Thursday, 6 December 2012

Ethical Eating

Ok, I know this is a home ed blog, so this might seem like a somewhat off topic post, but given that we as a family are firmly of the belief that learning is just part of life, not a separate entity, it's really not.

There are quite a few home edders who have converted to a paleo way of eating in recent years; I was introduced to this lifestyle by my very good friend Lisa of renegade parent a couple of years ago. This was a pretty big transition for me, given I was a vegetarian for over 20 years. I wrote about why I started eating meat again here.

To begin with I was the only person in the family who embraced this way of eating, but over time my eldest two decided that they wanted to give it a shot too, and found huge benefits to their health, then the youngest two joined in and so the husband just had to go along for the ride ;-)

 We prefer to eat organic as much as possible, but this can be ridiculously expensive, particularly when it comes to meat, so we buy responsibly when we don't buy organic. Grass fed is vitally important, and if you buy locally then you can see for yourself how a farmer treats and raises his animals. It's a win win situation really as you get quality assured produce and the farmer gets a decent return, so often this is not the case when buying from supermarkets.

 Paleo is still a relatively new thing in the UK, but it is growing quickly - the internet is largely responsible for this as more products become available to people via online shops, but also information sharing is so quick and widespread. Still, much of the paleo material is US based, and it can be frustrating at times to find that ingredients that look so delicious aren't generally available over here.

Take Spaghetti Squash for instance! This is actually the reason for this post because I am beyond excited to be able say that I have found a supplier of organic spaghetti squash here in the UK! I cannot wait to try out some of the recipes that I have drooled over for the past couple of years! I am also very excited to have found Big Barn - there is a little search box in the side bar over there - which is a community interest company that enables small scale producers of quality food to be able to sell their products to a wider audience. I think this is very exciting! I have ordered a 10kg box of spaghetti squash to start with, though I was very tempted by an offer on organic mince but I had just purchased some elsewhere, damn, but if the squash order goes through well, I can see that I will be using this site more and more!

You can keep it local or you can purchase from suppliers further afield for more unusual products. It seems like an excellent way of shopping to me - what do you think?

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

An Unpopular Opinion

Having watched this morning's education select committee session there are many things I could write about: the barely concealed dislike of home education; the squirming when asked if there was any evidence that home education is a safeguarding issue; the call for changes to statutory law so that a clear definition of suitable education might make their jobs easier, whilst not wanting any kind of oversight of their own behaviour; the minister saying not once but at least twice that *they* give us our freedom and responsibility...

But it's none of those things that I want to talk about.

I know that Graham Stuart has been a great ally. I know that he has worked hard to try to help and support home educators. I know that his questions to Badman at the select committee in 2009 were rapier sharp. I know all of this and don't get me wrong I, like his countless supporters in home ed land, appreciate all of this.

You know there's a but coming don't you?


I am finding the regular jibes at our expense tiring. It started, from what I can remember, with the hat tip to Monty Python's Life of Bryan.

Oh yes, all very amusing.

Believe it or not I do have a sense of humour, and I do indulge in sarcasm, so I can appreciate these little interjections (to a degree) although I have found them increasingly uncomfortable.

During today's committee hearing there were several little digs, all sent forth with a wry smile and a twinkly eye. This made me feel deeply uncomfortable, particularly when the comments were addressed to the new minister who has home ed in her portfolio. It felt like I was witnessing an old boys network giving the newcomer the lie of the land. That these home educators are a tricksy bunch, bit tiresome, but they are after all an insignificant minority and as such us good old boys (and girls) need to do our bit to at least try to support them (might even get them off our backs for a bit.)

I couldn't pin down exactly why it made me feel so uncomfortable, other than it felt disrespectful to take the micky out of a group of people that you purport to support, but I couldn't get away from the fact that something just felt wrong about it.

