Becoming an Educational Psychologist: Part Two ~ making excuses?

I always believed my inability to take an unwavering position on something was a weakness of my character, something to be a little ashamed of. My compulsion to always see a situation from multiple viewpoints made me insubstantial and ineffective. My need to find ‘excuses’ for a child’s behaviour meant I was deficient in some way as a teacher. That I was too soft. A lefty-liberal responsible for the ‘decline’ in standards both moral and educational in today’s youth. I admired people who, despite persuasive opposition, stuck to their position.

A fence sitter lacking in the conviction of my own thoughts. A FenceSitterchameleon switching sides in an argument. Why couldn’t I just decide on one thing and STOP making excuses!

Take the issue of inclusion; on the one side you have those who believe children with learning disabilities should attend special schools and units, on the other, those who believe all children should be educated together (the environment shaped to the particular needs of the child). While I am unashamedly of the belief that where at all possible children should be educated in the same setting, I can also understand why, in some cases, e.g. challenging behaviour or profound multiple learning needs, a child would be better served in a specialist setting.

Roll forward seven months and term two of my first year as a doctoral student in Child and Educational Psychology. At last, my way of thinking (or naïve idealism as one line manager patronisingly affectionately called it when I was a teacher) has been given not only credibility but a framework in which to develop further. Now I am actively encouraged (expected) to consider as many ‘excuses’ as possible, except ‘excuses’ are not called excuses but problem dimensions – which are developed through testing hypotheses uses various tools (e.g. classroom observation).

A child or young person’s behaviour (however bad) is likely to be a response (albeit maladaptive) to internal and external factors over which they feel they have little control.

Am I weak in character, insubstantial and ineffective, or am I the exact opposite?

When a child presents with behavioural issues and the school and parents are at the end of their tether, locked into an explanation that absolves responsibility and holds the child in a permanent state of dysfunction, my ability to use psychological theory to explore potential reasons for this behaviour, offers a way forward, a route map to a better future. While it may be ‘true’ the child has a diagnosis of autism, dyslexia, or ADHD etc. This ‘diagnosis’ is not the reason for their aggressive/self-harming/distressed/defiant behaviour, rather it is an explanation as to why they may find learning/peer friendships/social situations more difficult to negotiate than other children. The diagnosis which many teachers and parents cling to as if it were the answer is in fact a dead end (unchangeable and consequently disempowering). The role of the EP is not to label to the child, but to focus on the aspects of the situation that can be changed and to empower those around the child to make that change happen. For example a child with autism may have difficulty making friends, but it doesn’t mean they don’t want friends (all human beings desire/seek connections with others). However a child with autism may need explicit and concrete help to make friends and the people/systems around them may need help to provide and deliver the best interventions to close this gap.

Taking the child’s perspective. Seeing the world through their eyes is a skill that educational psychologists must possess in order to be effective practitioners and actually make a difference to the lives of children, young people and their families.

There is nothing quite like finding a career where how you think and what you value fits like a round peg in a round hole. It is like I have come home, and, as it turns out, there was nothing wrong with my thinking in the first place, only my career choice.

Are you in a career/ lifestyle that chimes with who you really are? Or do you have supress who you really are to fit in? Please share your experiences. I would love to hear from you.

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Becoming an Educational Psychologist: Part One

Becoming an Educational Psychologist is incredible and exhausting. No half term holiday for starters. But I am so glad I made the decision to leave teaching if only so I can stop saying:

I have a psychology degree but I am not a psychologist.

This time last year I had just completed the application form after digging out my ancient degree certificate, momentarily panicking that degrees have a shelf life and mine had expired. I’d toyed a few times with applying over the fourteen years I had been teaching, but talked myself out of it because we couldn’t afford to lose my wage. This time round the loss of my wage remained an issue , but at 43 it felt like a now or never moment. On top of that the odds of me actually getting a place first time around were extremely low.

I got a place. It was like winning the lottery, but without the money 🙂

So how are we managing without my wage? Well I do get a relatively substantial bursary (around 1/3 of my previous wage) and a student railcard, student bank account with free overdraft, 25% discount on Council Tax and student discount in Top Shop (although I would prefer M&S).  However to  make ends meet (particularly as our two children are at university and their maintenance loan doesn’t even cover their rent) a house move to something smaller is imminent. I am so lucky to have such a supportive husband, who encourages me all the way despite the pressure it has put on him to bring home the dosh.

