Tuesday, 30 June 2009

28th June 1999

This year you have been a gymnast
And film director too,
Tried your hand at skating, knitting:
Is there nothing you can’t do?

Two Bravewriter courses, Book Worms,
Art course, Holiday club and more...
Journey North, piano, Latin,
Primary Maths Challenge: Bronze score.

Travels far and wide have taken
You to Yorkshire and to Wales,
Puffins met and beaches played on:
Fun in Dorset never fails.

June saw us on Mersea Island,
HESFES fun and games for all.
September brought Barney to us:
Cute and fluffy ... oh so small!

Swimming lessons, Kids’ Church, Breakout,
Discovered ‘Star Wars’, got to know
All the films and learned to play
A Battle Game with evil foe.

You’re writing ‘Waterworld’ and typing
The manuscript so that one day
It may be published, and to stardom,
Fame and fortune you’ll be on your way.

You organise your time and bedroom,
Scour the library for more to read,
You play at Harry’s, have lots of pen-pals,
(But bed-time you don’t always heed!)

You’ve grown up so mature and handsome,
Confident to speak your mind.
An aspiring author and an artsit,
Earnest, lovin, gentle, kind.

Long blond hair and deep green eyes,
Growing confidence and style,
Witty, clever, slow to strop,
With your special trademark smile.

Double figures, one whole decade,
No more little baby blue.
Where will the next ten lead, I wonder?
Whatever you choose, know we love you!

Friday, 26 June 2009

Shhh, can you hear the ...

We sorted through our year's work and filed it neatly yesterday. When Dad got home from work, we sat in the garden with tea and treats, showed off the files and shared some of their poetry. The children read short cards which they had written to me about the year gone and we delcared it The Summer Holidays!

So today, my eldest is setting himself some writing goal to further his career as a novelist and the two 'little ones' are glued to the laptop watching children's tv on CBBC i-player.

I took a puzzle and a coffee outdoors. I could hear the aeroplanes as they hauled themselves into the sky from Heathrow airport and set off over my head, I could hear an agitated squirrel and some happy birds. I could also hear a faint, yet persistent, rasping noise. Unable to figure out what it could be, I determined to track it down. In a large plant next to the decking, I could see a gathering of snails. The sound drew me in their direction and eventually I honed it down to one particular individual. Watching it closely I could actually see it extending its head (do snails have heads?) and drawing it back over the leaf. I could hear the snail eating!

I have to say, that's not a sound I have ever heard before!

Thursday, 25 June 2009


My middle son is off on cub camp tomorrow. This will be the first time that he has spent a night away from family, and it's actually two nights! He has a kit list and I decided that we would pack yesterday so that, if we found we were short of anything, we had time to get to the shops. Also, I had to iron name labels onto everything and I wanted plenty of time!
He read the list and fetched what was on it and I ironed the labels and packed. He spent his time practising, with increasing frustration, wrestling his sleeping bag back into its case so that he could do it without help. Once the bag was packed, I remembered a conversation with a friend who had led a school ski-trip. Some children, he told me, had no idea what was is in their case, their mother had just packed it for them. This, I resolved, was not going to be my son. I could also envisage him turfing all the neatly folded contents on the floor of the tent as he looked for one thing.
So, out it all came again. He double-checked each item on the list, decided what he might not need at all (raincoat - it is an excellent forecast) and what he might need straight away on Friday night (warm jumper, PJs) and packed it back in some kind of order: little things in the pockets, immediate needs at the top.
I know that any parent could do the same, but for me it is about being there, spotting the teachable moments and hopping right on. Another lesson learned to prepare him for his round-the-world-trip in a camper van!

Wednesday, 24 June 2009


I have been ill for the last three days. Nothing serious, just a heavy cold. It feels strange having a cold in the summer. Instinct is telling me to wrap up warm, retreat under the duvet and consume hearty soup and plenty of chocolate. But the chocolate is sticky and the bed too warm and it feels wrong to be indoors and hibernating in the first week of Wimbledon.
When I am physically low, I am emotionally low too and the ‘voices’ of criticism are out in force. I know that I am a ratty, grumpy bear-with-a-sore head and yet I find myself under a barrage of attack at how mean I am to the children, damaging to their self-esteem and that not doing very much with them for a couple of days will permanently damage their life chances.
I find myself whinging that, if I had a proper job I could take a day off. I think I even claimed that I would resign yesterday. The children have worked very hard at ‘being good’ and have told me that they will be fine if I spend the day in bed. However, little people do need attention and find curious ways of topping up low running supplies. After I had shouted at my six-year-old following a particularly irritating lunch-time episode yesterday, she told me tearfully that she was fed up of me being ill. Me too, honey, me too.

