Thursday, 10 September 2020

World Suicide Prevention Day

I’ve just read a post, not any old post. This post: 

A brave and honest post, a post that reminds me that I should probably have written just such a post, should have been just as honest, just as brave because it’s World Suicide Prevention Day today and although it goes without saying that I’ve never succeeded, there was a time when just one person sharing something similar might have made the world of difference to how I felt, years ago. And what I did.

But it didn’t. Suicide wasn’t much talked about back then and, if it was, it was as a sign of weakness and a cause of shame. ‘Pull yourself together’ was the kind of thing you were likely to hear, and the word ‘Suicide’ was linked, umbilically, with ‘selfish’. 

I don’t need to tell anyone reading this how wrong that view is any more than I expect to have to convince anyone that the world ain’t flat. But the stigma still goes on. And the secret shame is still the worst of all. So, yes... I have to write this post and nail my colours to the mast, too. In the hope that it might, just, help someone, somewhere. Just knowing...

About a year ago I discovered a former pupil of mine had ended his own young, promising life some months before. It was a terrible shock, doubly so when you inevitably think back trying to identify signs, trying to work out whether you could have made a difference. What does make a difference? Well, failure, at least in my case. In others, pause. Twenty minutes, it is said, is all it takes to stop someone going through with it. But just knowing, too, that you aren't alone; knowing there are others out there who have felt the same, felt as low; knowing that there are people who won't judge, who care because they've been there, known those same depths and who understand. Survivors. Someone. Could be anyone. Me. You. Someone who can simply say, whether in person or in a blog post, "it’s ok, you’re not to blame" and someone who, by the very fact they’re alive to say those words proves there is a chance of something better, no matter how bad or bleak it is right now. There is a future.

So. Here it is. My post. My words. Not much, I know. Not enough, for sure. But something. If we could all do something, some small thing, well... who knows what a difference we could make?

It's okay to talk...

Thursday, 13 August 2020

... results are in!

Confused by all the fuss over this year's 'A' level results?

Unsure why Gavin Williamson won’t countenance using predicted grades by teachers? 

Worried that the mess makes a mockery of the entire education system? 

Yes, me too. 

Here’s what little light I can shed on things. I hope it makes it just a little clearer. It won’t, however, make it any easier to bear.

Basically, teachers are the only ones who have a hope this year of accurately assessing their pupils academic performance. Scrub that; the same applies in any year. If you think our under-funded, hopelessly administered public examinations do a better job you’ve obviously never been involved in taking them or teaching to them lately. You probably voted Brexit too and we all know how well that's going... 

Public examinations, be they GCSEs, 'A' levels or even, I'd venture to suggest, degrees at a few nameless institutions are hardly worth the paper they're written on. For a start, the papers they are written on are often error strewn; they sometimes bear only the very vaguest, tangential reference (if at all) to the syllabus (which itself can be as hard to decipher as the Rosetta Stone) and they're often ‘marked’ (I used the word advisedly) by anyone the hard-pressed exam board can find, irrespective of qualifications and experience. That's if they’re actually marked at all, because exam boards pay about 0.001pence per script and are thus constantly, woefully under-prepared when all those big brown envelopes arrive. 

Actually, they don’t anymore. Exam papers are scanned and sent to markers electronically with, shall we say, some ‘interesting’ results. Suffice to say that if you think this process serves the purpose of sorting the academic wheat from the chaff you’ve more faith in it than I have. If all that wasn’t bad enough I haven’t started yet on the subject of re-marks and appeals.

So why won't the government do what the government (north of the border) did and ask teachers? Ah, because... in spite of everything, they still don't trust them. In spite of creating one of the most oppressive and capricious inspection systems, in spite of constantly reforming the exam systems (along with pretty much everything else, apart from shabby, outdated and overcrowded classrooms), in spite of paying teachers by results, in spite of taking the credit for their success while at the same time stabbing them in the back by crying 'grade inflation' every August, in spite of running the system for as long as anyone can remember, certainly as long as the current cohort have actually been attending school, in spite of all that the 'government' (if it can still accurately be thus described) still haven't got it right. Teachers are trained and inspected and continually assessed to the highest standards. (Theirs - they set 'em!) Pupils are drilled in the most absurdly detailed pseudo-fragments of a subject (fronted adverbials, anyone?) in the most Gradgrindian manner just so they can be assessed (which means, of course, keeping a beady eye on what their teacher's taught them) and yet the government still can't bring itself to say, for once, "you know, folks... you know best!"

If you can read this, thank a teacher as the old NUT car sticker used to say. And if you have been (reading, that is) thanks. 