Now I appreciate that a lot of people don't have much if any time for the social sciences, much less for their assault on humour which has possibly lead us to the point we are at now where people can be sentenced to prison for expressing unpleasant opinions on social media sites. I appreciate that humour and sarcasm are Great British traits that have often seen us through many a difficult situation. I also strongly defend the right to free speech. You hear that but again right?

I honestly feel that, when members of parliament are supposedly trying to help a minority group (which home educators undoubtedly are) that to use, what I discovered is called disparagement humour, is abusing their position of power, and it does nothing to help the minority in question. I know it's tiresome to make the comparison with race, religion and sex, but let's be honest, if an MP were to make witticisms based on those things they would be hauled over the coals. So why are we not afforded the same respect? And what's more, why do we collude in this debasement by laughing along?

I'm just going to copy across a little paragraph from a paper titled "Consequences of Disparagement Humor:A Prejudiced Norm Theory" by Thomas E. Ford and Mark A. Ferguson of the Department of Sociology Western Michigan University. [The full paper can be read here in a pdf]

"The Prejudiced Norm Theory Taken together, Ford (2000) and Ford et al. (2001) suggested that disparagement humor is likely to increase tolerance of other instances of discrimination against the targeted group, above and beyond its specific content, for people who are relatively high in prejudice toward the disparaged group."

Which would suggest that through his use of denigrating humour about home educators, Graham Stuart, instead of helping the intolerance we have to deal with on a far too regular basis, is actually helping to continue it. Woah, that's a bit of a heavy accusation I hear you cry. Perhaps, but it is something that he needs to think very carefully about, in my opinion, if his intention towards us is as honourable as he would have us believe.

I would also add this as food for thought:

"That sense of superiority or contempt that the abuser feels towards his partner can manifest itself in constant low level sarcasm or mockery masquerading as wittiness. This is one trait that may be used in company since it can be passed off as humour, other people enjoying the joke, little realising that how often the partner has been the butt of the abuser’s mockery. Mockery is just as powerful a put-down as anger – more so in fact." [the whole article can be found here.]

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

EHE Select Committee Session Thoughts

Having been living in a motorhome, with relatively limited internet access for the past six months, I have been a little bit out of the loop with all things political HE wise. Thankfully though I have a network of friends who have been keeping me up to date, so I have been aware of the recent goings on, though haven't had the time, access, or inclination to be honest, to get involved.

This morning I was relying on texts from friends and twitter hashtags to keep me up to date with the goings on at the select committee hearing. This evening the internets (well, the mobile networks but hey) have been kind enough to grant me 3G access and so I have been able to sit and watch for myself, though this was not without its particular "living in a motorhome" difficulties (think noise levels). 

These are my initial thoughts about the hearing and the general climate in which it took place.

I have to say that when I was told who would be appearing on the first panel I was frustrated. There were two people who I did not want there representing home educators. Those with an understanding of recent HE history and my own particular point of view on that, will be able to draw their own conclusions as to who those people were!  

In all fairness however, I have to say that I did not hear anything said that I could disagree with. It would appear that, on a public level at least, lessons have been learned. I did find it interesting that LAs are not taking up training to the degree that they did a few years ago. Obviously this impacts on the income opportunities for those people who give themselves the title of education/home education consultant. This confirmed for me that my concerns with regard the arrogant way in which certain individuals were attempting to push through new guidelines/guidance, allegedly at the behest of Graham Stuart, were well founded. New guidelines/guidance would require updated training, ergo lots of lovely new business opportunities.  (I was pleased to note that there seemed to be a clear consensus that the guidelines we have currently are perfectly adequate and do not need replacing, they just need to be adhered to; an excellent step forward in my opinion!)

I found the way Graham Stuart smoothly slid in bit of promotion for an upcoming flexi schooling conference irritating, and his brief explanation of what flexi schooling is misleading. I was fairly certain that others had already covered the problems which arise when flexi schooling is misrepresented as a form of home education, but at this moment I'm not able to find those blog posts to link to here. If anyone reading has any links, please feel free to drop them in the comments box, or if there aren't any such posts anywhere I will write one myself at some point.

