Why State Schools Work (aka Why Gove is Wrong)

Why do I feel the need to publicly defend the state school system? Why? This article http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-26015535

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Mr Gove (excuse the twitching as his name is used) thinks we should change our state schools to be more like independent schools. Well, I guess they perform better and he must have experience in teaching in both sectors to have formed such an opinion…. Oh. Hold on, he’s not taught in either? The Minister for Education hasn’t actually taught a single lesson? Yes, this is true – there’s actually a petition in action to get him to try out teaching! (There really is, it’s here: https://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/michael-gove-to-teach-for-a-term)

So why do I feel qualified to publicly say that Mr Gove’s daily spoutings are the rantings of the politically insane? Well, because I have more teaching experience in both sectors than the UK ‘s Minister for education. (That in itself is just plain wrong)

So, I’m going to look at some of his latest ideas:

– open schools from 8am – 6pm
Let’s put the staffing issues aside here. I’ve seen first hand the effect that an 8am – 6pm day has on a child. Young teenagers end the term in tears from sheer exhaustion. Fights break out (yes, that’s in a ‘posh independent school’) because boys are tired and in close proximity to each other. Quality of work diminishes significantly because the mental health of the child is precarious to say the least.

Thankfully, in independent schools, these exhausted teens are only expected to handle this for 5-6 weeks at a time with significant holidays in between – the summer being on average 9 weeks.

Except Gove is suggesting reducing the holidays to 6 weeks in total. It doesn’t take a genius to weigh up the impact this will have on the children involved.

– teach more like an independent school
I am a firm supporter of our state system. Why? We are producing an increasing number of stable, resilient young people who know how to learn for themselves (not just remember facts) and who move on to university with an understanding of their responsibility for their own learning. This does not happen in every case, and there are still examples of a real need for resilience. However, state schools are far less prone to spoon feeding a curriculum in order to get the ‘right’ exam results. Four A*s at A Level may look impressive, but when consideration is made that independent schools will ensure those results through one to one lessons, coaching and coursework help, they no longer seem so impressive. Even less so when university progression is looked at – whilst acceptance to university may be high, the drop out rate is significantly higher for those who were hand held through exams at school.

There is another significant reason why independent schools achieve such high results – common entrance exams cream the top performers. Is this Gove’s suggestion? Should schools become selective? Should we just give up on the less academically inclined? Or should we provide education for ALL?

I am far prouder of my state school cohort who achieve Bs and Cs and I some cases very hard fought for Ds through their own hard work and determination whilst I facilitate their learning. There is nothing like seeing a student receive their exam results knowing that this is a result of that child’s hard work. That is the kind of learning that stays with you. That is lifelong understanding of how to learn.

Ok, now we can mention the teachers (not too much though)

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When will I prepare my lessons? I already work each evening and every weekend?
Am I to be driven purely by exam results and see these kids as numbers rather than amazing individuals? If so, tough, because these kids are awesome. They are not numbers.
Why am I so pro-state? I am a better teacher because of my state school. They support my teaching. They support me. I have had more CPD in a single term than in three years in the independent sector. I am encouraged to lead and my ideas are celebrated. My ability to teach is recognised as a craft which we spend time honing. I get sworn at an awful lot more and on occasions I become disheartened because of the verbal abuse from students, but I feel valued as a person because of the support from my colleagues.

What about parents?
Well, it doesn’t seem that they have been consulted at all. Of the parents I have spoken to, they are horrified at the prospect of longer days. Questions are asked : When will I see my children? How will they attend their clubs? What about quality of life / family time? What if I actually want to look after my children?

This is when I look at the argument from a different perspective. As a parent. I no longer fear for the education system as a whole, but for my own children. As a parent, I simply would not put my children through the trauma of long hours away from their family (currently, they have a wonderful set of grandparents who very much make up for us being out at work). I would not expose them to the stress levels placed on children who are put through many independent schools. This is not a reflection of all independent schools and like Mr Gove, I can only talk from my own experience of teaching in both sectors.

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With this said, should these reforms come in, in direct contrast to what the government hopes will happen, (that is mothers returning to work), as much as it would break my heart to do so, I will remove myself from my beloved profession and put that to good use through homeschooling my children.

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Slow cooking my life

So it turns out that cooking actual food requires preparation, care and someone willing to prevent the food from burning.  I lack all but the first of these, and frankly my preparation is a bit haphazard.

But with a family of four adults and two kids, food must and will be cooked.

This weekend witnessed what shall now be known as the Great Family Grocery Budget Debate. This went aling the lines of me & LSH being totally frustrated that despite the weekly shop having arrived two days earlier, we lacked the full ingredients for modt meals. Mum responded that we had to remain in budget, and I rather tactlessly duggested that she stopped buying a load of pre-packaged crap. (Actually, she took that remarkably well).

The decision was made that we would make a weeks menu and a list if any other groceries that we need for next week and create an online order product by product on our chosen supermarket.  It became a game and Sunday morning was spent playing Supermarket Wars. I can smugly say that I won. By a margin of £20. And swapped in tiny packets of packaged fresh veg for big 1kg bags of frozen. Bulk buying FTW!

