Saturday, August 30, 2008

Numbers, especially FIVE. And some music, which is the same thing when it comes down to it, isn't it?

FIVE (five)
Days to go to school
Then you have the weekend
And that’s the rule

... says rap 5 on CBeebies. (Why oh why do I let my children watch such state-sponsored brainwashing rubbish?? Sometimes I think autonomy's not all it's cracked up to be. Catchy tune, though.)

The government also requires us to ingest five portions of fruit and vegetables a day. Look! There's even a 5 a day community! Let nobody say that community spirit is dead and buried and now being ghoulishly parodied by the instruments of its demise.

Meanwhile, on another tentacle of the octopus,

The Government's aim is for every child, whatever their background or their circumstances, to have the support they need to:
  • Be healthy
  • Stay safe
  • Enjoy and achieve
  • Make a positive contribution
  • Achieve economic well-being

The 'support' they speak of, by the way, is not optional. It's the kind of support traditionally offered to little old ladies who will be helped to cross the road, whether they wanted to or not. And:

The five outcomes are universal ambitions for every child and young person, whatever their background or circumstances. Improving outcomes for all children and young people underpins all of the development and work within children's trusts.

though my dictionary contains the following two definitions:

universal adj. of, belonging to, or done etc. by all persons or things in the world or in the class concerned; applicable to all cases.

ambition n. the determination to achieve success or distinction, usu. in a chosen field.

So the government has decided that every child and young person, is determined to achieve success in those five outcomes. But I doubt it. Some children like to take risks: safe is boring, no? And how can we push our limits or try new things, without feeling even a little bit unsafe? Children arguably even need to take risks in order to learn and develop. "The obsessive 'safety-first' culture in schools will rob Britain of the next generation of entrepreneurs just when the country needs them most," as Simon Woodroffe, founder of Yo! Sushi and a judge on the BBC show Dragons' Den said to The Times.

And I can personally relate to the one about economic wellbeing. Does this mean affluence? Because I prefer poverty (of the relative sort, not absolute). I think if my family was being grilled by the FIVE police, we'd have to try to argue that economic wellbeing surely means to stay solvent and to pay one's bills and we do manage that. (But what happens to the people who don't?! Presumably they will be 'supported'..)

The outcomes are mutually reinforcing. For example, children and young people learn and thrive when they are healthy, safe and engaged; and the evidence shows clearly that educational achievement is the most effective route out of poverty.

Hmmm. Reinforcing. I think we're getting the gist, don't you?

Don't get me wrong: if people want to be healthy, safe, engaged, achieving and rich then good luck to them. I might want to be (or already be) some or all of them myself and so might my children. But the point I'm trying to make is that our instincts and urges in this respect - our ambitions - are private, internal, individual and personal affairs. For government to try to jemmy its way into our psyches in this way and to dictate our ambitions for us is (yet another) step too far.

And how have they ascertained that these actually are

the five outcomes that are most important to children and young people


Perhaps they went around the schools holding mass 'consultations'. Altogether now:

"What do we want?"

"To be healthy, stay safe, enjoy and achieve, make a positive contribution and to achieve economic wellbeing!"

"When do we want it?"


But at least the issue of schooling finally seems to be being questioned in a sensible way. In an article titled What is the future for schools?", the BBC's Mike Baker reports on the Horizontal project: "It stands for 'horizon scanning: technology and learning' - a futurology project funded by the Department for Children Schools and Families and organised by Professor Stephen Heppell."

Though I found Mr Baker's essay more interesting than the website blurb about the project itself because it poses the specific question:

But do we still need a national curriculum? And why are schools still based on a 19th century model when we are now several years into the 21st century?

Why indeed. I do hope they work out the answer. And publish it. He continues:

Why, for that matter, are schoolrooms still much the same in terms of size, shape and focus as they were 150 years ago when mass education began in Britain and learning methods were so different? One answer to emerge from the event was that, unlike many industries, education is still firmly in the grip of governments. The consensus was that governments are generally not very good at innovation or risk-taking. Nor do they tend to take the long view (the sponsoring of this event by the DCSF being a notable exception) as they work to four or five year cycles.