Monday, 22 June 2009


It’s getting near the end of term. Although we are Home Educators, our lives are still follow the rhythm of terms and holidays set by my husband’s job as a school teacher. He breaks up for the Summer in just two weeks now. It’s not that I consciously choose to give the children holidays from formal learning, after all, we only do a little formal learning and I am a card-carrying member of the ‘children learn all the time’ brigade, but life is just different with dad home. I can make more time to do stuff for myself without the children, we fit in all those jobs that are just easier with two grown-ups around, like sorting out our garage, and we go out as a lot as a family for the day.
So I am trying to finish off what we have begun this year, draw things to a close. Inspired by Kathy at Restoration Place, I have bought document wallets for all this year’s ‘work’. Not to show, or offer up for inspection, but for the children to see what they have achieved, to look back over this stage of the journey and see how far they have come, to reminisce over good and bad times. I would like my middle son to finish his handwriting book, just for completeness sake, and I would like to launch him into ‘The Arrow’ in September. My little girl is working her way through some phonics books. We won’t finish the series, and I’m not sure I will carry on with them next term, but it would be nice to complete the book we’re on and not leave it hanging. We have a chapter book to finish, in preparation for the readathon that will be ‘Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.’ Previous Harry’s have been read on our holidays away, but this is so long that it will take the whole six weeks of time off school.
History has taken a back seat, but we just so happen to have finished the Tudors in ‘Our Island History’ so that seems a good place to stop. Just the five Tudor monarchs to add to our Kings and Queens Time-line. Perhaps we’ll do a Tudor ‘project’ next term, or maybe focus on the Stuarts and The Restoration. With membership of Historic Royal Palaces we have free access to Hampton Court, The Tower of London and The Banqueting House (from where Charles I left to be beheaded.)
At the beginning of this academic year I wrote each child a letter outlining my hopes for the year ahead. I would like to write partner letters about the year we have had. We have a big day our planned next week to Legoland to celebrate my eldest turning ten and I am hoping to have a special Poetry tea to round things off on the last day.
The nasty voice in my head is still droning on about stopping too early, the children not learning and how much more they would be doing in school. But the weather is warm and a Summer of picnics, parks and camping is calling ...

Friday, 19 June 2009

Do you agree with compulsory registration?

This is the one of the questions being posed on an e-group to which I belong, set up to discuss repsonse to the Badman review. My intial reaction is, 'no', after all, isn't that what I'm supposed to believe? But then I stopped to think about it. What do I really think?

Well, I can see why people think there should be compulsory registration. It's kind of scary, the idea that there are all these unknown children out there: who knows what could be happening to them? People are often very surprised when I say that I don't have to register and it's usually one of the first questions I am asked. If we're going to be seen as reasonable and not nutters perhaps we should concede this point?

What does compulsory mean? That I could be forced to do it, or punished if I don't? Who would be punished? Not me, but my children who I believe who have a right to be educated in the way that suits them best.

Who would decide if I am educating them properly? And will they understand the fundamenatlly different paradigm of education which I follow? Have they read, for example, John Holt, and if so, could they argue that my children must to follow a set curriculum in order to learn?

But I also wonder what registration would achieve? There are no known fatalities amongst children who were not known so social services before they were Home Educated. Although Khyra Ishaq was withdrawn from school before she died, the family was known by both social services and, more tellingly, the police. Compulsory registration would have done nothing to protect this little girl.

Also, there does't seem to be an outcry from adults who were Home Educated (and there must be plenty. Education Otherwise was started in 1977 so there are adults my age who were Home Educated) saying that they were lost and forgotten.

It would cost a huge amount of money, money which could be better spent in schools, say, or for social services to protect those children they know are in trouble.

So no, I do not think there should be compulsory registration.

Thursday, 18 June 2009

Dear PM

For those of you who are interested, there is a petition against the Review:

We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to Reject the Report to the
Secretary of State on the Review of Elective Home Education in England by Graham
Badman. This report is a totally disproportionate response to a 'perceived' problem full of unsubstantiated allegations that home educated children are more at risk than those at school. This is simply not true and enacting the recommendations in this report would establish the state as parent of first resort. To allow LA staff access to private homes to interview children without their parents when there is no reason to suspect abuse is outrageous.

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Dear MP

Here it is! I have sent this letter to my MP, at least it will go in the post tomorrow. I have also sent a copy to many of my friends, slightly altered so it's not from the point of view of the a Home Ed parent, and asked them to send it on to their MP. There is so much more I could have said but I wanted to keep to the main points and for the letter not to be more than one side. If you feel strongly about this issue, please feel free to cut and paste, alter to suit you and send on.