The resounding feeling I got from watching the committee hearing was that, once again, we have a raft of MPs who just don't understand what home education is and how it works. If you follow that through to its conclusion what that actually means is that we have a bunch of MPs sitting on a committee about education who don't understand the education act. That disturbs me. 

I think that as a result of this lack of knowledge, what Graham Stuart perhaps hoped would come out of the hearing was derailed to a great extent, and this is again something that disturbs me. Why? Because the task of the committee is to make recommendations to government, and, as far as I am aware (please do tell me if I’m wrong), there has to be a certain degree of consensus in the committee’s report.

The impression I got from watching the hearing was that, once again, HE was being conflated with safeguarding issues for most of the committee members. Graham Stuart has an excellent understanding of why HE shouldn’t be conflated with welfare/safeguarding, and yes, he is the chair of the committee so has much more influence than he had when he sat on the last education select committee, but I think he is facing an uphill struggle to get his committee members to really understand the intricacies of the problems home educators face with local authorities.

Surely those committee members should have had a Home Ed 101 briefing before coming into that hearing? The closing date for submissions to the enquiry was, I believe, July 19th. That’s getting on for two months ago. These people have presumably been reading the submissions and yet they still had to ask the most basic questions? The committee is due to release its report in October, (again, please correct me if I’m wrong, I have been out of the loop as I’ve already said) not long at all to get their collective heads around home education!

Perhaps I’m imbuing our elected members with rather more credit than they deserve when I say that they don’t exist in a vacuum, and will surely know what is currently happening in Wales (Badman II by any other name).

Perhaps I am worrying unnecessarily (I really do hope so) but I am very concerned as to the direction that this latest interest in English home education will take. I have very good reason to be concerned, as do all the home educators who lived through the Badman days. If you have no understanding of the history you might say that that sounds terribly melodramatic; to that I just say I hope you never have to experience what we went through in those 16 months. Only today I was talking to a fellow home educator for whom the mention of Home Education and a Government Committee brought her out in a cold sweat. That’s more than two years after the Badman recommendations were abandoned in the wash up. That is how frightening a time it was. That is why so many of us are so suspicious of government and local authority interest.

I am a fairly ancient, long in the tooth, battle weary home educator who has lost the limited faith she once had in the process of engaging. I (and others) spent a lot of time over the years working with the local authority in North Yorkshire, which culminated in that authority being presented to Badman as “best practice”. It wasn’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but it was a hell of a lot better than what we started with, but a change of staff and all of that hard work has gone flying out of the window to be replaced with pretty bloody awful practice. I can’t say I’m sorry that I don’t live in North Yorkshire any more. I offer that as a word of warning to all those who currently have a good working relationship with their local authority. It really can all change overnight.

Overall I thought that the home educators did “us” proud; what the MPs will do with it all remains to be seen. Exam access, across the board adherence to the law and respect instead of suspicion from LAs would be excellent outcomes for this process, but I’m not going to be holding my breath, especially given what is going on across the Welsh border.

Friday, 17 August 2012

How Do You Cover History?

Me and my family have just spent the last 6 months travelling around the country in a motorhome. I can't tell you what an incredible experience this has been for us all. If you have the chance to do it, I would absolutely say go for it. It's probably been the best learning experience we've had in all our years home educating.

The thing that shone through most of all has been history. We've visited all manner of places covering pretty much every time period in this country's history. We've seen so many different ways of telling the stories of this land, from dry information boards to organised reenactments to enthusiastic local history buffs happy to spend an evening sharing their knowledge.  Some ways of knowledge sharing have been more easily absorbed and more enjoyable than others, and this leads me to the questions I want to ask of anyone out there that still reads this blog!