We’ve also looked at our eating habits.

Cue Bean chilli.
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This consists of 5 cans of various beans, chopped tomatoes, spices, onions and a couple of fresh peppers. Stuck gun ho into the slow cooker and left to get on with it while we headed out for a few hours of skating. Enjoyed by most with a helping of rice. TinyPants declared it to be poison. I declared her to be eating it if she wanted pudding.

Tonight’s sliw cooker noms is named ‘WTF do I do with 5 sausages and some left over gammon??!’. Again, I’m working on the basis that LSH has been in London all day and not due back til 8. Meanwhile I have 20 mins in between arriving home and heading out to a Brownie thing with the girls.

Solution? Shove random stuff into a slow cooker on high and hope for the best.

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What have we here? Sausages, torn up gammon, tin of chopped tomatoes, bit of added water, carrots, onions, potatoes, paprika, coriander, 2 garlic cloves, a bit of beef gravy.

2.5 hours and it smells quite edible.

So there you have it. Slow cooking – perfect for those on a budget and who have the culinary ability and inclination of…. err…. someone with Dominoes on speed dial 😉

The Courage of Young People

Much has been made in the news today about the discovery of a body inside a well in London by a pair of gardeners. Interestingly, what has been glossed over is that the young man who discovered the body and raised the alam was just 17.

Look carefully at these young men.

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Picture source: http://bbc.co.uk/news

At first glance, you could put them down as a couple of young people, or ‘hoodies’ as the government so loves to call them. They look and dress like so many young people that are berated and demonised. In a group, you may not want to approach them.

But these two men, raised the alarm upon finding a body. By all accounts they have suffered some serious mental trauma from this experience. The last thing you expect when gardening is to find human remains. But. They may well have instigated the process of putting an entire family’s grief to rest. They may be the catalyst to ending many months, or even years of suffering. They did a good deed that will grow far greater that the initial act itself.

My point here is don’t judge all young people as terrifying hooded youths. These men (and after all, they are young working men) may not be in a uniform, but they have still acted heroicly. In the midst of a personal tragedy for one family, these men have shown on a national platform that young people are, just like the rest of us: mostly, law abiding, good people.

We should make more of young people who undertake positive acts. The more public these people are, the more likely they are to become role models. Who does the majority of media, school and parental attention go to? Is it the positive young role model?

BBC story here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-london-24979959

Gadget Girls @TheGadgetShow

I’ve been meaning to write something about taking the girls up to The Gadget Show Live in London all week, but it’s taken me a week to gather my thoughts (and photos).

As the blog name suggests, I am a paradox in technology terms. Whilst I delight in technology and all things geeky, I find urban life traumatic. If I can’t get to the middle of nowhere within a 10 minute drive, I’m uncomfortable. Maybe not so much of a paradox then. Its not the tech that freaks me out, it’s people!

With this in mind it’s not surprising that London holds very little charm for me with it’s millions of people, bus fumes and general grime. A city chick I am not.

Even less so after experiencing the underground with two small children. We queued like normal reasonable people, waiting for the correct train before moving towards the door. LSH and beanpole squeezed on and promptly dissapeared into the crowds somewhere along the train. I tried to follow with TinyPants. A 7 year old child who’s slight build still has her in age 5 clothing. We held each other’s hand tightly as I allowed her through the train door first to watch her be promptly elbowed in the head by a woman barging on and for me to be pushed out of the way of other people jamming themselves into the train. At this point the doors began to close with me still on the platform, and I had the choice of letting go of my small child or dragging her back to me through a closing train door. I chose the latter. It was against everything I know about train safety, but it was that or lose her on a train. Think of the therapy. I can’t think about the ‘or worse’ scenarios.

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So, it wasn’t a great start. I had previously been ambivalent about London, but that experience cemented all that I dislike about people living there. When it becomes acceptable to put a child at risk to make your journey few minutes shorter, something has gone wrong. I was ready to go home at that point.

Thankfully we didn’t.

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What we did instead was to iniate our girls into the world of geeky stuff.

We were greeted by a diver showing off just how waterproof the latest Sony phones are (felt totally wrong, but he was able to take photos of people from inside tank!!)

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After that we discovered the toy zone. We could’ve spent ages there but it was age restricted, so thank goodness for children!! LSH and TinyPants were rather enamoured with the AppPen (guess what Santa has on his list!).

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BeanPole went for the girly option of trying out the Nerf bows. She’s been after one for a while and this confirmed the decision. (I won’t mention the fits of giggles when the boy next to her promptly shot a random child in the head from a good 40ft away)

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Never to be out done, TinyPants headed for the biggest Nerf gun in the room (seriously, this thing was the same size as her) only to have it whisked away from in front of her and handed to a boy. *cue feminist rant from mummy as the girls had already been told by a stsff member that the Nerfs were for boys*

Instead, she took pot shots at the target (and said member of staff) with a smaller version.

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Then onwards to proper robotics where LSH and the girls got to have a game of Robot Wars.  Nerdtastic!