Where new technologies have been used they tend to reinforce existing teaching and learning methods rather than taking us off in new directions. The model for schooling still very often involves gathering large numbers of children together into a single building, dividing them into groups by age, and placing an adult with some textbooks in front of them. Yet the evidence around us shows that young people, and increasingly adults too, learn from their peers. If they want to find something out they go on the web, searching for a user group or search engine, rather than asking a nearby figure of authority.

They do. As this excellent video demonstrates, children certainly can and do teach themselves, far more efficiently than a school or other authority can teach them.

People do know this. And yet, we continue with the old system. "The consensus was that governments are generally not very good at innovation or risk-taking," is perhaps a very polite and charitable explanation. Not to say ironic, don't you think?

Mike Baker in his article also champions the 'Not School' initiative, which I think is a more sensible system of education than the classroom-based one, but I'd still like to know more about the extent of the compulsion involved.

Here in our home education this week, our FIVE (nearly six!) year-old has been working with some numbers (including FIVE) on a whiteboard.

We had to practice the number '3' again and she's just learned to hold the pen properly (which, I add depressingly, is probably another box to tick on some required outcomes sheet somewhere..)

And no, I didn't decide on her behalf that her ambition was to develop her skills in numeracy that day. She'd just got a number jigsaw down from a shelf in the living room, completed it, then opted for herself to start doing the whiteboard sums again. I didn't even suggest it: in fact, it's rare I suggest anything - partly because I don't need to and partly because they prefer to do their own thing.

Zara has recently decided she wants to learn how to read music and play the piano. Amongst our sheet music, she found the book I'd learned from when I was sent to piano lessons at a very early age, and started to dilligently work through it, despite its orientation towards very young children. It is an excellent book, though. She asked for my help to verify a few things to her, but apart from that she progressed on her own and after about twenty minutes' work can now read enough music to pick out a simple tune.

The piano and the book have both been available to her all her life, but its only now she's 16 that she actually wants to learn them so her progress is incredibly fast.

I wish I could attend one of the Horizontal project sessions and explain this to anyone who will listen: that children learn best when we let them be in charge of their own ambitions.


Blogger cosmic seed said...

I just assumed she was doing algebra! Great post.

11:03 am, August 30, 2008  
Blogger Gill said...

Algebra! *grin*

Thanks, you :-)

11:34 am, August 30, 2008  
Blogger Allie said...

I really dislike those 'five outcomes' - way too 'mantra' like for my tastes. Also, there are children and young people who will not be healthy. They might aspire all they like but nature, or fate, or whatever you like to believe controls such things, will cause them to become ill and even to die. A little humility would not go amiss, I feel.

We should support each other out of our common humanity and not so that we can turn out a perfect little 'product' in the form an approved young person. It is all so loaded and makes my skin creep. As you say, people have their own ambitions. Rather strangely (I noticed after watching X Factor with my kids tonight) it seems that lots of people want to be 'as big as Celine Dion'... Each to their own...

10:29 pm, August 30, 2008  
Blogger Mieke said...

Another great post, Gill! And so many interesting links, thanks!
And I, too, wish that people like you could speak out on these Horizontal project sessions. I don't know if this has been thought of or done before, but it would be great if we could gather - a lot of - real life examples to prove that children learn best when in charge of their own ambitions. From my own experience I could fill a good number of pages with stories about both home educated children as well as schooled children. And I could add quite a few adult experiences, too.
Just before I left Holland there was a group of people starting to set up private schools, based on autonomous learning. They were initiated by a woman who was elected business woman of the year a few years earlier, a.o. for her innovative approach to - personnel - management. These schools were getting a lot of support from businesses. I think this tallies with what Mike Baker writes about.
Again, I don't know if it's been thought of or already done in this country, but I often think to advance and promote - autonomous - home education we shouldn't keep bashing our heads against government walls, but we should seek support from business people. People like Simon Woodroffe, maybe.

11:47 am, August 31, 2008  
Blogger Gill said...

Allie - good point. I quite agree.

