My original plan was to be free and easy on Fridays. To do whatever Harry wanted to do. I knew that we’d do some work on writing and letter formation, since he’s a bit rubbish at that and it’s holding him back in other areas, but apart from that, I was happy to do whatever he wanted to do. I’ve read a bit about homeschooling plus Steiner and Montessori education to know that free and easy works fine. Actually, better than fine.
But then the Head said to speak to Harry’s teacher and see what she wanted us to do. The Head said maybe his teacher could even give us the work he would have missed. I didn’t see the point of this – in that case, he might as well be at school – but I went along with it, since I was trying to get them on side.
Before the first week, I had a meeting with Harry’s teacher and she gave me a bunch of stuff Harry will be missing, including printed sheets for Science and Maths. One of the science units is called ‘Helping Plants Grow Well’. The front page says: “What is this unit about? Plant growth depends on light, air, water and temperature. Roots act as anchors to keep a plant in the soil. The roots ‘suck’ up food from the soil into the stem and leaves. The leaves use this food, along with light, to make energy that makes the plant grow.” [I’ve put it in bold cos I’ll be coming back to it later]
There’s a page called ‘Assessing Knowledge and Understanding Using KS2 QCA Units’ which has three levels and two column. The first column is ‘Level descriptors’:
Level 1: The children can identify, locate and name the external parts of a plant.
Level 2: The children will describe the basic conditions that plants need in order to survive, e.g. food, water, air and light. They will recognise that living things grow.
Level 3: They will use their knowledge and understanding of basic life processes when they describe the differences between living and non living things.
They’re just the first examples of each. The next column is headed ‘How do the level descriptors relate to QCA Scheme of Work and Classroom practice’. I won’t bother typing them out because they make me feel like this*.
Now that page is aimed at teachers, which is fine. If I was a teacher it would make me lose the will to live – much like the Personal Development Reports I had to do at work, on which you had to list ‘strengths’ and ‘less strong strengths’ – but the next six pages have Harry’s name at top left and ‘My target is…’ top right, so I think it’s safe to assume these are for the children and they’re only marginally less life-sapping than the teachers’ page. You can see one of them above (click to embiggen). Now, I’m 40. I like to think I’m fairly intelligent, but I swear I can’t read more than three lines on each page before my brain goes into screensaver mode.
Now I know I’m going to sound like I’ve already drunk** the hippy homeschool Kool-Aid, but I can’t think of anything more likely to squeeze the joy out of learning than ‘I can use a datalogger to measure my results’ ‘I can plot points to make a graph and say what the pattern tells me’ ‘I can describe how I have changed one factor and kept others the same.’ There are 68 tick boxes over all the pages. Sixty-eight. See that bold bit above? 68 tick boxes to prove a 7-year-old understands it.
So that made my heart sink. But at school (and work) I was always conscientious. I like to do a good job. I like praise. (I always think of my friend Amanda who once told me that when she got a letter saying her smear test was “satisfactory”, immediately wondered how she could do better next time.) So I’ve been thinking that I’ll get around to these work sheets (Harry’s teacher didn’t give me the sheets for actually doing the work, just the targets, but the Head said I could get anything I needed from school) once we’re really into the swing of Flexi Fridays. Or once I can actually read and retain a whole page.
But then yesterday, Harry was drawing on the wall in my office (it’s okay, he’s allowed) and, because he loves to learn, he decided to test me on “frashcksns” – spelling’s not his strong point. Once we’d done a few, he wrote this and asked me which I thought I’d done:
I had no idea what he was on about. Turns out LOA = Learning Objective Achieved, LOPA = Learning Objective Partly Achieved, LONA = Learning Objective Not Achieved. I swear, when he told me my first thought was that I’ll have to homeschool him full time. I actually said, “Harry, that’s so awful, it makes me want to take you out of school completely.” He laughed his head of (LHHO) and said, “Have you lost your marbles?!” But the management speak bullshit of it makes me so miserable. Fine if that’s how the teachers keep up with the children’s understanding, but to make it something the children use to define the level of their own learning does actually make me feel like I’ve lost my marbles. (I’m so addled, I’m not even sure that sentence makes sense, but hopefully you get the gist.)
Btw, this is absolutely not a criticism of teachers. I thought they did a great job before – now that I know they have to deal with the above nonsense I’m even more impressed.
** I feel I must question my assertion of intelligence above since I originally typed “drinken” rather than “drunk”.