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Ofsted: Correction

I hate getting things wrong. Not backing up my claims with evidence and veering off into polemic was a regular criticism during my student days.

Yesterday, I veered off into such a polemic, and I would like to publicly state a couple of things I got wrong. I’d like to issue a public apology for the error.

If, like me, you are unsure what a commentary is, and its purpose, I looked it up and you can find the definition here: http://www.dictionary.com/browse/commentary

  • There was a jot of admission of Ofsted’s responsibility for the narrowing of the school curriculum, with particular reference to ‘low attaining children’.

Here it is:

“Earlier this year, I commissioned a research programme to broaden our understanding of how curriculums are implemented in our schools, particularly the national curriculum as a key government policy. This was one of the main research priorities of my first year as Chief Inspector. One of the aims of this work was to challenge ourselves, as well as schools, about whether Ofsted has always recognised what is best in curriculum design, development and implementation. If we have not, I wanted to know whether inspection has played a role in bending the curriculum out of shape.”

I think 95 words out of 3,361 counts as a jot. (Definition here: http://www.dictionary.com/browse/jot )

Admitting when you get things wrong and making amends is important, I think.

You can find my original post here: https://notsoordinarydiary.wordpress.com/2017/10/12/school-accountability-and-the-entitlement-to-a-broad-and-balanced-curriculum

It also appears in TES here: https://www.tes.com/news/school-news/breaking-views/ofsted-needs-take-responsibility-narrow-dry-curriculum-puts-our

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A Letter of Thanks

It is my pleasure to publish this letter of thanks to a teacher, and a special school, who has made all the difference to not only a young man, but his father too.  Special education has its critics, but, like this writer, it has changed all of our lives for the better. To be included, it’s more than the mainstream. It’s being part of the school community, whatever shape that school takes, too.

Dear Mrs K,

I just wanted to say thanks for all of the work you’ve done with my son in GCSE History over the last two years.

I’ve helped him a fair bit with his revision over the last few months. Every single day I’ve come away amazed with the depth of his understanding – not just his recall of facts, but the abstract concepts and beliefs that lie behind them too. There’s been loads of times when he’s been teaching me or reminding me about particular topics – it’s been good for him, to be the teacher for once!

Best of all, I think he’s really enjoyed his History revision – there are plenty of reasons why History is a very challenging subject for him, but it’s definitely become one of his favourites. So thank you for helping him!

But I also wanted to say thank you for what you have done for me too – that might sound a bit odd, so let me explain…

I did history at university – a BA, and also a master’s in Cold War international history. I still love the subject even now. Before kids came along, I didn’t have too many expectations about how my kids would turn out, but one thing that I was really looking forward to was talking to them about history as they were growing up.

We were pretty shocked when we first found out that our son was disabled. We were told he would always have deep problems communicating and learning, and it might sound a bit strange, but one of the things that made me deeply, deeply sad when we first got his diagnosis was the prospect of losing the things I hoped I’d do with him. I couldn’t imagine how I would ever be able to share & communicate a love of history with the tiny boy on my lap who would have so much trouble communicating.

The feeling got worse as we went through the school system, as professional after professional told us what outcomes we should realistically expect for a child like him. And they didn’t include GCSE History. Or GCSEs of any kind, for that matter.

You have to learn and unlearn loads bringing up a child with special needs, but one of the most pleasurable things I’ve had to unlearn over the last few years has been this – despite all his immense difficulties communicating, he gets it.

He understands so much about history. He grasps details about things I thought he’d never be able to understand. Even with his disordered language, he can explain things, he can point out strengths and weaknesses of evidence in a way that I never thought he’d be able to do. And he loves it – he loves talking about history and arguing about it with me and his brother.

I can’t really get it across very well, but it makes my soul sing when I see him like this. I know how hard the written and spoken word is for him. I know how hard he has had to work to get on top of this subject, and yet he manages it, and he enjoys it too. It’s something I never dreamed would be possible.

All of this is down to the work you and your colleagues have done for him. I know he appreciates it greatly – but me, I’ll never be able to repay you all.

I hope he’ll do well at GCSE, and I know how much you’ve done to help him get a good grade. But I wanted to get across that we value what you’ve done for him in a way that goes beyond any exam grade.

Doing history GCSE has given my son knowledge and skills that will help him through life – but it’s been more than a curriculum for us as a family. It’s brought us closer, given us ways of sharing things we love, of communicating against the odds.

This school is a wonderful, life-changing place – a special school in every sense of that phrase. I think sometimes though, something that gets forgotten is the positive effect that the school has on the whole family.