Mieke, thanks for the praise :-) I feel mixed about really wanting to wade into educational establishments with my 'voice of experience'. Sometimes I think it might be a good idea and other times it seems like they're so determined to run it all as a dictatorship that I'd be wasting my breath. That 'adults know best' ethos is so pervasive that it seems like an impossible gap to bridge. We don't even seem to speak the same language.

Luckily there are other people far more knowledgeable, experienced and eloquent than me to tackle the job! (You?)

7:56 pm, September 01, 2008  
Blogger Mieke said...

Me????? ROFLMAS. Ahhh, I see!!! You're suggesting the other language they're speaking is Double Dutch...
Okay, we'll just stick to the writing about it, then. The days that I went out there and told 'em are long long behind me.
Although I am actually going to a seminar about Personalised Education on Saturday! With some inspiring speakers i.e. Joy Baker and Roland Meigham. Don't think they'll say much I disagree with.

9:35 pm, September 01, 2008  
Blogger Gill said...

LOL! You'd be brilliant :-)

And wow, that seminar sounds great. Joy Baker?? My heroine! I've heard Roland speaking a few times and had the pleasure of chatting with him on the phone too, and receiving his invaluable advice on the court case. Amazing man, with brilliant ideas.

Lucky Mieke! xxx

5:34 am, September 02, 2008  
Blogger Big mamma frog said...

Always like to browse your blog! Having experienced first hand the wonders of autonomous home education (my niddle child taught himself to read when he was 6) it's always encouraging to see research to back up what we already know. So glad we're not stuck in the state education system - my kids might manage to conform, but I don't think I would! lol.

9:06 pm, September 02, 2008  
Blogger Gill said...

Hi Big Mamma Frog :-) I've got a daughter (turned 6 yesterday) who would probably fit quite well into school. She likes to be with lots of other children and to be given tasks etc. At least, she'd like it until she didn't! Then she'd want out of there, straight away. The other four (even the baby: 18 months old and I can already tell) wouldn't fit in at all. Far too rebellious, like their mother :-)

9:33 pm, September 02, 2008  
Blogger old'un said...

I have read some of your posts before
I am not an HE fan, in fact I do think this autonomous HE means a lazy mother who can not be bothered getting up in a morning and getting her children off to school. As for letting children deciding when they need to go to bed? That is so funny> Just think if we all had that attitude to life. O I won't go to work today so there is nothing on the shelves in the shops.Perhaps being up all night and sleeping all day is the norm these days. I think of it as a very weird way of life. But we are all different and I suppose there is no wrong nor right

I do think you have a problem and wonder why Social Services have never questioned you and your ilk.

There is nothing wrong with state education, if it is followed up with love and commitment from parents, family etc. I have never ever pushed my children, they enjoyed learning with loads of support
I take it you are on your own, and because of that you are somehow against anything that is considered normal. Or perhaps you feel lacking in some way?
Yet you let your children watch what you consider to be rubbish?? Why? perhaps because you are too busy with your other life? ie too much time on the internet?

My children have gone through state education and have done extremely well, with love and support, and all have very good careers, which they enjoy.
What is the future for your children? Living with you forever in your new house which has limited power?Do you really want to subject them to that? With no light at the end of the tunnel? You are totally focussed on your ideas. You should really think of the oportunities there are in life. You have admitted to having been well educated. Why would such a good and dedicated mother deny her children a brilliant life
I sign myself off as a mother who cares deeply for her three children, one of which is really ill. But I for one would not change anything I have done for them. That includes not letting them watch, as you say, rubbish!!
By the way, I too did not go to ork when they were young. And Work for me is not an issue as I as with the in their fornmative years. But I object so strongly about people like you who make a career out of living off the state, in fact off my taxes, to live in your cosy little house refusing to work and pay into the state
You, to be quite frank, and your like are just scroungers

7:20 pm, September 04, 2008  
Blogger Gill said...

Huh! I'm up well before 6am most mornings, thank you very much ;-)

And my children choose their own future. I've denied them nothing. They don't sleep all day - the boys were up at 8am this morning, for a walk across the moor and a game of bowls.