But now, children, get out your pencils... AND WRITE TO YOUR MP!

Friday, 17 July 2020

Happy holidays?

Today we finally dismantled the trappings of our home-school: the pen pots and table mats that have been a feature of our dining table for the past four months: the books, the paints, the pencils, rubbers. Because, come September, my daughter will return to school, to proper school, the school she last attended on Friday March 20th 2020.

Of course I'm not naive enough to think that kids stop learning just because they're not at school. Home is the best, richest and most fulfilling educational environment for children. Or it should be. I know there are countless thousands, tens, even hundreds for whom this has been time lost, through no fault of their own.

But with good fortune and the luxury of time I've been able to keep the schooling going for the past fourteen weeks. I only wish it could be longer. Because the thought of my daughter returning in September to a class of thirty in a school of over 500, or my son resuming lessons in the same physical space as 1000 other pupils fills me with terror.

In spite of all the reassurances, in spite of the super-human efforts of the schools and of my children's teachers, the risk to them, to me, to all of us, hasn't gone away. The criminally-negligent among our rulers stick rigidly to their own agenda, which has more to do with making money than with public safety. That, and doing what the hell they want while telling everyone else to toe the line. Never has the phrase 'do as I say, not as I do' been more apt.

"Politics combines all the seven deadly sins and is the forgotten eighth," as Derek Jarman wrote. But the lies and incompetence of those who actually rule over us (as opposed to the little old lady in Windsor to whom we sing so loud that she may do so long) verges on the villainous and may actually be so if only someone could or would ask the right questions.

I was screaming at the telly during Dominic Cummings Downing Street testimony: ask him why his wife couldn’t drive? Why he didn’t take the train or order a ministerial car (after all, he’s that important - he told us so!) and why he wanted to bring the family back to a place where he said he felt ‘threatened’ anyway?

But nobody did. No doubt they're all afraid they'll be denied access to the Downing Street press briefings if they rattle that particular cage, the sycophantic morons. But, really!

None of the story made sense, apart from as a fragile fabrication designed to get him off the hook of having so clearly broken the government's lockdown guidance. First he flees a house he says has been made vulnerable through media attention, then brings the same, vulnerable family back to London, driving all the way when there's the East Coast main line not twenty miles from where he was staying. And why, precisely, did he need to go so far for 'childcare'? Again, no-one asked why he couldn't have called on family and friends in the capital. We now know there were some. There were plenty of other, less nefarious, options.

But the man, like the government he advises, doesn't seem to care. Coronavirus hadn't gone away; there is, as yet, no vaccine and no cure. The return in September to the 'business as usual' state schooling of packed classrooms and inadequate buildings is a huge risk. Yes, children - especially the vulnerable - need schooling. But not at any price. There are other ways of working that work for some. Yet we're back to the 'one-size-fits-all' philosophy that has blighted education in this country for so long.

The six weeks holiday that we're now embarking on is nothing more than a historical anachronism, a sop to those Tory landowners who couldn't countenance being without a child labour force at harvest time. Still, with some decent weather, we'll have a lovely time. I'm not complaining. I, for one, know my children will keep learning, as they always do, as they have done during lockdown, without a classroom.

But come September, when I say goodbye and wave them off to school I know I'll die, just a little...

Sunday, 28 June 2020

O Radiant Dawn!

There couldn't really be a better way to refer to that time when, post-lockdown, life can return to normal. That day will definitely dawn radiantly! Until then, we do things differently and we dream...

'O Radiant Dawn' was the title of the motet by James MacMillan that the Stay at Home Choir rehearsed and performed with The Sixteen a few weeks ago. Last night, after a long wait, we got to see and hear the result.

Over 14,000 people in 64 countries took part. And I was one of them! It was a wonderful experience, probably something that - under normal circumstances - I'd never have been able to do. It was exciting, inspiring and uplifting. It came at the moment the first wave of good weather broke and lockdown started to seem less like a holiday and more like house arrest, especially to those (like me) with a shielding letter.

We rehearsed with Sir James himself, and then had sectionals (i.e. were split into our respective voice parts: soprano, alto, tenor, bass) with members of The Sixteen. I'll never forget Eamonn Dougan's 'Choral Chiuhuahua'... and if that means nothing to you, take a look here:

Then there was the challenge of recording - alone - to a guide track that sounded like a cross between something by Kraftwerk and my Auntie Annie on the Hammond organ. Then, finally, uploading my 'take' and waiting... and waiting.

And it was worth every moment! Here's the result. What do you think?

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

Get in touch


Email *

Message *