What does history mean to you? Is it just an interesting way to pass a rainy afternoon, or does it serve a deeper purpose? How do you bring history into your lives? Do you use textbooks; living memory stories; DVDs, museums [insert any other ways I've momentarily forgotten]? What, if anything, would you like your children to learn from history?

I'm really looking forward to reading what you all have to say, as once we move back into a house we won't have such easy access to the wide variety of experiences we've had recently, so I'm interested to know what you all do and why.

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Urgent Help Needed

A well-known member of the HE community and trusted friend needs our help. The person's family is facing a possible court order and they felt the need to leave the country very quickly in order to protect the children from unfounded interference based on home education as a risk factor.

A court order would prevent this family from being able to openly fight their corner; moving out of the country will give them breathing space and the chance of a fair and open opportunity to respond in safety to the unfounded allegations. Interim financial assistance, though not asked for by the family, would afford them a slight cushion as the initial relocation costs are fairly hefty and unforeseen as events have snowballed very quickly. The family is currently camping on a very limited budget with help from family and friends. They have long term plans.

We are looking to raise funds in the region of £1000. Any donation, no matter how small, is very gratefully received. We will post regular progress updates on the amount raised, but should we exceed our target, with full agreement from donors, we will put any additional funds to one side for ongoing relocation costs. The Paypal collection address is and one of the people listed below will transfer all funds to the family's bank account at the end of this appeal.

We would like to point out that relocation is NOT necessarily the best or only option for families in similar circumstances. However in this situation, the multiple factors were such that the family in question strongly felt it to be the best course of action to ensure the children remained safe and protected in a loving environment. Whilst discussions about where and when to go, and how to take a more proactive stance in such situations are extremely important, we would very much appreciate it if they did not hinder this family's progress.

Many thanks for taking the time to read this. If you have any questions, we will do our best to answer them without compromising the anonymity of this home educating family. We are most appreciative of the community's support in continuing to protect their identity.

Alison Preuss 
Barbara Stark
Elaine Kirk
Gill Kilner
Karen Gallant
Lisa Amphlett
Louisa Herbs
Maire Stafford
Michelle Beeny
Neil Taylor Moore
Raquel Toney
Sheila Struthers
Susanna Matthan
Techla Wood

Thursday, 29 March 2012

Memories of Denise

I've read lots of tributes to Denise over the last few days, maybe the world doesn't really need another one, but as all of the ones I've read have been from people who knew her through the business network that she was such a huge part of - 4N - I thought why not have one celebrating another side of her life. The home ed side.

These are just my memories; I know other people will have many, many more! Do feel free to share them in the comments section if you’d like to :)

I think I've known Denise for about 7 years, she quickly became involved in local HE politics in North Yorkshire after pulling her son out of school. I know that I liked her immediately - didn't everyone?! She was clearly someone who wasn't going to take any crap, but she had this great diplomatic (yet with a subtle hint of sarcasm) quality about her which was a great combination when dealing with the LA.

She was known on the internet as Wobblymoo back then. On yahoo groups email names were often what you remembered about someone, as you would see the email address more often than you saw the person’s actual name. More often than not you would introduce yourself to someone when meeting *in real life* for the first time, by using your email address, so when you are looking for Wobblymoo at a meeting with the LA it’s going to make you grin ;-)

She was, infamously, the first (maybe only) person to get tea and cakes at Betty's Tea Rooms in Harrogate (rather posh and pricey for the non locals) bought for her out of the LA HE budget.

Over the years we ran the local HE yahoo group together, and worked to make N Yorks a better, place for HEers in terms of treatment by the LA. An objective that we thought we'd largely achieved, but which, when we realised we’d been played to a certain extent, saw us both supporting each other and others in erm... non compliance I suppose you’d call it ;-)

Denise was always incredibly helpful and welcoming, and in order to help more new HEers find their way she set up a North Yorks HE website, which even the LA directed people to!