I cook breakfast every morning and we sit down to eat together... how have you jumped to so many wrong assumptions about us?!

I think we'll have to agree to disagree about whether mothers should 'pay into the state'.

7:41 pm, September 04, 2008  
Blogger 'EF' x said...

Dear Oldun,

I'd recognize your voice anywhere! It's you isn't it? It's amazing how distinctive a writing style can be, how the turn of phrase can be like a signature.

When I was first reading your comment I kept getting bells ringing then it clicked. It's you! And it's been so long since I heard your voice, to be honest I tend to avoid going places where I think you will be, and I certainly wouldn't have expected to find you here.

Anyway, even after all these years I recognize you.

You are:

-the traffic warden putting a ticket on the car parked outside the chemists. There are three children sat on the back seat and a sick baby in a car seat in the front. You are the traffic warden who puts a ticket on a car with a kid inside saying: "My mum had to nip in the chemist to get the baby's medicine." But roolz is roolz and we can't have everyone doing what they want can we?And no wonder the child is sick, the mother dresses like a tart and always has a fag hanging out of her mouth. You know her sort.

You are:

-that constipated lady on the bus who always wrinkles her nose at my kids because they traipse noisily on and scuff the hem of your coat with their muddy boots. "Estate kids!" you mutter to your friend across the aisle as we pass.

You are:

-someone who has 'worked hard', 'all your life', and 'paid your taxes' and you object to 'scroungers'. You have too much time on your hands now and need to find a positive outlet.

You are:

-that librarian who always barks.

You are:

-the doctors receptionist who has run out of patience.

Et cetera.

Y'know, even after all these years avoiding you it is just like old times. But here you are again, making your point.

One of your children is really ill, you say, I can understand how the worry of that must have driven you to lash out. Admittedly, I would be the same...scouting around to find a place to vent.

There is a perfectly good explanation for why you would choose to slate another mother so roundly (and anon!).

You are obviously out of your mind with vexation, and it isn't fair that others are living the life of riley. Or riley as you see it.

May your burdens be eased. May your child weather the storm and be well. May you find peace in your heart. May you direct your energies positively towards other mothers.

After all, we as mothers are united, it doesn't matter how we do it, we are all hard wired to care for our kids as we can.

You've obviously done what you thought was right, at the time, for your own babes, and Gill is doing the same.

There is nothing wrong with that is there? THINK.


Right....*gets coat back on and flounces off towards exit*

11:49 pm, September 04, 2008  
Blogger Gill said...

*chuckle..* *standing ovation*

Yes, sorry to hear about your ill child, Old'un. I hope s/he gets well soon. And I'm glad you feel like you made the right choices for them. That must help - it's better than regrets. I have no regrets either. Horses for courses.

6:22 am, September 05, 2008  
Blogger Baz said...

Havign read Old'un's comment, I felt compelled to leave one of my own.

What a pity it is that someone who obviously cares for their kids - an with one seriously ill as well - feels the need to show such vitriol, hiding behind a screen, as an anonymous poster on a blog, after taking the time time to complete the sign up process. (and then complaining about people doing just that)

Thats the sign of a seriously bruised ego with an axe to grind. Your time is, I'm sure better spent looking after your sick child.

And oh! The power words... you must be a Daily Mail reader - all the boxes were ticked there weren't they? Single Parent, benefits, home educator and - gasp,shock horror!!! - even social services got mentioned!

The ignorance in your assumptions is frankly astounding. You obviously have no idea about the people you are talking about, their character and their intelligence, and what they are capable of and yet you assume Gill and her family are lacking in some way? I think thats the other way round. Your lack of social grace, intelligence and the ability to understand that different people do things in different ways is astonishing.

Bitter, bitter person. You should skip the bits in the Mail villifying single mothers and benefit recipients and how bad the world is and read those articles a bit further back you know - the ones about stuff like binge drinking and the stress of 9-5 culture and its affects on the body.

I hope your child recovers, and I wish you well in your life's journey, oh "anonymous" Old'un. Maybe one day you'll actually learn to enjoy it.