I don’t think I will ever take for granted how privileged I am to be able to study full time and not have to juggle a job at the same time. The course is pretty full on with so many strands to get my head around like research methods and statistics, carrying out psychological assessments, placement competencies, RLO’s and SOP’s (don’t ask), as well as the academic stuff – theories, models, frameworks.

This half-term the focus has been on literacy and Wow! I have learnt so much?

WARNING! Nerdy stuff coming up.

Written English is one of the most difficult alphabetic scripts to learn? This makes it much harder for children to learn how to read and write than say for example children in Spain. This is because in Spanish the grapheme to phoneme correspondence is 1:1 – this means ONE letter makes ONE sound. In the English alphabet the ratio is 1 to many – this means the same letter (or letter combinations) can have many different sounds.

For example: “He took a bow.” “She wore a red bow in her hair.”

However, that doesn’t mean we should be trying to teach pre-schoolers to read , rather research has found that developing oral language significantly improves later reading comprehension.

In other words in the early years of a child’s life focusing on developing oral story telling skills is much more important for later reading comprehension than actually learning to read the words in a book.

It makes sense if you think about it.

Learning to decode letters and words on a page and understanding what punctuation marks mean is an example of transcription skills. Everyone needs them, but they alone don’t make someone or something literate. For example there are many computer programmes that can convert text to speech and read a novel, but the computer couldn’t produce a summary of the main plot points of the story (the emotional resonance). The research suggests the more words a child knows (vocabulary) before they begin to read the easier it will be for them to derive meaning from the story. And the more a child understands about story structure and how ideas link to each other the easier it will be for them to pick up what is happening in the book (the main plot points) and make predictions about what might happen next.

These comprehension skills are vital if children are going to move from learning to read, to reading to learn.

That doesn’t mean we can just let children get on with it in terms of ‘transcription’ skills. Learning to make sense of the written version of language is not innate. Alphabetic scripts (or orthographies) are relatively new in human evolution. While a child will pick up oral language without having to be directly taught it (as long as they are exposed to it), they will not spontaneously learn to read and write. For children to learn to read they must be taught the grapheme: phoneme correspondence (letter to sound), hence the evangelical focus on phonics by the government. The research certainly backs this up, but also recognises the English language is eccentric to say the least and many words are not regular and just need to be learnt (whole word recognition).

I know there is a lot of debate amongst teachers and parents about compulsory phonics with some claiming it is hindering progress, but the research does not support this view.

For a reading programme to be effective for the majority of children it must contain both phonetic and whole word recognition components.

Phonics is the tool for deciphering new words and while it can only take you so far in being able to decode unfamiliar words, good comprehension skills will aid in this by allowing the child to access the content and meaning of the sentence. Whereas as if a child has good transcription skills but poor comprehension, they will have to rely on decoding skills alone and this will become frustrating and they are likely to give up because the word won’t ‘sound out’ and make sense.

So my take on this is in terms of advice is that parents of pre-school children should focus on generating stories from pictures so the child can learn how to build a coherent narrative. This will increase their vocabulary as they search for words to express their ideas, which in turn will make comprehension of written English that bit easier once they start school.

And finally…. I now understand the reason for the made up words in phonics assessment (which also creates fierce debate from teachers and parents). It is to test if the child’s grapheme to phoneme knowledge is secure. This is vital for decoding new words. The problem is this assessment has become high stakes politically and therefore rather than schools using it as diagnostic, they are focusing on getting as many children through as possible. It should be viewed as a checkpoint so those children who are still struggling can be helped with specific interventions, not as a measure of how ‘good’ the school is.

If you got this far do you have any views on how literacy is taught in primary schools?

Agnus Castus: HELP! Where can I get it from?

I have a lot of women send me links to Agnus Castus products and ask if they are at the right dosage. It is very difficult for me to judge because they doesn’t seem to be a standard way of reporting this. Some labels talk about extracts and others talk about accubins, others whole herb.

My advice is always the same however.

1) Contact the company and ask them how their Agnus Castus compares to the 20mg standardised extract used in clinical trials. If they don’t bother to reply, then don’t bother to buy.

2) Be wary of wild claims about potency. You only need 20mg standardised extract (200mg approx whole fruit). PURECLINICA, for example, claims the most potent dose on the internet,  however I have emailed them three times asking them to explain their dosage simply and clearly in relation to the standardised extract. They have never replied.