I wish to seek your support in opposing the reforms to current practice proposed by Graham Badman in his “Report to the Secretary of State on the Review of Elective Home Education in England”.

The Review fails to make any case for its recommendations. The Secretary of State says it contains strong arguments but no evidence is presented either of the outcome of Home Educated children relative to their schooled counterparts or of any link between Home Education and child abuse. Yet the assertion that “Home Education could be used as a ‘cover’ for child abuse” (Terms of Reference for the Review) stands unrefuted. As a Home Educating parent, I find this insulting and offensive.
I strongly object to Recommendation 7: ‘that designated local authority officers should have the right of access to the home.’ No other authority has right of access to the home: were I to be suspected of a crime the police would need a search warrant to enter my house. Parents, who make the choice to Home Educate, should be entitled to the same presumption of innocence and competence that school going children's parents receive.

Also, it recommends that local authority officers should ‘have the right to speak with each child alone’ ... so that ‘officers will be able to satisfy themselves that the child is safe and well.’ I cannot imagine how a stranger, meeting my child for the first time, with the implied threat of being able to force the child to go to school, could hope to have a relationship of trust that would enable a child to confide fears or concerns. In contrast, numerous adults with whom my children have relationships and who come into contact with on a regular basis have every opportunity to report any concern they may have to the appropriate authorities.

Although a further recommendation (Number 9) is that ‘all local authority officers and others engaged in the monitoring and support of elective home education must be suitably trained’, in section 11.3 Graham Badman urges the DCSF to ‘respond to recommendation ... 7 at the next available opportunity’ with the inherent implication that officers will have the right to enter my home and interview my children without me present, before suitable training has been undertaken.

Mr Badman has been also quoted as saying, with reference to recommendation 1, (“...parents must provide a clear statement of their educational approach, intent and desired/planned outcomes for the child over the following twelve months,”) and “they will be judged on their plans. These statements should contain some milestones for children to achieve ... for example by the age of eight, I think they should be autonomous learners, able to read. (
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/education/8095864.stm) However, he demonstrates no evidence of the value of such a goal, only that it is his personal opinion. Why should what appears to be no more than personal opinion be imposed upon the Home Education community?

In his introduction to the Review, Badman states, ‘there has to be a balance between the rights of the parents and the rights of the child.’ I feel very strongly that this is not about my right as a parent to Home Educate my children, as if it was just another career option, but about their right to be Home Educated, to receive all that is on offer in a personalised and individual education free from interference which is not evidence-based but wholly subjective. I believe that these recommendations threaten my civil liberties, my human right for respect to private and family life and my children’s right to the education which I believe to be right for them.

I look forward to hearing from you.

While I am furious with our government and this appalling review, I am grateful to live in a country where I can express this opinion, argue with those in power and ultimately vote them out. I am grateful for my freedom of speech and am mindful of those who are fighting for that basic right.

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Writing to my MP

It is five days since the publication of the Badman Review and the heated comments on a number of e-groups I belong to is bordering on overwhelming. Despite my 'shoot from the hip' e-mail to Ed Balls (Education Minister by another name) and visit to the Liberal Democrat's second-in-command at his constituency surgery, I have still not written to my MP (although my friends and family will tell you that I have not been silent.)
So, my plan is to use my blog and writing time to come up with a pithy and well-reasoned letter, send it to my MP and tout copies of my letter around my friends, asking them to send one too. If you'd like me to e-mail you a copy (when it's written!) for you to send to your MP too, please let me know!

Monday, 15 June 2009

The seaside

We spent the weekend with friends we have known for nearly twenty years. It was good to be with people who know us well.
We fitted in a bonus trip to the seaside, too!

Saturday, 13 June 2009

Some nice things

Despite having my blood pressure raised by the Badman report, we have had a lovely couple of days. On Thursday, we met up with some friends at Beckonscot Model Village. These traditional gypsy caravans were a hit with my eldest.
And, of course, there was a ride on the train!

Yesterday, we had poetry tea with the first sweet-peas from the garden.