When the Badman report came up, Denise was invited by the LA HE advisor to come and talk to Badman about her experiences of HE, as N Yorks by that point had come to be seen as an example of *best practice* with regard relations with home educators. I know that following on from her discussion with Badman she felt quietly confident of a good outcome. She told me that he had seemed to be quite reasonable, and appeared to understand what she had said to him about how important HE was as an option, and how it was particularly important for those struggling with school to have an alternative. Knowing that Denise was not the kind of person to bullshit, and that she was a good reader of people, I tried very hard to believe that she would be right, inspite of the evidence to the contrary.

I was invited to run a workshop on HE at a conference in Leeds about informal education which took place in May 2009. I asked Denise if she would come along with me, as I was nervous about going alone, and I knew that it would be much more fun with her as my side kick! We got to sit in on some very interesting talks in the morning, but chatting to another delegate at lunch time was a far more interesting affair! To be honest what we heard threw us both a bit, Denise more so I think, given her hope that Badman was a fair and reasonable man, and that these would be qualities that would show through in his report. To cut a long story short, what we heard was the most contentious aspects of the contents of the Badman Report, which wasn’t due out for another few weeks. The delegate in question had been at a conference at which Badman had presented his report - at a time when the HE *community* was still very much hoping to be able to influence the outcome. It was pretty explosive stuff, and the delegate obviously realised that she had let the cat out of the bag (she seemed to have been under the impression that the report had already been released) and very quickly stopped talking to us, leaving Denise and I somewhat shell shocked. We both decided that the best option would be to assume the other delegate had been mistaken, but to check out the conference details when we got back home.

Lunch finished there was time to have a quick look at who was booked into our workshop that afternoon, and we were both a little nervous to see that we had a couple of people from connexions booked in. Cue much chewing of fingernails!
In the run up to the conference we'd chatted about how it should go, but we were both seat of your pants kind of people when it came to this kind of thing, so we winged it, though having said that, we did get hold of a copy of a short film that some HEers had made, which we planned to use as a general introduction before taking questions. We'd arranged to have a projector set up in the room so that we could play the film on the big screen, but this was as far as our organisation for the event had gone.

We made our way up to our room, (we may or may not have become slightly lost, I couldn’t possibly comment! ) and were immediately struck by the lack of a projector. We rummaged around but there definitely wasn’t one, so we panicked slightly before getting the giggles and sitting down to wait for our audience. At some point we realised we were in the wrong room! Cue more giggles, and a mad dash to find the right room before our audience arrived! We found our room, complete with projector. Yay! Except that on this occasion Denise’s geek skills failed. She tried numerous ways to do whatever technical wizardry was required but all to no avail, and the workshop attendees were starting to arrive. We exchanged some panicked looks, but there was nothing left to do but to go with our original winging it plan. Denise was awesome. She charmed everyone and was her usual helpful self, answering questions and cleverly explaining things in a way that enabled people to understand a different point of view. It wasn’t a huge workshop, we weren’t the most popular subject on the list, indeed as I understand it a lot of the delegates didn’t really understand why home educators were even attending, but by the end of our workshop, and by the end of the closing discussion with all the conference attendees, we’d made some great contacts, and had opened some minds.

Back at our respective homes we got to work sleuthing (who knew that she would later become Detective Denise?!) on the internet, and discovered that the delegate who had let the report cat out of the bag was quite high profile in the dark world of the Badman, and so was unlikely to have been mistaken. Emails were written to the government asking for clarification. Eventually the report was released and it was everything we had feared and more. I know I have read people say that one of Denise’s qualities was never having a bad word to say about anyone, but she definitely had some bad words to say about the Badman! I suspect that was because she was a bit cross with herself for having got him wrong, but I think that just shows that she was the kind of person to look for the best in people, whoever they might be.
She was angry, and she posted a comment on the HE Facebook group expressing her fear that if the contents of the report became law, then a child would die, and Badman would have blood on his hands as a result.

