enough; somehow life seems to be painted in extremes of success or failure.

But when I look back to MY education and MY mid-teens(even if I do it with the subjective distortion of memory) the pathway before me seemed much more open. If I got a good grade, it was up to me. If didn’t, I would get another go. If I made a mistake, it wasn’t the end of the world. was the person those grades mattered to, the person who owned them. Not my parents, not my teachers; me. There were opportunities and choices for me, lots of them, or that’s what it felt like, anyway.

I guess that is my greatest fear. I look at my children, my learning disabled son and my typical younger ones, snapping at his heels and growing up fast. Their moment of opportunity and choice is fast approaching (before the straightjacket of adulting rears its ugly head). And yet. In an age of austerity, and what I seem to continually describe, to myself and others, as an ‘increasingly challenging policy backdrop’, what choice, if they don’t fit a certain kind of straight-line progress, standard-child mould, will they have?  Is the world really their oyster? Or have we, unwittingly, as a community of adults continually obsessed with our own performance, despite our constant prating on about social mobility and our love affair with the idea of meritocracy, created instead for them an educational funnel?

 

 

Maternal Mental Health

Back in March, I came across an article that I thought was very sensible indeed. Seeing as I am more than a bit worried about global warming (I’ve moved on from nuclear disaster, although I lost a lot of sleep over it in my early teens, worrying, as my school was nine miles away from home, that the bomb would go up when I was there) and also about equal rights, and generally interested in matters of education, it made a lot of sense. Educate girls through to the end of the secondary years and all sorts of wonderful things happen that have a direct impact on, for instance, world health and population growth, and thus the preservation of the planet.

Apparently, my auntie Pauline, a very old and somewhat mythical lady by the time I came along, I have a vague memory of white hair drawn back into a neat bun, and dark, dusty corridors with the sort of carpets that didn’t meet the walls, used to say that if you educate a girl, you educate the family; that, while the effects on the individual are profound, the ripples of your positive actions are powerful and far-reaching. And, when I think about it, an education does more than give young (and older) women the knowledge that will enable them to understand, and control, their fertility, but is the means to the confidence to ask important questions of their sexual partners too. No longer do women of my generation have to go through what my great-great grandmother did, and bear thirteen children because she was unable to refuse a Friday night after a visit to the pub.

The thing is, though, that I think that it is more than education that matters in the lives of mothers. I remember, almost as if it were yesterday, a conversation I had with my mum when I was expecting S, my firstborn. I was OK with being pregnant (although I did cry the day I could no longer fit into my jeans, because I knew that, from that moment, nothing would ever be the same again), but every time I thought about giving birth it was if I was staring into a black hole of terror.

“You’ll be alright Nancy,” she said, in that practical way of women who have been through the whole messy business and come out the other side, “it’s not THAT bad.” It was strangely reassuring. If she could do it, so could I.

That said, the experience was, for me, traumatising; and I know I am not alone. When S was tiny, I joined the local library (I’d given up paid work for a while, so I didn’t have any money) and one of the books I read was an account of early motherhood that took on the difficulties, face first. The sleeplessness, the constant responsibility, post-partum pain and the trials and tribulations of feeding the baby, no matter how you do it. It’s a treadmill, all on top of the physical shock that is giving birth. Even when it goes well (and I’ve done that bit too), and everything is fine, there is nothing about the process that is easy. There is a sense of being ripped apart – and then having to get on with nursing a baby (and possibly one or two toddlers) before the ragged edges have even begun to knit together.

Put traumatic birth, and by that I mean anything from mass intervention to emotional shock and something wrong with the baby, from jaundice to chromosomes, defects requiring surgery or brain damage, in the same event and you have a recipe for disaster in terms of maternal mental health and wellbeing. And, like an education, when a mother is well supported, so is the rest of the family.

What annoys me is that we know this. We know that the mental health of mothers of disabled children is fragile. We know that when there is a disabled child, there is often a slow slide into personal isolation, marital breakdown and poverty. We know that the lives of mothers of disabled children can be dominated by conflict and struggle, with education, with health and social care – and yet what are we doing about it? The Children and Families’ Act?

There are real and concrete actions that maternity services could put into place in order to support new mothers, and thus the wider family. Greater support from midwives and health visitors, access to a counsellor – and not just one offer, but an open door, especially where health concerns over the baby mean that mama is a long way down the list of concerns. It shouldn’t get to crisis point before someone steps in. We need to stop pussyfooting round the edges with our educational solutions and go right back to the start.

I, it seems, was lucky.

And I hate writing that because I don’t believe in luck.