3) Avoid products that have Traditional Herbal Registration THR logo as they will be restricted to 4mg per tablet. Boots and Holland & Barrett have, but be wary of any high street product. On the internet HealthSpan are also only selling 4mg tablets.

So where can you buy Agnus Castus from at a dose that will be effective? Unfortunately the choice is limited. Prime Health Agnus Castus

Prime Health Direct sell 20mg tablets for £11.95 (180 tablets). I have taken these for a number of years and found them to be effective. They are competitively priced, but often they run out of stock, so can be unreliable.

ACsupportNatural Health Practice sell a food supplement of the whole herb (in capsule) 200mg called Agnus Castus Support. I have been taking these for just over 2 months and found them to be equally effective. They cost £19.97 (60 capsules). They are more expensive than Prime Health Direct, but they do contain black cohosh, skull cap and milk thistle. I also like the packaging and how you can actually smell the herb in the capsule – but in terms of effect I haven’t noticed a major difference between them and Prime Health Direct, although my last two cycles have been longer, 28 days rather than 24 – (but then I have also had some major changes in my life recently, which may also be the reason).

A. Vogel Tincture: I haven’t tried this, but others report success. The dosage does seems to be lower –A vogel

20 drops of A.Vogel Agnus castus tincture contains 54.2mg of dried fruit, or 542mg of extract (which is the fruit once it’s been macerated in a water/alcohol mix and extracted). So if you take a daily dose of 40 drops you get 108mg of dried fruit or 1,084mg of extract.

– but it is certainly an alternative to tablets/ capsules. The product has a lot of positive reviews.

All three companies I have linked to above spent time answering my questions and were more than happy to talk about their product and what the dosage actually means.

On women: Why should I care what a Power Morcellator is?

‘Power Morcellator’ until very recently was not a phrase I had ever uttered, but it seems women should be talking about this very thing.

In brief, a power morcellator is used in key-hole surgery to break fibroids into tiny pieces in gynaecological operations, making it easier to remove them and avoiding open surgery with its attendant risks such as infection and long recovery times.

However, there has been some worrying evidence emerging from the US that in women where the uterine fibroid turns out to be cancerous (about 1 in 350), their long term prognosis is severely reduced.

“Earlier this year, the United States Federal Drug Agency (FDA) expressed concern about women undergoing laparoscopic power morcellation for the treatment of uterine fibroids and the risk of inadvertent spread of unsuspected cancer (sarcoma) to the abdominal and pelvic cavities, and issued guidance on its use.” BRIEFING September 2014 – Sarcoma UK

ARC_MorcellationDiagram

The current explanation to account for this is tiny pieces of fibroid tissue are inevitably left behind in the pelvic cavity, which in the case of a malignancy aids the cancer in spreading throughout the abdomen. A way to reduce this risk (from my reading) is to use a bag to collect the tissue (so all the morcellated tissue is contained and removed), but this is not happening routinely at the moment, although the reason for this is unclear – may relate to cost as it makes procedure longer, or the fact that surgeons are not aware of this safety modification.

Clearly there are benefits to this method and I have not looked at data on mortality rates for alternative and possibly more invasive or complex surgical methods. This article from the Wall Street Journal gives the background to the campaign (started by a doctor whose wife developed stage 4 cancer after morcellation) and presents a relatively balanced view on this technique.

“Hooman Noorchashm isn’t a gynecologist, but his battle against a common—and potentially dangerous—hysterectomy procedure has triggered a heated debate and yielded changes in how it is done.”

Although there doesn’t seem to be any current cases in the UK, Sarcoma UK has published some guidelines to women about what to ask your surgeon and what to do if this method was used on you and you are now worried. NICE is apparently publishing guidelines on the use of power morcellators in fibroid surgery in October 2014. But until they do, I think it is important that women are made aware of this issue so they can make informed choices and be able to ask for an alternative surgical method if they are concerned.

If you want to know more about this issue click here for the American Recall Centre, but bear in mind the website is sponsored by WEITZ & LUXENBERG P.C., a law firm focusing on providing legal services to clients injured by negligent corporations and/or entities.

Are you about to have surgery for fibroids? Do you know what method is being used? Have the risks been fully explained to you?

On Writing: Blog Hop

A writer who I admire for many reasons such as the way she brings her characters to life with so few words, gets to the raw truth of an experience and most importantly gets her novels out there (rather than stalling an moaning like me), invited me to take part in a blog hop.  Thank you Katie O’Rourke.

