Tory-Proof Your Kids’ Education – You don’t have to go private!

Let’s dispel a few myths. The teaching in private schools is worse than the teaching in state schools. Having taught in private schools, I can promise you, I would never send my kids there for the teaching. There is a ridiculous amount of “Turn to page 34 and answer all the questions”. You pay for the other kids, not the teacher; so if your child can zone out Billy who has ADHD, he or she will do better in a state school.

Kidulthood was a work of fiction not a documentary. Your child is perfectly safe in an inner city London school, or at least, just as safe as she would be in any other school. Private schools have a nasty habit of not acting on sexual abuse and covering up their bullying problems. Their reputations matter more to them than your child’s safety.

You do not need to pay for private tuition either. It’s only going to be more of the same, so your kid will be bored, not enlightened. If your child needs more attention, give it to her yourself. You might not understand calculus, but you can ask “And what did the teacher do next?” and “Have you checked those answers by working the problem backwards?” or “Explain the whole Archduke Ferdinand thing to me”.

Your kid will have a better chance at getting into university if you follow these steps. They can be implemented at any stage:

  1. Not the kid, you. They will do what you do and if you only want to watch TV, that’s what they will do. Let them see you read and talk about the book you are reading. The more they read, the wider their frame of reference and the better they do across the board.
  2. Enrol them in some kind of club, Scouts, Guides, Cadets, Duke of Edinburgh, whatever. They will meet different people and have opportunities that you can’t provide. Plus it looks great on uni applications.
  3. Do free stuff with them. Walks, forests, galleries and beaches are all free (for the moment). Do something once a month. Again, it widens their frame of reference and gives them confidence.
  4. Encourage them to volunteer. Once again, it looks great on a uni application, but it will also increase their sense of self-worth
  5. If you are going to pay for stuff, make it amateur dramatics or sports. At least they are fun, healthy and give new skills.

If your kid is in 6th form, you need to start campaigning. The Tories have already made massive cuts to 6th form funding and are set to cut even more. This means bigger class sizes and fewer subjects. The government is hoping you won’t make a fuss. Don’t accept it. If your kid can’t choose the subjects she wants at the school she wants to attend, write to the papers, your MP, Nicky Morgan, everybody. Get together with other parents and raise hell – it’s the only way to make sure that everyone has access to a quality education.

Your local school will probably have to cut out pretty much all of its teaching assistants with the budget cuts, so it might be good to volunteer if you have time, and it’s definitely a good idea to stand for the board of governors so that you can keep an eye on things.

Ask about teacher workloads; a tired, over worked and stressed out teacher is not going to give your child the best education. If your child has a different teacher every five minutes, it means that the school has a problem. Ask what they are doing to improve teacher retention.

Boycott the SATS and the baseline tests. Testing your child at 4 is not in her benefit, it is just so a computer can make predictions about what GCSEs she should get. Keep a close eye on the school before testing time; if all they do is stuff for the SATS, your child is missing out on her education. Complain.

Don’t get caught up in the hype. Teachers work hard, they are trained and can be trusted; they are the ones who have a relationship with your child and care about her. School leaders, politicians and newspapers only see your child as a statistic, so they don’t care. Politicians and reporters are not educators, remember, they have no qualifications or training and they don’t know what is best for your child.

Tory-Proof Your Kids’ Education – You don’t have to go private!

Tory-Proof Your Health

With the proposed cuts to healthcare and the increasing privatisation of the NHS, we will all need to cut down our dependence on the services we take for granted.

So now is a great time to get in shape. BMI is a rubbish measurement, but it provides a good starting point for working out where you need to get to. If your BMI is above 30, you probably aren’t eating right or exercising enough. Start by simply being aware of your daily calorie intake. I found that I was able to lose weight by using workouts on YouTube. Choose what you want to do and how long you want to do it for and it’s free.

Cut down on your alcohol. Not only will that help with the BMI thing, it means you are less likely to end up in A & E. It may also increase your mental health and will be good for your bank balance. Socialise in places other than the pub.

