Education, education, education (repetition for emphasis)

What follows is based on the English (not British – this aspect of leadership is devolved to member countries) education system.  It would be interesting to hear how my experience compares with that of people in other countries, though.

A friend has recently transferred her nine year old son from the private to the state education system.  Her comments surprised me.
“I’m amazed,” she said, “how much this state school involves parents. I’ve been sent a pack of information about what they will be teaching my son this year and how I will be expected to support him in this. In the private sector, you just pay your money and they get on with it. You have no idea what they’re doing.”

Having spent all my working life in the state sector, this difference had never occurred to me.  It might go some way to explain how a succession of government ministers and their staff (almost all privately educated) know an embarrassingly minute amount about how children learn, what they need to learn and generally, as a headteacher friend remarked, ‘where the children and childhood are in all of this’.

So why am I off on another rant?  Well although I washed my hands of the system some seven years ago, I’ve been tutoring individual boys and girls ever since.  I basically teach what their parents ask me to.  If they are home-educated, I work on open-ended projects that interest the child, along with skills they will need in everyday life.  If they are in school, I help them to catch up with or understand whatever parts of the curriculum they are struggling with.

Duncan (10 years old) is already stressing out about the SATs tests he will be made to sit next May, before transferring to secondary school.  He’d asked me to tailor this year’s lessons to help him get through the tests.

students-377789_1280My heart sank.  I taught Year 6 (age 10-11) for many years.  Loved the kids; hated having to spend so much time teaching to these tests, rather than allowing the wonderful, vibrant, enthusiastic young people in my care to make discoveries, to explore different viewpoints and to find their passion.  Still, I owed it to young Duncan to help him cope as best I could, so I decided to update myself on the way SATs work these days.

The mental maths test has gone.  At first I was pleased for Duncan – rapid mental calculation is not one of his strengths.  Then I thought on.  Surely being able to work out how much two or three items will cost in a shop or whether the ‘special offers’ on display will save or cost us money is a useful life skill…  so teaching and even testing it makes some sense.  No, there are now three long written papers.

There used to be one paper that tested mathematical skills, while a second (calculator permitted) checked the ability to use those skills in more inventive or open-ended ways.  The calculator is now banned.  Well obviously.  Although almost every member of the population carries a mobile phone which includes a calculator, our children are being trained not to use it.  Oh dear.

I turned to the English tests.  These are being changed for the coming year.  All I could find were some sample questions showing the type of thing they will now be asked.  Here’s one for your consideration:  (aimed, remember, at children of 10 and 11 years old)

Tick one box in each row to show whether the word before is used as a subordinating conjunction or as a preposition.

Sentence                                                                       subordinating conjunction    preposition


We left the cinema before the end of the film.

The train ticket is cheaper before 9:00 in the morning.

I brush my teeth before I have breakfast.


I’m in my sixties; I’ve been a teacher all my working life; I’ve held posts as Head of English, English Co-ordinator, school librarian and so forth… and I have NEVER needed to identify a subordinating conjunction, far less compare it to a preposition.  I’ve yet to find anyone who has.

In case you’re clinging to the hope that my country’s government still has some semblance of a grasp of what education is about, and has just made that one rather glaring mistake… sorry to disappoint you, but here are some more extracts from the same document:

Fill in the gaps in the sentence below, using the past progressive form of the verbs in the boxes.

Rewrite the sentence below so that it begins with the adverbial. Use only the same words, and remember to punctuate your answer correctly.

Which option correctly introduces the subordinate clause in the sentence below?

Which option completes the sentence below so that it uses the subjunctive mood?

I could go on.

blackboard-156494_1280I spent much of my time as a teacher, trying to help children cope with the very complex spelling patterns in a language with so many roots, dissuading them from using text speak in their written work and explaining that ‘we was‘ or ‘could of‘ were not standard English.  This was in one of those rare areas of the country where almost all the children had English as a first language.

I can imagine the increased levels of stress that parents, children and teachers will suffer to jump through this latest set of ridiculous hoops.  What I can’t imagine is what goes on in the minds of the people who set such an inappropriate, boring and irrelevant curriculum.

Depressed now.  Need some light relief.  Please don’t watch this video if you are offended by bad language or simply don’t get the English sense of humour; otherwise go ahead and laugh or cry, depending on your mood.