My son is a better person for going to this school – but we as a family are also all better for it. The things you do here help our family to flourish and grow closer – and we’ll never, ever forget it. Thank you so much.

Anyway, I’ve gone on for ages now, so I’ll stop there. Hope you have a great summer, and see you next term 😊

 

Strictly Come Elections

Sam and I watched Prime Ministers Questions yesterday while we were eating our lunch (or rather, I watched it, and Sam tolerated my watching it while he scoffed a hot dog; thankfully, the other two were out, playing with friends, so I was released from the bonds of ‘boring’). I haven’t watched it for a while, and I don’t suppose he ever has, him being at school on Wednesday lunchtimes, and I was curious to see how it would go, all things considered.

I find it fascinating, I have to admit. On the one hand, there are the showtime set pieces, where opposing leaders insult and try to catch each other out, and on the other, there are questions about bin collection, dog mess and charity walkers on stilts, in aid of the learning disabled. For a national stage, it is disarmingly parochial.

Yesterday, there was quite a lot of shouting (but no paper waving that I noticed, and not much laughter, despite the rather forced comedy of Mr MC Speaker), and Sam waited politely for the applause to stop, and the action, in the form of questions, to start.

I had thought that he was more interested in the application of his tomato ketchup and wasn’t really watching, until, that is, a certain woman stood up to speak and called the Prime Minister a liar. At first, I thought it was the school-marmly way she did it (clearly, she has had a lot of experience, either in the giving or the receiving of tellings off) that caught his interest, until he sat up straight, eyes a-twinkle (he has very twinkly eyes, especially when he is amused), pointed at the screen and exclaimed, ‘Ed Balls! Ed Balls from Strictly!’

I have to admit that I never thought that fan-dom of Strictly Come Dancing would mark the beginning of my son’s political education, but there you go. Unlike me, a child of the Spitting Image generation, who bewails the fact that nobody is recognisable any more, thanks to the loss of political satire via the medium of puppets, he recognised a politician thanks to her connection with a different world entirely.

Sometimes I wonder what he takes in, when we sit around the tea table, discussing events of the day. A is beginning to join in; his sense of fairness adding to a growing sense of social justice. L rolls her eyes and declares, ‘boring’, although I know, through her concern for her friends, that she is not immune to the concept, either. But Sam; he remains my dark horse, as he keeps his counsel, and concentrates on dinner (or tea).

But he reminded me of something important yesterday, as we chuckled together over Yvette Cooper and her smiling, rolling eyes at the nation cheering, spangled antics of her over enthusiastic husband last autumn. He reminded me that I needed to carry on challenging lazy assumptions, because his life, and his future, matters.

He reminds me to ask you to ask your local candidates what they will do to support disabled people and whether they have read the UN disability convention.

He reminds me to ask you to ask your local candidates what they think of segregation in schools on the grounds of academic ability, and its flip side, inclusion.

His presence, and mine, reminds me to ask you to ask your local candidates what they will do to protect our National Health Services – because without a shadow of a doubt, illness or disability, learning or otherwise, can, and will happen to us all.

Becuase, in the end, bad things do indeed happen to good people; our frailty is part of who we are as humans. And our descision is how we respond to that.

Together? Or alone?

Passport

“It is a hell of a responsibility to be yourself. It’s much easier to be somebody else, or nobody at all.” Sylvia Plath

I’ve been doing quite a bit of Sorting Out lately.  First, it was the Teaching Resources.  When I went back to work after my long baby break, I re-started a collection that I threw out, not long after Baby Number Two. I wasn’t going back, I decided, and so, all those lovingly hand drawn worksheets, detailing various aspects of the Tudors, or the Egyptians, made their way, as it were, to the classroom in the sky. (I kept a fair amount of the books, it has to be said; you never know when you might need to rustle up a quick spelling activity or build a Saxon Hall with toilet roll inner tubes.) It didn’t take long to fill ten or so box files. I’m terrible at throwing things out (see above), and I hate waste. The last four years have seen me better at keeping things to a minimum, but still.

Our coming house move has been the catalyst for my uncharacteristic sorting. Once the worksheets were gone, I turned my attention to the filing cabinet. An annoying piece of furniture, stuffed in a difficult to reach corner, it has been easier, for the last ten years, to pile the ever-growing number of letters and other bits of Useful Paper Based Information relating to three children, on top of it, rather than attempt to wrestle with the Hanging Files That Fall Apart At The Slightest Touch. I decided, as I had about ten or so empty box files, that I would transfer the contents of the filing cabinet to said box files (we won’t have room for it when we move, anyway) and do some Sorting Out while I was at it.

