Sunday, 16 May 2010

Home Education and the New Government

Home education has won a battle. C was watching the TV with us when Gordon Brown made the trip to the Palace to resign. We explained to him that it meant that the Labour government was finished and he responded with "Yippee! Home Education wins!" Unfortunately it is only a battle, not the war. To win that, or at least improve our position for future battles, some low-key preparation needs to be done.

The in-your-face approach adopted to defeat the CSF Bill is not the way forward. We have a new government that is sympathetic to us. Most of the top people know what will happen if they try anything we don't like, and while ultimately they could pass legislation, we'd take up a lot more of their time than they'd like, so it's going to be in everyone's interest to let home education find its own way for a few years. However, if we keep pushing it blatantly, we're likely to end up with legislation, and while we might not get legislation with nasty strings attached, it will almost certainly come with hooks on it, to which a future government would be able to attach those strings quite easily. So be careful what you ask for, it may have unintended consequences in the future. It's worth remembering that having a large, anonymous contingent of home educators makes it harder for a future government to control us because first they have to find us.

Home education is at a point where we need to maintain a watching brief. Certainly the proposed education bill needs a going over to check for anything that might affect us directly or indirectly, but if we're being left alone we can quietly work amongst ourselves to come up with things we might want to see in legislation and good arguments against things that might appear that we don't want. The trick is not to start the next fight, but to be ready with arguments for and against anything good or bad that might come up.

Rather than highlight home education, we would achieve more lasting improvements by trying to change the intrusive nature of state interference. This benefits us by the back door because if we can get the general population and the media to stop expecting the government to do everything for us, pressure on local authorities will be reduced and their culture of an expectation of knowing full details about every child will be changed.

By all means talk to your MP and others, but reduce the emphasis on home education and make it a wider discussion. That way we get to keep the contacts (or make new ones if you have a new MP) in case they're needed for the future, and leave positive memories of home education without being too blatant about it.

If we can change the general attitude towards state control that currently exists, it will be a lot easier to deal with the next attempt to impose legislation on home education and instead of fighting a rear-guard action to stop something bad happening, we will be better positioned to push for something good. Something that has no strings, and no hooks either.

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

The underwater bit...

Touching back to the name of this blog, C is keen on swimming. The name came about when we were in the US on a nine-month visit in 2008/9. During that time he also got to experience diving lessons at the Santa Clara pool. The diving pool was also used by a synchronised swimming team immediately before his lessons and was only when they were absent one weekend that we realised that they'd gone off to the Olympics. C was probably a bit young for the class, it was only after he'd been in it for a while that we realised that he was the youngest (not quite seven), and wasn't really ready for the competitive, pushy nature of the class. We eventually discussed it with the instructor and agreed that he should probably take time out and come back when he was ready for it, although he really wanted to continue. He had at least picked up the basics by this point and we made jokes about letting small children jump into seventeen feet of water. He did have gymnastic lessons before we went to the US, so some of what was required was at least familiar. It was that plus his express wish that he wanted to learn to dive that let us feel comfortable in offering him the chance although with hindsight he wasn't quite ready, at least for that class.

Back in the UK, he returned to the home education group lessons in the local pool. These were held in a smaller pool with a movable floor, and immediately after his lesson, the floor was lowered for a public diving session. Some weeks, he expressed an interest in having a go, and with his general competence at swimming, plus the lifeguards seeing that he knew the basics, most weeks they were happy to let him practice dives off the side away from the board. Occasionally he'd go and do some off the board itself. He was prepared to accept instructions and guidance from the watching lifeguards, and so could improve his technique. However, it's always been an occasional thing, and he's been concentrating on improving his swimming.

Now he appears to have regained his interest to the point of wanting to try lessons again, so he's got a trial with the local diving club later this week. If they take him on and he agrees, that'll be four days a week when he gets to be in a swimming pool when the session is added to his swim club and lesson sessions.