11:16 am, September 05, 2008  
Blogger these boots said...

I recently informed my M.P that, as a taxpayer, I am more than happy for my money to help to support families like Gill's. I firmly believe that Gill - and other parents like her - are raising families that will help build a better society. How can you place a value on that kind of contribution?

9:38 am, September 07, 2008  
Blogger Tim said...

"autonomous HE means", frankly all sorts of things. There is one simple truth. ALL LEARNING IS AUTONOMOUS. Teachers can teach all they like, but much of the time, no-one is learning. Hence a quarter of the children put through the State system fail to acquire adequate basic skills in literacy and numeracy.

I must admit, I find it really surprising that anyone would chose to hand their children over to an education system which has such a shockingly high failure rate.

My brother's children were educated in a high achieving private school, because he believed the school concerned was best for them, mine are being privately educated, and home educated and flexi-schooled and whatever we feel is best for them and us as a family at the time.

I would not presume to criticise anyone's choice of how they educate their children, without seeing it first hand.

I firmly believe the only thing which counts is that parents be committed to and involved in their children and their education.

It may be that you have met someone who is using autonomous HE as an excuse for laziness, if so your prejudice is understandable, but nevertheless it is still just prejudice. I do know that in many cases, autonomous HE represents a more difficult and demanding choice than alternatives. Believe me you really would find it interesting and enlightening should you chose to actually inform youself even a little.

I calculated when I was 31 that whatever happened, I had already paid more in tax than I was ever going to get back in services, and once again this year, I will pay another huge chunk of money in tax. I resent every penny of that. But, I resent the little bit spent on supporting families like Gill's relatively little compared to, for example, spending on illegal invasions of foreign countries, propping up City shysters and paying the mortgages on MPs second homes. If nothing else, we can expect to see a return on the rather modest amount of money spent on Gill's family, in the form of the production of five useful taxpayers whereas all the rest are just money p***ed away.

Come to think of it, the State education system spending per pupil is about £5,000 per pupil per year, so Gill's decision is saving us 5 x 12 x 5,000 = £300,000. I very much doubt that she has had even a decent down payment on that out of the benefits system.

Gill, would you like a cheque for the balance? :-)

2:57 pm, September 07, 2008  
Blogger Gill said...

LOL! Yes please :-) And the rest of the huge chunk I paid in before I was doing this, as a result of the various businesses etc., that we had - three quarters of which I don't think I've had back yet.

But they can knock my VAT payments off the balance ;-)

(They're also paying about £40 per week, maximum, to house six of us, which will stop on Tom's 20th birthday - as will a lot of other things. I think we're supposed to live in a cave. Reckon we'd get planning permission for that?!)

Silly, silly system. But I'm glad to see that I don't just think that 'because I'm single'. *Rolls eyes*.

3:40 pm, September 07, 2008  
Blogger Tim said...

I think your troll has trolled off.

9:25 pm, September 07, 2008  
Blogger Gill said...

That was you, doing your Big Billy Goat Gruff routine. (Not that I'm complaining.) And ok, it was a few other people too. A whole herd of big goats! :-)

Sigh. It's a pity they're never up for the full argument..

9:40 pm, September 07, 2008  
Blogger Tim said...

"Sigh. It's a pity they're never up for the full argument.."

Totally agree. I can't think of anything much more worth discussing than education and there are no right answers.

10:13 pm, September 07, 2008  
Blogger Tim said...

While we are about it:

"Pay mothers to stay home, urges Conservative think-tank"

11:01 pm, September 07, 2008  
Blogger Gill said...

I agree, there are no right answers, except what works well for the family in question.

And I agree with IDS (for once!) - but three is way too young. 23 would be more like it ;-) And if the mother wanted to work, the father could take the money...

How about abolishing Council Tax, or giving people free housing or something, so that both parents don't have to work?

7:39 am, September 08, 2008  
Blogger Gill said...

Gah, I fell into that trap again...


"so that both parents don't have to work for money."

Because staying at home isn't exactly effortless, is it?

7:41 am, September 08, 2008  

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