Friday, 12 June 2009

The Church of England has its say

I am still reeling from the Report to the Secretary of State on the Review of Elective Home Education in England by Graham Badman.
I have skimmed the entire report and am now reading it through carefully, slowly, and as much as my blood pressure will allow in one go.
Among the many, many things that have incensed me is the trotting out of prejudice without evidence. Now, when I meet someone on the train who comments on my children being out of school and follows up my explanation of Home Education with questions or comments about socialization, I understand that these may be their initial thoughts. Often they have never heard of Home Ed, didn't realise that it was legal and are simply responding with the first impressions that come to mind. Hopefully, with some discussion and thought, most people begin to see how much Home Educated children do socialise and have all sorts of opportunities to mix with people of a wide variety of backgrounds and ages. My children, for example, between them, attend Rainbows, Cubs, church children's groups, a mid-week church service with older members of our congregation, gym, a film club, an after-school club at church, a holiday club at church, a day-time art group and swimming lessons as well as having their friends round to play and adult friends to join them for poetry tea from time to time.
According to the Education Department of the Church of England:
Children who do not go to school may not experience the social and cultural
diversity encountered there; they will not learn how to deal with the rough and
tumble of everyday life; they may never meet people with different faith and
value systems. All such encounters, even the difficult or painful ones are
I am shocked that this viewpoint has been given credence. Where is the evidence that Home Educated children do not experience 'the rough and tumble of everyday life'? And are they seriously saying that bullying in school is to be embraced? If the Badman review is based on ill-informed opinions from those who, frankly, do not know of which they speak, it is not worth the paper it is written on.
If I am to be inspected, and it looks from this report as if I will, then I want assurance that it will be by people who understand and believe in the philosphy of Home Ed and not those who have not given the truth of their opinion a second thought.

Thursday, 11 June 2009

I am so angry I could weep

Today is the birthday of my blog. However, I have other things on my mind this morning:

Dear Mr Balls,

I am writing to let you know of my shock and outrage at your proposal to insist on all Home Educators having to register their children and the allowance of the link between Home Education and child abuse to be continually made in the press and your report.

I cannot conceive of another population group being so slandered or that any other way of life or belief would be publically linked with abuse in this way. I have seen no evidence that Home Education is cover for abuse or that registration could prevent abuse. Baby Peter, Victoria Climbie, and Kyyra Ishaq were known to the authorities and still died.

I have given up my career and salary in order to provide the education for my children which I believe to be best. The schools the government provide are, in many cases, not good enough. Many children are withdrawn from school following inadequate provision for special needs or becuase they are not protected from bullying.

I am ashamed to have voted for this government which is slandering and accusing without foundation or evidence a dedicated, caring and self-sacrificing group of parents. I will not be voting for this government at the forthcoming general election.

From now on, there will be many who know nothing more of Home Education than that our democratically elected government believe it to be a cover for child abuse. I think this is disgrace. I would urge you to withdraw not only these recommendations but the wholly unfounded accusation that I and many of my friends should be suspected of child abuse.

When I am calmer, I will revise and edit this and send it to Mr Balls. This is my first draft, written in anger and dismay.

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Another Lens

My eldest son is a voracious reader. Anything and everything he can get his hands on. We stagger back from the library, burdened with a bursting backpack, and he would prefer not to speak, sleep or eat until he is done reading all his choices.
My middle son is different. He likes the idea of books and usually brings many home from the library, but seldom reads them, preferring to pore over the latest Lego catalogue or the Star Wars Visual Dictionary.
Last week we ordered a set of history books. He disappeared to his room with them, was frequently seen carrying one around and within a couple of days he had read all eight. He has related numerous facts to me that he has read, asked a number of questions and is now re-reading them.
So often I feel as if I am working against resistance, forcing the children to do what they don't want to do. I am learning in a deep way that motivation is internal and with the right approach, the right lens as Julie puts it, anything is possible.

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

There are neither rights nor wrongs in gardening. Only experiences.

I across this quote this morning as I was searching the internet for how to propagate a fuchsia. (I had a go last year but with no success. I have a few new ideas now.) I visited an old friend yesterday, god-mother to my middle son, and it was great to see her. She has just moved house and their new place has a fantastic, mature garden with loads of places for the children to explore and hide. My wilderness looks pretty sorry to me in comparison and I am often troubled by guilt that I am not making the most of the space I have, either for the children or growing our own veg. I fear that by the time my garden is mature and child-friendly, my children will be too old to want to play out there (maybe the grand-children will!)
I find it hard to be patient with the garden and with myself as a gardener but I find inspiration in the above. I endeavor to stop chalking things up as right or wrong and instead count as gain all my experiences.

Monday, 8 June 2009


"I've come to realise that you most probably won't find a pearl if you only
pick oysters once a year.... I'll learn to put up with the bad stuff,
remembering that the more I do of it, the closer I get to coming out with
something good."