ETA: trial session went very well, he's matured in the two years since the California stuff. Looks like diving is added to the list of regular activities.

Monday, 3 May 2010

Education Policy

Watching the education debate on the BBC today, I came to the conclusion that I don't think any of the three participants have demonstrated that they have what it takes to sort things out.

Gove acts more polished in his manner and tone of voice, and appears to have the gift of calm, reasoned speech that makes sense even if another part of the brain is screaming that it's total rubbish. There's a bias in his favour because he's backed home education against the CSF Bill but, as with much of his education policy, it's very noticeable what he hasn't said.

Balls comes across as very pushy and has a ready supply of facts and figures to back up his claims of what has been done, and is big on his guarantees for schools for the future, but is handicapped by his record of ignoring the opinions and evidence of a large number of home educators because they didn't agree with him. He's already said he'll continue on his quest to regulate home education and generally interfere if he gets back in, no prevarication there.

Laws attempts to be what the others are not. He's more polished than Balls, and seems to be trying to out-Gove with some of his claims and wants to remove politics from front-line education. He did help save home education from the CSF Bill, but has missed the logical consequences of his party's pro-notification stance (see earlier post), so his approach needs to be treated with caution.

Much interplay between Balls, boasting about all his guarantees (that we get to pay for) and missing the point that just throwing money at schools is unlikely to be the way to improve them, and Gove, who won't commit to anything. He did at one point refuse to promise a course of action, and highlighted that because he doesn't know the true spending of DCSF, he's unable to give commitments. That has been a Conservative theme in areas other than education - I assume they don't want to promise anything until they've had chance to look at the books because they suspect it's worse than has been made public.

So, as I said, I'm not convinced by any of them, but from the narrow viewpoint of home education, I'd pick Gove because so far the others have proposed changes with which I do not agree. If he's in the job next week then hopefully he'll be so busy sorting out Ed's state education mess and then unravelling the tangled web of his own replacement that home education will get left well alone. I don't think he's yet ready to embrace the seismic changes required to properly shake up the state system, and it was disappointing that all three appeared to agree to keep digging in certain areas of the hole into which education has fallen.

Sunday, 2 May 2010


When I was single, I usually had music playing from some source of other. I didn't own a TV at the time, so radio and recorded music was it. This tailed off once there were two of us, because other things occupied the time. When there was a small child around, music-related stuff tended to be aimed at the younger age bracket, although it was also a good excuse to play some Mozart.

More recently, I've been playing stuff and asking C what he thinks of it. He seems to enjoy punk and rock music, which is good because that seems to be what we've got a lot of. I have a bunch of classical stuff as well, but I need to organise a project to put that onto the computer from CD so we can listen to it more conveniently. Longer-term, encouraging C to listen to more music is going to be good. He's being taught piano and recorder and can read music, so there's a start to it. At some point I set up my old copy of Cakewalk on his computer and connected it to the Yamaha keyboard. He had some fun writing his own music, and seems to have an ability for it that should be encouraged. I did ask him how he did it and he showed me how he would try different notes until he found the one that sounded 'right'. He shows every indication of being much better at it than I ever was.

Today I decided to answer one of his questions (what's opera?) by playing Carmen. He stuck around for the first CD, but has now vanished off to play. Later, I'll go and ask him a bit about it and see what he thought. I always disliked opera until I got to see Carmen on TV, although I've since realised that what's bad about opera is the excessive vibrato of voices that makes them sound like cats in heat. Not all opera singers are like that, so it's very much a case of choose performances carefully.

It occurred to me that C is probably a bit young to understand the nuances of the story, but it's the only complete opera in the house. The next best thing is a bit of Gilbert and Sullivan, so I might try him on some of that as well if he has the patience to listen.

I'm sure that somewhere it should be possible to work in some history of music, working through different composers, and even expose him to music theory and see if that helps or hinders his tune-writing efforts.