Start growing your own food and making things from scratch. If TTIP (Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership) comes in, trade trumps your safety. Countries will no longer have the right to implement local safety standards or inspect incoming food supplies and individuals will lose the right to challenge food safety, animal or plant welfare. Pre-prepared food will be the best place for companies to sneak nasty stuff in, so unless you like your steak cloned and your fats trans, I’d head for the kitchen.

Practice mindfulness with your kids. Just before the election the Tories apparently noticed that they had been cutting mental health services for young people. They have added £1.25 million to the budget, which might just take us back to where we were before they took it all away. Of course, with the rising level of youth unemployment, the constant testing from the age of 4 and the perpetual shifts in examinations, more young people than ever will be in need of this support. Mindfulness is proven to help both treat and prevent mental illness.

Check the smoke detectors in your home. Conduct evacuation drills. The cuts to the Fire Brigade are already happening, so you should have a plan already. Avoid buying synthetic fabrics (especially nightclothes) for your kids.

Tory-Proof Your Health

The Zombie Apocalypse Is Upon Us

The monsters are all around us. Our neighbours have turned into pitiless, mindless horrors. These puppet creatures cannot be reasoned with; they are motivated only by their need to consume.

I’m talking of course about the English electorate. I’ve heard lots of arguments about how we have to be kind to each other now, and we do. But we also have to recognise that 36% of the electorate decided that the deficit was more important than people. We also have to recognise that homophobic racists constitute the third biggest electoral group in the country.

So I hope I’m not alone in keeping a careful eye on my neighbours just now.

Rather than give up and slide into a morass of fear and defeatism, I am going to make my survival plan. The apocalypse can only take those who are not prepared! I am going to Tory-proof my home and my family.

Now Tory-proofing is pretty easy if you have a household income of above £100 000. You will be able to afford private healthcare, private schools for your kids, hell, you can probably even afford to buy into a private militia as well. You might miss your human rights and your fire department, but generally, things aren’t going to be too bad for you.

For the rest of us, we are going to have to take steps to weather not just the next five years, but the damage they will do afterwards.

I will post my plans here, so we can all be safe.

The Zombie Apocalypse Is Upon Us

Curioser and Curioser

The toddler was staring at R, mouth open and eyes wide. When his mother wheeled the shopping trolley round, his head swivelled round like an owl’s. R smiled at him and said hello. The child hid his face in his mother’s coat.

“Uh, uh,” she said, moving the coat. “You got caught being nosy and now you’ll have to be nice. Say hello to the lady.”

It was a perfect response. Children, especially white ones, are fascinated by R. Our niece even got caught licking her arm (we think she thought R might really be made of chocolate). They stare and stare. She always responds to them and waves and says hello.

Quite often, though, the white parents are horrified that their children have been staring. They tell their babies off, some give R an apologetic smile, but some don’t even engage with R as they hustle their family away. I know it is because they are embarrassed, but it isn’t helpful.

Difference is strange and interesting; it excites curiosity, even investigation. I never mind answering questions about being a lesbian, R never minds curious regard. But when parents are embarrassed by their kids’ curiosity, it teaches them that there is something wrong or shameful about R, and that is a problem.

The other issue is that people often think that R can’t tell the difference between curiosity and hostility. The facial expressions involved are quite different; try it in a mirror and you’ll see what I mean. If you can tell the difference, so can she.

That white mother in the supermarket had the right response to her child’s nosiness. She acknowledged the curiosity, but she also made it clear that R was a person and needed to be treated with courtesy. I am really glad that at least one little boy will be able to embrace difference and recognise shared humanity at the same time.

Curioser and Curioser

Marriage Rites

Weddings, like births and deaths, are one of the key times that LGBT people are made aware that we aren’t equal yet. Even if the Supreme Court of the United Sates rules in favour of same sex marriage, weddings will still be a point where families and societies have the most power to make their disapproval clear, to wound, shame and exclude.

When equal marriage was introduced in the UK, a survey suggested that 1 in 5 people would refuse to come to a same sex wedding. A guy on BBC news asked me about it, I laughed it off and said that we aren’t that scary, people don’t have to be afraid of us.