The simple principle for this blog hop is to answer a question about what I am writing and why and to link to two other writers blogs whom I rate.

Why are you working on the project you are writing now? Why is it important? (to you, or to the world, or…)

This is a painful question to answer as I am still working on a novel I started seven years ago and can’t seem to move on from. I think I know why it is important to me, although knowing doesn’t necessarily help.

1) It is based on my sister’s experience and she asked me to tell her story before she died (no pressure then).

2) I have had a number of agents interested (based on the partial MS) only to turn it down once they had read the full MS. This make me believe it has something, if only I could tell it right.

Whether it is important to anyone else (the world) I am hoping to find out by publishing it in serial chapters on this blog (see tab in top right hand corner – Forever In-between). If nothing else I will at least have got it out there to succeed or fail (subjective terms I know) and I can move forward.

Now onto the nice bit, giving a shout out to other writers who have been there for me (despite my pathetic track record of actually getting anything completed).

First off I would like to introduce Anne Goodwin and her blog Annecdotal which in her own words

is the persona through whom I navigate that in-between space both here and in the comments boxes on other blogs, with mutterings about reading and writing peppered with snippets of psychology and a quiet rage at social injustice and stolen childhoods.

I first read Anne’s writing on Your Write On and was blown away by her ability. I am honoured she counts me as one of her writing friends.

Secondly is a writer I met through the peer review site, Authonomy. Juli Townsend and I were part of the Women’s Fiction Critique group, but Juli, unlike me, has gone on to get her novel, Absent Children, published and I admire her tenacity and self-belief and wish it would rub off on me.

I know I am only supposed to nominate two writers, but there is one more shout out I must do. Stephen Gallup has written an incredible memoir about his son with a developmental disorder and the fight he and his wife faced to get him help.

Nobody knew what hurt little Joseph, and no one was offering a way to help him. He cried most of the time, and thrashed about as if in pain. He wasn’t learning how to crawl, talk, or interact normally. Doctors told his parents to seek counseling, because nothing could help their son, and the quality of their own lives was at risk. Refusal to accept that advice changed their lives forever. WHAT ABOUT THE BOY? A Father’s Pledge to His Disabled Son chronicles a family’s rejection of hopelessness and their commitment to the pursuit of normalcy.

AGNUS CASTUS: AGNUS CASTUS SUPPORT – WHEN THINGS ARE TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE… PART 2

When things are too good to be true it doesn’t always mean they are not!

After posting yesterday, I had a call from Donna at NHP. She is happy to endorse Agnus Support and stand by the ingredients list for this food supplement. In fact she is so confident it is what it says it is, she is sending me the product to try.

I am scared about switching products (my period pains were very, very bad) but I am also conscious that I have only so far found one place that I can recommend – and that scares me just as much. What if they stop supplying it? Go out of business?

So for the sake of all the fantastic women out there who support this blog and give me the encouragement to keep going, I am going to give it go as soon as it arrives.

In fairness, I will give it at least three months before recommending it to others – but am I cautiously optimistic I have found a supplier who actually believes their products work and refuse to compromise for the sake of profit.

A thumbs up to NHP for communicating with me so fully and frankly.

Agnus Castus: Agnus Castus Support – when things are too good to be true…

A friend sent me a link to this product (Agnus Castus Support) after listening to a lecture by Dr Marilyn Glenville recently.

This Agnus Castus supplement contains the most important and highest quality organic herbs which have enjoyed widespread popularity among women for centuries.

60 vegetarian capsules.

Ingredient list:

1 capsule per day provides the following amounts

Agnus castus 206mg
Black cohosh 147mg
Skull cap 88mg
Milk thistle 59mg

 

From the ingredient list I was unable to establish if the 206mg of AC was whole herb or extract – you need around 20mg standardised extract, which is equivalent to  (approximately) 200mg whole herb for it to be effective – therefore I emailed Dr Glenville.

Dear Dr Glenville,

A friend of mine sent me a link to your Agnus Castus product as she knows I am passionate about recommending this herb for PMT and blog about it regularly. However, since the EU legislation, getting the right dosage of Agnus Castus has become very difficult as THR (which most companies have applied for) restricts the amount to 4mg (standardised extract 10:1). I am therefore interested to know how the amount of AC used in your product compares to the standardised extract. From my understanding 20mg is equivalent to approx 200mg whole herb. 20mg has been found in research trials to be the lowest dose that is effective. A lot of women visit my blog looking for advice about where to get AC from and so far I have only found one supplier still producing 20mg tablets. It would be great if I recommend another supplier.

