On family: She’s coming home!!!!

It’s been three hundred and sixty days since she left. Now there are only two to go and I can barely concentrate on anything, unless it is related to her.

Her bedroom has been completely gutted, cleaned and put back together. The vast shopping list is written, containing all the foods she has missed, like blueberries and strawberries, cheese and chocolate spread. Car cleaned inside and out (more so she can see the standard she must maintain). Insurance restarted (although she owes me) and the rest of the house is in the process of a thorough spring clean and sort out. It feels like I am in the final weeks of pregnancy. This need to nest is all consuming.

A year away from home is a long time.  At the beginning, I wasn’t sure how I would get through it. I measured my progress by events that I had reached.

The start of school in September.

A weekend away with the girls in October.

My husband’s birthday in November.

Christmas in Blackpool (where I got horrendously drunk).

Reaching the halfway point in February,

and then the countdown to our visit in March, which left us with mixed emotions – utter joy at seeing her well and happy, but heartbreak at leaving her behind.

The final four months have been the longest, and the nearer her return gets the slower the time seems to move and the more I worry something will go wrong…

Bus crashes, flight hi-jacks, dengue fever, kidnapping at gunpoint – you name it, I’ve obsessed about it.

Before she left, she said to me as only an eighteen year old can:

Mumma, I want you to know, if I die when I am out there, I will have been happy and fulfilled.

Just don’t die on me, please, OK? I said, and have done at every opportunity since.

I know she will be apprehensive about coming home (as well as excited). She has changed and so have the rest of us. A year is an especially long time when you are eighteen. There will be a period of adjustment. I am sure it will be stormy at times. She left home a child and is returning an adult.

But right now all I care about is that she gets here.

So for one more time, my darling daughter, please, please don’t die on me. OK?

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On education: Free Schools are anything but free!

michael-gove-cartoon1I really don’t get Free Schools – the concept I mean – which is to set up a school in a building that wasn’t built as a school. It is the exact opposite of the Building Schools for the Future concept the previous government introduced, where current schools would be rebuilt to make them fit for purpose in the 21st century. Out of the two ideas, the former will improve education of the few, while the latter would improve education for all.

Current schools (like mine) are in desperate need of refurbishment. We need a new boiler, new windows, new science labs and roof repairs. We need an IT infrastructure fit for the technological revolution that has taken place; Wi Fi, class sets of tablets, many more PC’s and an upgrade of existing machines (some are getting on for 8 years old).

Instead, we are told there is no money for capital investment in the building. No money for IT upgrades. We will have to make do with what we have. There is a deficit. The country is on its knees. Stop whinging, you overpaid, underworked, useless teachers and stop blaming social inequality for the difference in performance of your pupils and accept it is your fault. If only you were a better teacher, then all the problems caused by poverty would go away.

How come then, the Education Funding Agency is able to give over half a million pounds to a new Free School just a mile up the road. A Free School that my current school is opening, mainly in an attempt to survive the savage cuts to 16-18 funding and secure our 6th form provision, rather than through some dire need in the community for places, or educational ideology.

I will be slapped around the face with the real cost of education every day from September as I move between these two schools to teach. In one I will have everything I could possibly need to encourage my students to work independently and collaboratively (Wi Fi, tablets, enough PC’s to go round, heating that works and a roof that keeps out the rain). In the other I will face the same frustrations I am suffering now; having to print out resources from the internet because there aren’t enough computers and the ones we do have, have been booked out for weeks in advance – stopping the class on mass to show them an interactive resource, if the internet doesn’t drop out that is, rather than letting them access resources at their own learning pace (as I should be doing, as Wilshaw insists I should be doing). Drafty, damp classrooms, with poor lighting and a heater so noisy, it has to be switched off so they can hear me.

Despite the fact we are in effect one school operating on two sites, sharing the students and staff, not one penny of the money we have available for the Free School can be spent on our current school. Not a single penny.

How can that be right? How can that improve the educational experience for the majority in our catchment area?

It can’t and it doesn’t. The government isn’t pushing its Free School agenda because it cares about all children. It is pushing the agenda because it wants to score points against the opposition – and appeal to middle class voters, who want private education on the state.

It makes me sick. Opening a Free School does not tackle the issues in current schools, rather it diverts funds away from them and condemns the majority of children (who are likely to be from the poorer sections of society) to a worsening fate as their school literally falls down around them.

“… it’s not just the huge waste of resources that should concern us. Worse, perhaps, is the fact that free schools will not raise standards overall – indeed, they are likely to damage the prospects of the country’s poorest pupils. Gove claimed that free schools would narrow the attainment gap between the richest and poorest children. However, existing free schools admit fewer poor children than the national average, with figures showing that only 9.4% of their pupils are on free school meals – a key indicator of poverty – compared with a national average of 16.7%.”  Source: The Guardian

I will be living this hypocrisy every day from September. Every day I will see the impact of this elitist approach. It will be my reality.

But if I complain, who will listen to me after the hatchet job Gove and Wilshaw have done on teachers’ reputations. I am not respected or valued anymore.  My twelve years in the classroom count for nothing. My voice has been silenced along with any ounce of common sense in educational policy.

Free Schools are like playground bullies, taking away lunch money from those less able to stand up for themselves. When will this madness stop?