Video of Fascinating Aida’s Ofsted song

Following the Hunch

Play Your Hunch

They’re so fleeting, aren’t they – those tiny feelings we get that we should do something/ say something/ turn down that street?  We call them hunches, intuition, funny feelings – and even when we know we should pay them attention, that little self-effacing doubter in our minds tells us not to be daft and insists it was ‘just’ our imagination.

I really do know better than that.  I know we create our own reality.  I know the hunches help us to do it.  I wrote a book about it, for goodness’ sake.  Just lately, though, I haven’t been giving the hunches enough attention.  My more-aware-self decided, in the nicest way you can imagine, to wake me up a bit.

Hunch 1:

English: email envelope

Last week I’d sent an email to a friend, praising a piece of writing he had done.  It was a small enough thing to do.  I’d then moved on to concentrate on other things and a day or so had elapsed.  Suddenly though – right out of the blue – I could feel that friend thinking about me.  It was a very happy, proud feeling.  I could ‘see’ a lovely red glow swelling around my friend’s heart.  That was when I remembered the email.  I took a look to see what I had written, to see if that could be the source of this happy feeling.  Just as I did so, a message appeared from the friend.  He was asking a question about some detail in my email, proving that he had indeed just seen it as I experienced his feeling of pride.

Hunch 2:

I’m not much of a gambler, but just occasionally I buy a National Lottery instant online.  Bored with the wet weather (and filing my tax return!) I decided to have a bit of light relief.  I selected a game and began playing.  As I was doing so, I saw a different instant game in my mind.  It was the briefest of views – a sudden image of a grid of coloured words.
“Hmm,” I thought, with a grin. “Pity I didn’t play that game instead.”
Well I won my stake money back.  Was my life giving me a chance to follow the hunch after all? Normally I’d have been pleased and stopped while I was no worse off. Just this once, though, I decided to find the grid game I’d  just ‘seen’ and have a go at it.  I had to scan through several of the games until I saw one that looked like my hunch.  At last I found it.  I started playing.  A £20 win came up!  Then a bonus game.  On the bonus game there was another £20 win!

Not a fortune, perhaps, but  an interesting reminder that while such feelings could be termed imagination, they’d be none the worse for that.

Both experiences were very welcome.  They served as a reminder that there’s more to each of us than I tend to remember at times.  I’m a holographic part of the Cosmos, after all, so it’s hardly surprising that I can pick up on the way I’ve helped a friend to feel about himself, or see things just slightly out of time.  And no, before you ask, I don’t have this week’s lottery numbers…!




Without doubt, our skills at creating have been quite awesome. As you might expect when a few trillion holographic parts of God formed into something with tremendous curiosity, drive and intention – not to mention imagination – the creation really went into overdrive. From the wheel to the microprocessor, people have created some pretty amazing new stuff.

Life: A Player’s Guide

Ali on Fire

It was a shopping street, pedestrianised, but only because the steep, cobbled hill was never built for vehicles.  Fairly crowded.  I have no back-story for why I was there, but I was.

The young man passed close by me – his clothes were poor quality.  A white top with a grey and black hoodie over it.  He pulled the hood up as he walked by and something drew my attention to him.  I saw that he had a lighter in his hand.  Suddenly I realised what he was about to do.

He looked, rather shyly, around him and muttered, “Sorry,” as he put the flame to his clothing.

An instinct for self preservation made me leap back, but the street was narrow, with shops on either side.

“It won’t take long,” he was saying, in the same, sad apologetic tone.  “The pain will be over quick.”  He rolled himself into a ball and began rolling down the hill.

The flames licked half-heartedly at his clothes.  As he rolled, they went out.  Suddenly he was back at the top, close to me again.

“Not enough petrol,” he said miserably and began looking around as if searching for a source of more.

In an instant I was in front of him.  It struck me as slightly odd that I couldn’t smell any petrol.  “Think of your mother!”  I was screaming at him.

He sneered nastily, but looked at me.

I held his gaze and repeated it.  This time it got through.  He hung his head and looked so wretched and miserable that I risked putting my hand on his shoulder.  He didn’t resist.

“Come on, let’s sort you out,” I said, and led him back to where I worked.  It was an educational establishment.

“Hungry?” I asked, as he slumped into a chair.

He looked up, hope burning in his eyes.  The boy was ravenous.  I hunted about for pieces of food.  My teaching assistant, a lovely motherly soul I’d worked with for many years, found some cake and handed it to him.

“She’s a good guy,” he remarked to me, as he shovelled food into his mouth.  A couple of the students had appeared by now – lads around his age..  No one asked any questions.  They sized up the situation and began hunting in lockers and cupboards, finding more snacks he could eat.