It’s been a worthwhile exercise (despite R’s protestations).  We have discovered the whereabouts of a fair number of important documents (along with several that were important in 2011 but are no longer), had a good discussion about pensions (confusing and depressing at the same time) and had (or rather, I have) a lovely trip down memory lane.

I didn’t feel it was necessary to keep hold of all of Sam’s old Statements, and the three or four draft EHCPs we received last winter. I haven’t kept every letter from every paediatrician or visit of the school nurse to check his hearing, although I have kept the first – the educational psychologist report and my original parental statement make interesting, and, to me anyway, somewhat heart-rending reading; one day I’ll tell you about it. I like to keep significant documents, papers that represent a turning or a starting point.

I’ve got the lovely little booklets that came from nursery, a record of a learning journey, a blast from the past that went in a flash, gobbled up by school runs and tea times and bed time and bath times. I look at them, I read the comments, and I see snatches of the people they are now; I am assailed by memory, of the time we went to Cornwall with grandad and took Macey, the class cuddly toy, the play-doh picnic and snow that came over the top of wellies.  A record of the baby years, gone, but not forgotten.

And in amongst the letters and the school reports, the certificates of birth and marriage and the last will and testament of me and him, is a plastic pocket (I am a primary teacher, after all) containing passports. A and I looked at them together, marvelling at the size of the official dark blue, at his resemblance to his father, from an age before I knew him, and to me, a photographic record of change in ten year jumps. (The VERY NICE man at the Post Office told me last time how little I’d changed. I don’t think he’ll say the same next time, that’s for sure.)

There she sits, shyly giving a half-smile to the boxed camera, wondering what the future has in store, and I wonder that she is me. Or at least, she was.

Doublespeak

It’s been a long time since I read Orwell’s 1984.  My friend Allie, who used to have room 101 at college, had a quote from it photocopied and stuck to her door (I had a Jacky Fleming one and a the obligatory sheet of paper for my friends to leave the obligatory ‘I came to see you and you were out’ message on) and, at the time, I smiled, but I didn’t really know what she was talking about.  I had had Animal Farm read to me as a class story when I was in Year 6, but that was about as far as my knowledge of Orwell went at the time.  I was more of a Jane Austen kind of girl.

I did read it though, a while after I met her, accompanied by its feminist partner, The Handmaid’s Tale, one rainy summer when I had a job selling ice-creams (there wasn’t much to do), chuckling to myself at the snatched memory of my parents, in the real 1984, saying that they never thought they would ever reach the year, that now that they were 41 it didn’t seem so old.  When I read it (them), the dystopian image of a life controlled by Big Brother (which wasn’t a TV show), or by your membership of the female sex, it seemed to me to describe a fantastical world; an impossibility.  I was young.

Today, though, it is doublespeak, rather than Big Brother or Room 101, that I find most striking. The news is no longer the news (it is fake). The truth is no longer the truth (it’s not even relative). Social mobility doesn’t mean to be socially mobile (as personified by that much derided character, Hyacinth Bouquet/Bucket), but to be a certain kind of poor (the deserving). And, of most interest to me; inclusion doesn’t mean inclusion, quite the opposite in fact.

I can see why people want to use the term. It makes us feel nice, especially when we apply it to ourselves, or stick it up on a sign or a flyer, illustrated by smiling, cartoon children.  We are morally in the right, in a right on kind of way.  It is not quite the opposite of exclusive, which somehow means special and desirable, an honour bestowed upon the few (like advance notice of a discount or a new season, something that pops into your inbox, glistening with the temptation to part from your hard-earned cash and be the first from the starting blocks in the fashion stakes), a strange sort of justification of yourself as a shopper, or a parent. Instead, to be inclusive speaks to us of welcome.  There are no bouncers here, checking that you are on The List.

And, of course, inclusion is intertwined with notions of disability. To run an inclusive activity, or to be an inclusive school or church, it means that you welcome (or you say you do) disabled children and young people and their families, whether they are in a wheelchair or not; everyone, in fact.

Except, somehow, it doesn’t.  Somehow, an inclusive activity has come to mean one for disabled people (but only if you are the right kind).  An inclusive school is the one where all the disabled children go. An inclusion unit, a space within a mainstream school, has become the place where you send someone (those pesky disabled kids, the undeserving ones who have slippery labels they just won’t obey), not to keep them in, but to get them out.

We say all the right things, but somehow, it feels empty. It all feels a bit too much like doublespeak to me.