I look forward to your reply,

Two days later I received a reply that seems to suggest this product does contain the right dosage of Agnus Castus.

 

Thank you for your email.

I have always found that combinations of herbs are extremely helpful because of the synergistic effect between the herbs.  NHP’s Agnus Castus Support is not my product but it contains whole herbs and not extracts so the mgs on the label are those for the whole herb. And the herbs are organic where possible.

In the clinic, I always prefer capsules rather than tablets as tablets will have binders added to the ingredients and even with capsules for herbs or vitamins and minerals I want those that do not contain excipients such as anti-caking agents and lubricants like magnesium stearate.

I hope this is helpful.

Kind regards

Marilyn

However, the email also said that the product is not one of Dr Glenville’s, but is made and sold by this company NHP. I went over to the NHP site and found the product, but I couldn’t confirm if the ingredients quoted on Dr Glenville’s site were what was in the tablets.  Luckily they had a Live chat box – so I asked the question there.

NHP: Hello, thank you for visiting. Can I help you in any way?

Me: can you tell me the mg of each herb in this supplement please

NHP: Hi there

Me: Hi, can you tell me the mg for each herb in this supplement

NHP: if you click on the ingredients list under the image it will tell you

Me: I can’t see an ingredients list. it doesn’t have one.other products do, but not this one

are you still there NHP?

NHP: my apologies, bear with me and I will find them for you

Me: thank you

Based on my previous experience, I couldn’t help but be suspicious. Neither Boots or Holland & Barrett informed either their sales staff or customers that the dosage of Agnus Castus had been reduced from 20mg to 4mg. However, NHP came back with the same list of ingredients as on Dr Glenville’s site (and I had already confirmed the Agnus Castus component was whole herb and therefore at the right dosage).  It was looking good, but I still wanted to confirm beyond doubt the ingredients as stated were the ones on the bottle, so I asked this question.

Me: One final question. The ingredient list you quoted did you get that from the actual bottle? I am concerned you are quoting the pre 2011 ones and the mg have been reduced as a result of legislation.

NHP: The ingredients I gave you are correct. i have passed this onto our in house nutritionist and have asked her to come back to you tomorrow. The office is now closed, I will ask the nutritionist to email you tomorrow with regards to your query

Me: Then it sounds like a really promising product. I have around 6000 hits a month on my blog for women looking for a product with the correct dosage. It would be great if I could recommend this product as so far I have only found one supplier who still sells the higher dosage.

NHP: no problem, lets speak tomorrow

Me: Great, I look forward to it. I will be posting our conversation on my blog so other women can see what your product contains.

So far my suspicions had appeared unfounded. I was getting excited. Here at last was another product, which contained levels of herbs that actually worked. However, I wondered how they were able to do this since the EU legislation. Unfortunately the person on the other end was not able to give this information and admitted they didn’t know they THR from their PL.

Me: the reason I ask is since EU legislation in 2011 I was under the impression that Agnus Castus was restricted to no more than 4mg (52mg whole herb) under THR. Does this product have a product license instead?

If not how are you able to sell it? Is it old stock? I and many women are desperate to get supplements at the right dosage and forgive my questions but I have yet to find a UK supplier who is able to do this as they have all opted for THR not PL>

NHP: all of our products have been approved by the HMRA

we did have to withdrawer our Black Cohosh Support for a while but we have now reformulated it. We have not been asked to withdraw our Agnus Castus

Me: I am sure they are. I am not questioning your integrity, rather than am keen to know if I can recommend your supplement on my blog. I need to be sure the agnus castus component is correct. Does this product have THR or PL?

NHP: no problem, maybe if you contact me directly I can give you some more info (email address removed on NHP’s request)

I am not familiar with THR or PL, I can ask somebody to come back to you if you email me directly with your enquiry.

Fair enough. I wouldn’t expect sales staff to know the ins and outs of EU legislative policy, but then they said this …

NHP: I would rather you did not post our conversation on your blog, please wait to hear back from the nutritionist

Me: Now I am wondering why not, if the ingredients you stated are the ones listed on the product. I am not trying to catch you out, rather i am trying to share information with women on where they can get this product from at the dosage recommended in research trials

NHP: we regard any conversations we have on Chat Box as confidential due to the highly personal issues people discuss with us on here.