He started talking to me then.  Told me his name was Ali.  Told me about his siblings and his father – a man he loved and respected; a man who would be heartbroken to know his son died a martyr to his fundamentalist cause.

He told me he belonged to a group.  They had a leader.
“We got to do what he says,” Ali explained, with a slight helpless shrug. “It’s like this -.”
And now I was seeing him in a separate location, over to the right and slightly above where I and the others were still gathered around the table.

Hold on…

Ali was over there with a rather ramshackle group of young guys who looked similar to him, being drilled by a thin man with dark eyes who barked commands and instructions at them.  They had to repeat what he said as soon as the words were out of his mouth.  No time for them to think – to process his words.  His words became their words.  Simple and effective.  Ali and the others were being indoctrinated.  Ali was being chosen.  I could feel his pride and his despair and his regret all mingled together.

So how come I’m able to see all this?  Just now Ali was sitting eating at my table.  His location has changed, like in a film… or… a dream.

I was still in the school, or college, or whatever it was.  The students who’d been helping find food for Ali were watching his scene as well.  They’d realised what was going on and were swearing at him, calling him ugly names.  I was remonstrating with them – imploring them to listen and understand his dilemma.

At the same time it’s dawning on me that this is a dream.  

Ali is a character in my dream.  

Or maybe I’m a character in his?  This feels more likely.

Now I know it’s a dream, it unravels.  But not before – telepathically now – Ali tells me he chose me to help him decide.  I wake up, knowing I’ve helped him.


Ever done that?  Gone to bed with a massive problem, slept on it and woken, knowing what you must do?  Would it be too far-fetched to believe that Ali, whoever he is, did just that, somewhere?  Might he, at some level beyond waking consciousness, have invited me into his dream to help him work through the choices?  If so, I’m honoured to have been chosen and I wish him well.

The Pillow Monster

IMG_20150802_150019This morning I wasn’t woken by the Pillow Monster.

It’s the first time in over a week that little footsteps and the gentlest of touches on my head didn’t pull me back from dreams.  Once I’d stirred, the gentle three-year-old would transform into his alter-ego and clamber boisterously into the bed, giggling, attacking me with pillows or force-feeding me ‘pie’ or ‘cake’ made of plastic toys.

There are worse ways to awake.  This morning’s was easier, but felt a little lonely.

My grandson and his family were here for nine days.  Sleep was hard to come by; a hungry, teething 6 month old saw to that.  My cottage, which feels spacious and airy to me when I’m alone was transformed into a tiny, cramped place by the mountains of paraphernalia required by a young baby and toddler.

A traditional Punch and Judy booth.

We made bugs from egg boxes, watched dragonflies in the garden, did pirate treasure hunts for ‘golda balloons’ (yes, it took me quite a while to work that one out!) and made a fire engine from a huge packing box.  We yelled anxiously to Mr Punch when the crocodile tried to steal his sausages and sang whispered lullabies to little sister when she couldn’t sleep.

To my grandson, everyone is a friend.  Having just had his face painted as Spiderman, he shouted a cheery greeting to a pair of lads we passed drinking and smoking outside a pub.
“He waved to us!” one remarked.
“Look out, Spidy’s about,” laughed his friend.
“D’ya think I look cool?” the little one asked, tugging on my hand to go and chat with his new friends.
“Very cool,” they grinned, “Yeah.”

As I marched him on towards the playground he continued waving and shouting fond farewells.

Of course he’s been warned about strangers, but he stares reproachfully at us when such things are spoken.  For him there are loving adults surrounding him and the world is a place he trusts and enjoys, filled with excitement and fun.  His heart is so open it almost hurts to watch him sometimes.

As we sat in a cafe, he looked around the table, telling each of us in turn that he loved us.
“Hah!” winked the old man at the next table, knowingly. “What’s he after then?  There’s always a catch when they say that.”

I thought about that man’s experience of the world and my grandson’s.

So different.

There was no catch.  He loves unconditionally.  Certainly he can throw a mega-tantrum because he wanted his drink in the blue cup and it’s been poured into the red one, but he makes few enough demands.

“The thing what would make me really happy,” he told my daughter on his journey home yesterday, “is if I could sit on the sofa, watch a DVD and eat toast.”

When that very modest request was granted, he phoned me to tell me how good it had been and how happy he now was.

I feel so privileged that this lovely small person has arrived in my life and poured so much love into it.