I read the above (in Peter Elbow's 'Writing with Power') last night. It specifically refers to writing and, as I stick to my aim of 500 words a day on my writing projects, I am learning to blast through that self-critical, 'this is rubbish' voice and keep writing; trusting that, in the 9,000 words I've written since finishing my writing course, there must be something good.

I also suspect that this is true of Home Ed life and family life in general too. There is plenty of dross, plenty of nagging and complaining and whining, plenty of muddy, dreary moments. But the more time we spend together, the more times I seek to create an interesting, exciting or special time, the more pearls we find together.

Saturday, 6 June 2009

Born Survivor

We have been following Bear Grylls' series Born Survivor. We watched a videoed episode yesterday afternoon and I found myself firmly telling the children never, ever to eat poo, or raw snails in the garden, just because they'd seen it on the telly!

Afterwards, my little girl packed her bag and went off to survive in the wilderness that is our garden:

Friday, 5 June 2009


Over the half-term break, I asked my children what they would like to do in the time-slots left by completing one of our projects. One of the suggestions was that we all sit and draw together. So, yesterday afternoon, we did.
I got about half-way through a dragon which is even more incentive to do this again. It was just one of those lovely moments.

Thursday, 4 June 2009

A New Lens

I am an avid follower of the Bravewriter blog and this post by Julie gave me food for thought. I can find it very frustrating when one of my children is just not interested in doing or learning something which I like or think is important.
I have been having an ongoing and very polite, battle of wills with my eldest over the issue of typing. He hates to type and finds it very slow. He writes prolifically by hand and I spend quite a bit of time typing things up for him. As his ambition is to be an author and he is many pages into his first book, I am unwilling to commit to this arrangement long-term. I want him to learn to type. I assure him that, with time, it will come as quickly and easily as hand-writing. We have tried three different touch-typing programmes. He has patiently endured them, for he has a law-abiding nature, but he finds them 'boring'.
It was his idea to begin to type out the hand-written first draft of his novel. Sentence by sentence it is gradually growing. He is willing to do ten minutes each day and I know that this kind of regular practice will bear fruit. He is pleased with how it looks and I am glad that we found a new lens for looking at typing,

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

City of London

We had a trip up to London yesterday. Not just the general London area, the kind of place I think of as London but is actually Westminster (like the National Gallery) or South Kensington (like the Museums) but the true City of London, full of expensive boutiques, wine bars and men in smart ties! We were on our way to the Barbican Centre to hear a schools' concert by the London Symphony Orchestra. I have always felt the Barbican to be particularly difficult to reach from our side of London and, after much map pondering, I chose to take the Tube and get off at Mansion House. This was a forty minute journey in itself and the children were overwarm, frazzled and train-sick by the time we surfaced again. However, it was such a treat to walk through these streets of such stunning architecture, ancient and modern. It was my middle son who spotted St Paul's Cathedral peeping at us along a side street: There were plenty more examples of the old and new rubbing shoulders. I lost count of the times we stopped to admire a building.
Thanks to the excellent directions which I had downloaded from their web-site, we found the Barbican with no trouble. After not too long we were instructed to follow the yellow line on the pavement - even I can manage that without getting lost!

We crossed the high walk-way over the water gardens. If you look closely, there is a heron sitting on the wall in the centre of the picture (just to the right of and below the wooden 'house'). I declared it a fake due to its unusual brightness in the sun, but it proved me wrong by flying a short distance to perch somewhere new.
The concert was great and Bartok's Hungarian Dance and Grieg's Morning from Peer Gynt were agreed on as our favourites and it is always a fascinating experience to see a full orchestra including even a double basson, bass clarinet and celeste.

Tired children needed a sit-down on the way back and we purchased a punnet of strawberries and ate them straight from the packet in a little square outside the church were John Milton was baptised.
I thought this guy might be Milton but he is actually Captain John Smith.

A Cordwainer is a shoemaker, as distinct from a cobbler who repairs shoes. Jimmy Choo trained at the Cordwainer's Technical College in London.
I guess that explains John Smith's fancy boots - no wonder Pocahontas was bowled over!

Monday, 1 June 2009


My mother had an operation on her knee on Thursday and I picked her up from hospital and spent a couple of days helping her settle back in at home. My step-father, who is quite a bit older than my mum, had a nasty fall just before Easter which resulted in a hip replacement, so they are not the nimblest pair at the moment. There was an issue with figuring out whose hospital-issued sticks were whose, but we solved this with a pretty bow tied on mum's!I was able to make myself useful by planting some sweet-peas in a tub,
and I did manage to get them both to Bexhill sea-front for an ice-cream.

Get well soon!