Me: I won’t use your name then, or show your email. That should cover confidentiality. Me, I am not concerned, I have blogged about my ongoing battles to get Agnus castus and other herbs properly recognised ever since 2011.

SILENCE

Me: Thanks for the chat. I look forward to hearing from the nutritionist tomorrow. Can also ask that you reinstate the ingredient list under the product so it is clear how much of each herb the product contains. If it is less than quoted this does need to be made clear as research trials have shown for agnus castus that below 200mg whole herb it is not effective and I don’t want women buying something that doesn’t work.

SILENCE

Me: Have you gone?

Make of it what you will. However, I would be cautious about buying this product until the ingredients can be confirmed. I am also wondering why they did not want me to share this information on my blog, surely as a profit making company they would want to shout about this product. I am also interested to learn why they have not listed the ingredients under this product, as they do for their other products.

 

So let’s see what tomorrow brings… ever hopeful…

If anyone has tried or plans to try this product, I would love to know whether it helped with symptoms.

 

 

 

On women: Farting Feminists

It was 1983. I was thirteen and on a school trip to the theatre to watch the unfortunately titled play ‘When the wind blows’. It was about the aftermath of a nuclear war. The first half of the play sees an elderly couple trying to prepare for what cannot be prepared for; building a nuclear shelter out of an upturned kitchen table and a couple of blankets. The tension builds. The stage is plunged into absolute darkness. There is a breath holding silence.

PHWWAAARRP!

A giggle rippled out like shockwaves. Exaggerated gagging ensued. Immediately I felt the weight of what I had done as acutely as if I had pressed the big red button.  I wanted to cry, melt, die, disappear.  My name reverberated around the theatre like aftershocks. I would never get a boyfriend now. My life may as well be over. I held back scolding tears and fervently hoped a real bomb would explode right there and then. Gorbachev did not oblige me. The play ended. The lights came up. The coach journey was what I imagined hell to be like. The teasing continued for months. I left school and buried the terrible memory, but the shame of it never left me.

Roll forward thirty years. Accidently letting one go in front of my husband and daughter, I laughed it off and said if our son were here, I would’ve blamed their dad. My daughter was astounded by her ‘feminist’ mother, who is forever pointing out examples of the patriarchy ad nauseam, pretending she doesn’t fart in order to uphold an unrealistic vision of femininity.

It was only then, chastened by my feisty, independent daughter my thirty year shame turned to rightful anger. If I had been a boy, I would have got a pat on the back for my apposite release. For dropping the F bomb. I would have been a legend. Instead I was made to feel as if, in one unguarded moment of flatulence, I had sullied the reputation of mothers, grandmothers, girlfriends and sisters everywhere.

So I know I am stating the obvious, but I feel like I need to remind women that farting is natural, the sign of a healthy gut. Everyone farts. Even the Queen.

I fart.

You fart.

We fart.

If a boy finishes with you because you let one go on the first date, you’ve had a lucky escape.

Of course, we should all try not to fart in confined spaces like lifts and trains, but to be honest there is little we can really do about it if it happens.

Nothing illustrates the patriarchy more clearly than our need to categorise natural human behaviours as either male or female. Women don’t fart. Men don’t cry.

For me the acrid test of sexual equality will be when women can fart without shame.  Fart with pride, with their heads held high and, if they feel so inclined, even light the odd one or two.

And thirty years later, I can finally laugh at my brilliantly timed fart 😉

Legend, I am!

 

On teaching: Why I am quitting after fourteen years

Dear Mr Gove,

Like many other highly qualified and experienced teachers, I am quitting the profession. I can no longer work in a system which pretends to be inclusive while widening the gap between rich and poor; places no value on the arts subjects; treats its teachers like naughty children who need constant monitoring; makes changes to courses, content and assessments with little regard to evidence; and reduces children to target grades. Although I am leaving to pursue a career in Educational Psychology, the timing of my leaving is no coincidence.

I really don’t get what you are doing? I don’t understand why you believe breaking up the collective strength of Local Authorities and encouraging schools to open in unsuitable buildings with unqualified staff is the right way forward? I don’t understand why certain subjects are being elevated above others? Schools are not training camps for the Corporations. Are they?