Sometime later I had the dubious pleasure of telling Denise that her comment was amongst a small selection of *things on the internet* that the government was using to stop answering home educators freedom of information requests. Utterly ridiculous, but that was the level of stupidity that we were up against with Ed Balls and his cronies at the DCSF.

Denise worked incredibly hard to help defeat the Badman Report, and whilst we didn’t always agree on aspects of how to go about this, she always had my trust. The thing with Denise was that unlike some of the other people who were involved in some of the things many of us didn’t agree with, she had integrity, and that that aspect of her character was questioned by some did hurt her.

At the Informal Education conference we’d attended in May, we’d expressed interest in being involved in the setting up of a federation of informal educators that would include home educators, and some months later were approached to help do just that. It took quite a bit of back and forth and organisation before the first meeting was set up, but we eventually got together up in Darlington with some great people from the world of informal education. We had a riot of a time (of course we were also terribly productive!) and in an email to the lady who took this photo I said “I can’t believe you managed to get a photo of us where we weren’t falling about laughing”. It was very hard to be in a room with Denise and not laugh. (I hope R & M don't object to me putting this photo up)

Sadly Denise later decided that she didn’t have time to dedicate to building the federation, she was instead putting her energy and attention into her new business venture, Detective Denise. Having talked to her about her job I can’t say that I blame her! It sounded like an incredible thing to do for a living, and how cool is it to get paid for donning a wig and getting all Cagney and Lacey?

I had cause to call on Denise’s detective skills when I was trying to track down the estate of an author whose permission I needed for a project I was working on. She was super quick at getting a result, but more than that her integrity shone through as she made sure to look after not only my interests as her client, but also the interests of the other party who she had no monetary involvement with. I know she was very hot on the ethical aspects of her job, and she was, I believe, something of a leader in terms of getting her industry to behave in a decent and law abiding manner.
Back to Home Ed one last time; Denise was a great advocate of autonomous HE, and when her eldest son decided to give school a try she jokingly worried about having to deal with curriculum stuff as she prepared to take him for a look round the school. It gave her a great deal of pleasure a little while after he’d started school and was doing exceptionally well, that the teachers were confounded by how N could excel in science having never had a *structured lesson* in the subject! I also remember the pride with which she told me about some of R’s encounters with so called experts, and she was of course super proud of daughter K too.

On a more personal note talking to Denise over the years helped me through more than one difficult period of my life. When my husband was diagnosed with cancer and we decided not to follow the conventional path to recovery, Denise’s own history with cancer reassured me that we were doing the right thing. I will never forget her telling me that she firmly believed that if she’d done what the doctors told her she’d never have lived as long as she did.

I can’t really describe how Denise did it, she wasn’t obviously supportive (she wasn’t unsupportive, I just can’t quite explain what I mean) she never told you what to do, but she managed to convey what you needed to hear in such a way that it stays with you and sustains you when you need it, where other people’s opinions often don’t.

In the last couple of months when my life was upside down, at a time when she was terribly ill, she just amazed me with her attitude to life. She encouraged me to follow my dreams and, when it all gets a bit much, she is there in my head as a gentle nudge not to be so pathetic and to just get out there and live.

I’m so sad that I didn’t get the opportunity to give her the grand tour of Miranda (our campervan) as I’d promised her I would. I wish I had realised that I didn’t have as much time as I thought I did to do that, but that was Denise for you. She’d outlived her initial prognosis by leaps and bounds and somehow she seemed to me to be invincible (I’d been very worried about her back in Jan/Feb but her attitude made me think I was being ridiculously pessimistic and so I snapped myself out of it and went back to thinking she was invincible). She wasn’t the sort of person to wallow in self pity; always downplaying her troubles and always so much more interested in helping other people; even when she’d had a bad day she’d be looking forward to the good one that was just around the corner. I will never ever not be awe inspired by her courage, her joie de vivre, and I will treasure my memories of her always.

Love you Denise – hope you’ve got a sick bucket handy where ever you are ;-) I promise to smile on Monday xxxx