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Next was Playstation. I’m a PC gamer. It’s in my dna, but this guy almost convinced me to get one. He had the girls entranced (the dinosaurs helped). That man should get one hell of a bonus for making every single child feel like he was there just to show them the game. Kudos young man.

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Of course, there was the obligatory Minecraft photos.

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And an interesting discovery of the GameStick. Probably not the first generation, but when we replace the Wii for the kids, that it way way up there on my go to list.

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Microsoft was a total winner with us. LSH got chatting to the techies about having got one exam away from his MCSE and the various pathways that could lead from this whilst dribbling over tge Surface 2 Pros. The girls got creative with paintbrushes and touch screens running Windows 8 paint. Seriously, nearly 45 minutes of peace was gotten from those brushes. And no mess!!

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They even got to email their artwork home.

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Meanwhile, I sat and watched a man use the Surface 2 to paint a picture of Alan Turing and promptly shocked him by guessing who it was. I explained it wasn’t that impressive as I’m a computer science teacher and really ought to know who it is! He congratulated me on being a teacher of computing, then doubley so because I’m a woman.  Errr… a little sexist no? I think it was meant as a compliment. 

We finished off the day watching a demo of bmx and skateboarding with wearable cameras, after which the girls got to have a go on the boards. In a half pipe. Oh yeah.

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Thankfully the train back was nowhere near as traumatic and we got home tired, but with many ideas of cool stuff we want to try.

Even so, I’m much happier being back on the chalk. London is not for me. Will we go again? Probably. Next time we’ll get the bus.

Slooooow Beef Stew

This stuff is stick to your ribs good, and with the first reports of snow appearing over Engkand today, a nice warming dinner was in order.

Stuff you need (makes enough for 6)

3 small onions (30p)
2 carrots
1 small swede (stew  pack £1)
Braising steak (£3.60)
Bottle of beer (£2)
Oxo cube (20p)
Garlic granules (10p)
Paprika
Oregano
3 bay leaves
Corriander leaf (about 10p for a few shakes each)
Gravy granules (5p)

Baking potato – £1.50 for 6

Total per person £1.55

Get stuff cooked:

Chop up the onions and leave them in a small amount of vegetable oil in the slow cooker on high to sweat.

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Chop up the beef into cubes just under a inch. In a frying pan, braise the beef in a mixture of water and the oxo cube until all sides are browned. Now pour about 1/4 of the beer in the pan. Don’t worry that it fizzes and looks a bit weird.

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Pour the dodgy looking beef and its juice in with the onions. Then in the same frying pan put in the carrots which have been roughly chopped to over 1cm thick and add the rest of the beer. This will soak off any beef that has stuck to the pan as well as making your kitchen smell lovely.

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After boiling for a couple of minutes, add this to the beef and onions.

Now chop up the swede and add this along with a generous (ready bloody loads) of the dried garlic and a good shake of coriander, paprika and oregano.  Finally,  put in three bay leaves.

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Once the lid is on, turn your slow cooker down to medium and cook for a good 5-6 hours (or 10-11 hours on low) until it looks like this:

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30 mins before serving, add a shake of gravy granules to thicken the sauce.

Serve with jacket potatoes and green veg.

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Taste tested this evening. Yum 🙂

The Acquisition of Wooly Treasure

Clothing is easy to come by these days. You can buy a multitude of different styles at the click of a button from all over the globe. But how much do we really love our clothes now? Are they just throw away items that can be replaced by the next fashionable round of cheap material sewn together by people we’d rather not think about?

I have a handful of items that I love dearly and couldn’t bear to part with. I have many more that are nearly sensible coverings for my body.

My no.1 item are my enormous flared jeans. They’re not actually jeans, they are a denim look cotton with cotton lined pockets and waist, a high waist and three massive colourful buttons up the front. Unsurprisingly, I made them. They are made to my exact shape and are one of the most comfortable things I own. I wanted to find some photos of them, so checked back on my Facebook albums. It turns out I made them two years ago!

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And I can add to the list my newly created lopapeysa jumper. Another homemade favourite. I’ve already spent hours fussing over this jumper, but having worn it for the past two days in the newly chilly weather, I’m in love. And love is…. toasty.

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So, it turns out, the stuff we love the most is the stuff we poured our heart and soul into creating. BeanPole is following a similar train of thought with her special bits. The ones that mummy made for her (TinyPants is a knitted by Nana girl).

Another lopapeysa, but this time with a special Linux Penguin theme from last year which still has some wear in it.

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And the all important unicorn hat which was the talk of the playground (not all good, but they soon shut up when asked what their mummy spent hours knitting just for them).

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So it turns out that the love you feel for your clothes is directly proportional to the love that went into creating them. It’s quality, not quantity. Unless it’s shoes.

Novel in November – Obsessing over Word Counts. @NaNoWriMo

Well, we’re over the 3000 word mark, but to hit that all important 50’000 words I need to produce at least 1740 words each day! At my current rate, I’ll be finished by 30th December. That’s not a novel in November is it?

More caffeine anyone?

https://thehippygeek.wordpress.com/novel-in-november/