Schools should be where minds are opened and critical questions formed. Where literature, art, dance and film are celebrated and our future actors, writers, directors and choreographers are nurtured. That’s what I signed up for. To share my passion for my subject and foster a curiosity and desire to learn that extends well beyond the school years. Teaching is so much more than just knowing your stuff. I have spent fourteen years developing expertise in how we learn.  I am at my peak in terms of experience and mastery, but I must redirect this expertise into a new career in order to regain my autonomy.

The reality is I am impotent in the face of damaging policies that are leaving students stressed and disillusioned. I am sick of having to positively spin changes to assessments and courses to keep the students motivated. I am sickened by the media frenzy every August that grows ever more hateful, fuelled by a government that accuses teachers of cheating and manipulating results and belittles the hard work of our students. I am sick of the constant monitoring and grading of lessons that has crept into every school. I am sick of ever moving goalposts, attacks on my professionalism (and the impact that has on my relationship with parents and students). I am sick of the vitriol.

I never thought I would want to leave teaching. The very first day I entered the classroom I knew I had found my calling, my place, my home. I have loved being a teacher. I am teacher; it runs through my core like a stick of rock.  But I can no longer be a teacher.

My profession, full of dedicated people who go the extra mile, is being trashed on a daily basis. Each morning I hear another news story in which teachers are exam cheats, lazy, militant, uncaring, in it for the holidays, the pay, the pension, unfit to do anything else, whinging tax burdens. The school I was once loved to arrive at each morning has changed. Learning walks, monitoring visits, work sampling, quality assurance observations, performance management observations and mocksted’s are stifling creativity, experimentation and fun.

The constant changes to how we teach and what we teach, to appease a baby boomer electorate (with rose-tinted glasses of a 1950’s idyll that never existed), heap on more and more pressure. The progressive attitudes such as modular exams, which level the playing field and give students a chance to build their knowledge and skills incrementally, as is the case in the real world, are gone. Despite the media hype, more and more young people are leaving school with qualifications and permanent exclusion is at an all-time low. Compare that to the ‘golden era’ of 1950’s education, which you seem so fond of invoking,

[when] the school system did not do particularly well by the great majority of those born in 1958, leaving them with few qualifications and putting them at a considerable disadvantage in earning power.

Unlike your empty rhetoric, the The National Child Development Study, from the Centre for Longitudinal Studies, which has been following 17,000 people since 1958 provides conclusive evidence that the grammar system was divisive, labelling many (usually working class) children as uneducable.

Only 12% of them moved on from primary schools, via the 11-plus, to a grammar school. Most of the rest attended schools that lacked pupils in the top end of the ability range. A similarly small proportion went on to university. By the age of 33, just 14% of men and 11% of women in this cohort had achieved a degree.

Academies and Free schools are the grammar schools of today, able to apply their own selection criteria, leaving Local Authorities impotent to challenge them. Well done, Mr Gove, for returning the UK to a two tier education system, which only serves the elite. Bravo!

nearly two-thirds of those born in 1958 left school as soon as they could at age 16. By the time they were 33, around 15% still had no educational qualifications and a further 10% were only qualified to a level below O-Levels. A further one-third had O-Levels but no qualifications higher than that.

Today, by contrast, the great majority of young people stay on in education to 18. Some 40% go on to university.

This may come as a surprise to you, but I wasn’t in it for the pay. I wasn’t in it for the holidays, or the pension or because I am lazy. I wasn’t in teaching because I was unable to do anything else. On the contrary I chose to be a teacher. And now I choose not to be a teacher.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying the education system in the UK doesn’t need improving. We need to invest in high quality teacher training that ensures the profession uses evidence based techniques in pedagogy and doesn’t assume that children – complex, intricate individuals – can be taught with the one dominant method; however compelling it is to present a simple solution to the electorate. We need to invest in science and technology, but not lose sight of the need for a civilised society to contain more than just engineers and mathematicians. We need to respect and trust our teachers, nurture their talents and listen to them. They are the experts not the enemy.

So, I say to you Mr Gove, stop painting us as incapable, inadequate and selfish when we challenge you. Please. Before you lose even more of us. Change and progress can come about with the support of teachers not in spite of them. We are a pretty well educated bunch. We can see what is wrong and what the solutions need to be. Engage with us, don’t alienate us and please stop dragging education backwards into a ‘golden age’ that never existed.

The 1958 generation also had poor basic skills. When they were aged 37, a sample was tested for basic numeracy and literacy: almost half had ‘very poor’ numeracy skills and 6% had difficulty with reading.Those with poor numeracy and literacy were, not surprisingly, much more likely to be unemployed.