I was deliberately misunderstanding the point, there was no way I was going to go on national TV and add to the sense of power that straight people have. Refusing to come to our weddings is one of the many ways that families can punish their LGBT relatives and it turns what should be a joyous event into an emotional Russian roulette.

Of course, LGBT couples are not the only ones whose families refuse to attend their weddings. Couples who cross lines of colour, religion or nationality are also punished.

My sister’s wedding remains one of the best examples of what a wedding should be in my mind. Her friends travelled from all over the country (one couple cycled down from Scotland) and all of them contributed to the day; they gathered boughs and made garlands for the marquee, they helped to cook, they mowed fields and laid paths. Throughout the preceding days and on the day itself there was a strong sense that this union was much more than just two people, that it was a union of two families and the communities which surround them.

I wish R and I had had that.

Marriage Rites

When good people say bad things

Saying something racist or homophobic is a bit like taking your eyes off the road for a second when you are driving and clipping a pedestrian.

When you are driving there are no free passes. If you hurt someone, it doesn’t matter how careful you have always been or how slowly you usually drive. Nothing in the past changes the fact that right now, here, you have made a mistake. You didn’t mean to do it, but the damage is done. You can’t claim that you are in a relationship with a pedestrian so you know what hurts them and what doesn’t or that the pedestrian that you ran over last week didn’t mind.

Lots of drivers get angry at the pedestrians they hurt. They get angry that the pedestrian is in their way, or blame pedestrians for being so squishy. Some pedestrians pretend they haven’t been hurt just to avoid this kind of response. It’s even been known for drivers to run over a pedestrian they have clipped because they are so angry. Sometimes I think it is because anger is a much more comfortable emotion than shame. It is easier to blame the pedestrian for getting hurt than to admit that you did something wrong and you are horrified at yourself.

Fortunately, metaphorical car accidents are much more easily solved than real ones. If you can get over the shame and not let it move into anger, you can apologise. You can resolve to do better. You can think about the underlying attitudes that prompted the mistake and start laying down new thought processes.

Having to watch out for pedestrians and cyclists and motorbike riders is annoying when you are driving a nice sports car, but remember you are having a much more comfortable ride. Cars are great, you just have to be careful with them.

When good people say bad things

Baseline testing for four year olds

Your four year old does not need a baseline assessment.

Both the Labour and Conservative parties currently say that testing four year olds will be in your child’s best interest. Phrases like “bespoke education” and “every child is unique and we need to know how” are thrown around and on the face of it, they sound nice.

But let’s think about what it really means. Your child has just arrived in school. She is possibly away from home on her own for the first time. The challenges she faces are the biggest in her life so far. Over the next few weeks she must learn how to learn, how to listen to instructions given to a group and understand that she is included in that group, how to follow a new set of routines, how to negotiate a complex set of relationships. This is before she even begins on the academic skills she is expected to master.

You will want her teacher to be attentive to her, able to respond to difficulties, to notice when misunderstanding or confusion are happening and correct them. You know that the most important thing during this very first experience of school is that your child is happy and settled.

Base line testing as soon as children arrive in schools stops any of that from happening. While the teacher is testing other children, what will your child be doing? Who will be noticing her difficulties? When your child is about to be tested, how will you be able to explain to her that she doesn’t need to be worried? How will you stop yourself from worrying?

Your child’s teacher already knows that she prefers football to dressing up. He knows that you have taught her how to hold a pencil properly. He is a trained professional and knows that the children in his charge are far more complex and vital than a set of statistics gathered so that the government can make a numerical prediction at four years old about their chances of success. Baseline testing won’t make him a better teacher, or your child a better learner; all they will do is make both your child and her teacher miserable.

We already expect the Tory party and their Victorian attitudes to happiness in childhood to be perfectly sanguine about the misery this policy will cause, but Tristram Hunt of the Labour Party is equally committed to it. I believe, however, that the Labour Party may be persuaded to change their minds were parents to voice their concerns.

If you believe, as I do, that baseline tests are not in your child’s best interests, please let Tristram Hunt know. You can email, tweet or write to his campaign office at 88 Lonsdale Street, Stoke-on-Trent, ST4 4DP

Baseline testing for four year olds