So, as we contemplate the almost daily bad news about class sizes, school drop-outs, and the poor basic skills of school-leavers, we should perhaps pause to remember that – while there is certainly still plenty of room for improvement – the answer does not seem to lie in a nostalgic return to a past system which served the few very well and the majority poorly.

And watch out Mr Gove, I may be leaving teaching, but I am not leaving education. Once I have my Doctorate I will make it my mission to support the profession that has given me so much joy and satisfaction. I will fight every policy that is based on nostalgia and flim-flam. I will insist that teachers are trained to teach before they are let anywhere near a classroom.

Long after you’ve moved onto to whatever will promote your political interests further I will still be working to improve the life chances of all children.

 

 

 

Agnus Castus: Tincture – another option?

I recently received an email from Alison Cullen a Nutritional Therapist who works for A.Vogel. She recommends the tincture as an effective way to achieve relief from PMT. I have often thought about trying tincture, but find the dosage (drops) unfathomable when compared to the standardised extract used in trials.

Alison has helpfully provided an explanation, which actually makes sense:

20 drops of A.Vogel Agnus castus tincture contains 54.2mg of dried fruit, or 542mg of extract (which is the fruit once it’s been macerated in a water/alcohol mix and extracted). So if you take a daily dose of 40 drops you get 108mg of dried fruit or 1,084mg of extract.

We make our own tinctures, so we can answer any queries as to the process, should they arise.

On the packaging of the licensed product (which hasn’t come out yet – licence came through last week), the SPC of which I attach, the strength is given as 895mg of extract in 33 drops, which is just a ratio of the figure for 20 or 40 drops. The MHRA make us put it this way because they require the strength to be equivalent to the amount in 1ml, and for our Agnus castus tincture this is 33 drops.

Now from my research, based on trials, 20mg or 200mg dried fruit is the dose that has found to be most effective, however, I also accept that the tincture may work differently from tablets (possibly absorbed more easily?) The reviews from the A.Vogel site do seem to endorse Alison’s claim that this dosage is effective, even though it is around 40% lower than the recommended.

More importantly, for the practitioners who use this product, myself included, and the women who take them, this is the dose that we find to work! I started using the A.Vogel range because of the tincture format, which is very easily absorbed, and now work with the company partly because I like their products so much and appreciate their methods and principles, but mostly because they work. The range was made by a practitioner, Alfred Vogel, so it is pretty practical.

I have always been uncomfortable with the fact that I can only recommend one supplier. So with the dosage explained the tincture is a viable alternative and may suit some women better. However, price-wise, the tincture is £9.15 for around one month of herb, whereas Prime Health tablets are £11.75 for six months.

I am not endorsing either product and I receive no perks or payment from either company, but I do want women who visit this blog to have options. So now we have at least two choices of where to buy and I am still planning on growing my own (once a house move is sorted).

Anyone else found a supply of Agnus Castus in the UK that works for them?

Do share and do please keep telling other women, doctors, consultants and anyone that will listen about Agnus Castus. As Alison points out the new restrictions imposed by legislation are already making some herbs unavailable and with it the knowledge of them.

I was reading about the difficulty of finding a suitable Agnus castus product on your blog, and your position is very much reflected by women who are contacting us currently, searching for a product they can take with some degree of confidence.

The problem has occurred previously with Black Cohosh, no worthwhile dose of which now exists on the market, sad to say.

The news for Agnus castus is slightly better, because it is part of the A.Vogel range and we have managed to avoid losing it (as we did Black Cohosh) and even get a licence, without having to compromise on the dose. We have the same dose on our (very newly) licensed product as we had previous to the licence, which is a relief, as it is a dose that I have found to work very well in my clinic.

How can it be progress when future generations of women will have no knowledge that the answer to their health lies in their hands and the natural world around them. That is why I am also urging Dr Nick Panay, Consultant Gynaecologist, to get a trial up and running on AC so that it can become a prescribable treatment for PMT. See this post and if you feel so compelled drop Dr Nick an email or letter in support of his attempts to obtain funding for a trial.

If we can get one herb on the recommended list for GP’s then it could open the floodgates for others. When I visit my doctor I want to be recommended the best treatment for me (be that a herb or a lab produced drug), rather than the best drug (in terms of profit) for the Pharmaceutical industry.

Help me. I can’t do this alone 🙂

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