Wednesday, November 07, 2007

First, sharpen your pencil. Next, knives.

Last night I had an interesting insight into the workings of Government service, and while it was the Education Department, it does not bode well for my dealings with others pertinent to and our future enviro-adventures.

A wee while ago, amongst the sea of photocopied notices that my sons convey to and from school (rather selectively, as they can read, and know when me doing the same might not be for the best), I happened across something about an evening event 'to help your child settle in' to their new (secondary) school year (7), and in particular help with their homework.

Being a good parent... actually, make that knowing I could certainly be a better one, especially as regards their academic progress both in and out of school, I signed me & the missus up.

Let me get the good bit upfront right away. Someone, somewhere, saw/sees this as potentially necessary and worthwhile to address what one might term... shortfalls.

Remember that it was me and the missus. Well, that at least brought the total attendance to about a dozen. Out of a year that has some 200+ students. So the first thing I noted was that whatever this was, we represented about 6%. And of those, me and 'er indoors were the only ones who did not seem to have a mighty good appreciation of where their kids needed to be now and in a future already mapped out. This did not seem of great concern to the various organisers, of which there were three, though one was more in a coordinating role and scooted off. The other was some LA edu-guru, who ran/will run the series, and a teacher in support. Now I don't know who is funding this, but if they were unpaid then big up to 'em. If not...

Speaking of funding... See that picture? That is the paperwork we all had dumped on us. Actually, minus a sheaf of paperwork we had to fill out and sign in quintuplicate 'for the funders'. At this point I was wondering what I had got myself into, as I thought this was just a quick chat about homework.

Oh no, we had to put down everything from our race (Jedi.. natch) to educational qualifications, plus a bunch of other psychobabble and gibberish that ran for pages which, I noted, had been formatted and then stapled to include an extra one for each without anything on it. I am not sure that my comment about the funders not being too concerned about waste edicts was very appreciated. We then had to fill out boxes to say where we 'wanted' to be by the end, which seemed to involve copying things down from the flip chart and/or one of these sheets... and then signing them. My wife had to stab me in the thigh to keep me there.

Then we got on to the 'ground rules'. Ok, fine, no speaking out of turn, being rude to teacher or dissing the others. Now they are immortalised in flip chart glory and pinned on a wall. Are all government meetings run this way?

Eventually, we got cracking, and it all pretty much revolves around a wee tome I was vaguely aware of, called the homework diary. Anyway.... WAIT....!

Seems one parent does not have a copy as they were new to the area. Cue massive debate between LA guru and teacher, where it transpires that there was a finite number and they had run out and printing costs a lot and...

Again, my next suggestion was equally unappreciated, namely that as it was... a diary... and all the extra bits were just a few charts and pictures, as 2007 diaries were probably going cheap by the 11th month, and there is this thing called a photocopier, maybe as an interim measure one could be bought and the requisite pages stuck in to get all to an equal level of stationery nirvana.

Meanwhile, back to the homework diary. Seems this is a key piece of the school/pupil/teacher/parent communication system. After this I have my doubts as to whether it is just them, but I have to say that I immediately saw a slight problem in as much as a bunch of adults were relying on 10/11-year-olds to act as reliable go-betweens in spoken word, written word and in deed. In fact, throughout a lot of the evening’s more promising discussions, things seemed to screech to a halt when I piped up to ask, with eyebrow-cocked, how it all worked (bearing in mind we were there to help our little darlings do better despite themselves) if they didn't as such, per se, do what they were supposed to. Waaay too often the LA guru arched her eyebrow and suggested that this was not their problem if people didn't cooperate. If anything epitomised the ‘this is the way it has been done, is being done and always will be done’ box-tick culture I was sensing, this was it. Only I have to play ball to get my kids’ educated as well as possible despite a system that seems to care less (save for having this event).

By this time my thigh was like a pin cushion.

But there were some positives that have already come out of this.

It has been accepted that when the kids have their induction and are told of the vital use of all this stuff on day one, it might be an idea to brief the parents on it all too, especially if they are expected to get involved. And do it at the beginning, too.

It was also appreciated that if there are areas of confusion, fear or laziness, perhaps putting the communications of vital bits of info between school and parent about the person concerned into the self-same person's hands is not the best idea. There also followed a mind-boggling debate about what could/should be done with various communications vis a vis post and the internet. Just one posted mailing from this school of 2,000+ must cost about £1k! Why IT (somehow it ended up at the door of the guy who teaches ICT... don't the UK's schools have IT admin support departments?) was not up to defaulting to all parents who opt in via a database/mail merge system was quite beyond me.

By the end I was both exhausted and livid. I had the impression the poor teacher was sympathetic and would try her best (we squeezed an email address out of her that she promises will get checked and queries answered... poor girl) but LA Lady was not going to be distracted from her schedule.

And so, under threat of death, or an EU fine, or something equally awful, we are committed to more of the same for the next several weeks.

I just hope the boys appreciate it. While the other 188 students, and their parents, who still remain in total ignorance, revel in their bliss.

ADDENDUM 2 - Just went to the second session. Much better. I sensed great relief that we had all turned up again. And much less defensiveness. Apparently some of what had been shared from parents had been fed back into the system, and indeed I know my own kids had engaged more and been asked about it all. Nothing better than a sense that a difference is being made.
Still waaaaay too much psychobabble that consumed the majority of the 2 hr session, but I had a personal breakthrough where I could at last see the connection through what the syllabus set out, what homework was set weekly, what the homework diary was supposed to contain, what I was supposed to relate it to and how that was to be overseen by the teachers.

And, most importantly, a significant willingness to be contacted by the teaching staff... which I will take up with enthusiasm, and appreciation. Not how I do it, but at last worth doing (I hope).


Online craft, repair, etc sources of inspiration:

Craft - 'Site unseen' - not reviewed - Not exactly a RE:view of the site, but just to say my kids love this costume. - Well, I would, wouldn't I? - not yet reviewed. US-based

It's an 'e-volver' thread, so I'll be adding from me... and you... if you tell me.

Going the distance

Those getting excited by Food Miles may find this, via TreeHugger, of interest: Wine Carbon Study Says East Coasters Should Drink French

Green Van Man?

(DFT) Multi-million fund for low carbon vans

And you know I can't resist the odd highlight...

Setting the tone:

Cleaner, greener van fleets could be a reality on our roads...

Actually, it's more a case of 'why not before?'. However, I do concern myself at the potential for a box getting ticked without the enviROI being properly sussed out.

Lies, damn lies... and who we should be talking to

The UK family: in statistics

I found it interesting anyway.

As they say she said he said they think we should...

I'm not big on speeches.

They are either long, or boring, or both. They rarely tell you anything worth knowing, or can do much with or about on the spot, and invariably are either preceded or followed up with the content online, so it rather makes being there to be bored to death a major lowpoint of one's day. Unless there's a chance to drag folk from the PowerPoint screen, they stay around afterwards for a chat or the speaker can really inspire.

Speaking of which, we have the Queen reading out the Prime Minister's list.

I may (or likely may not) get interested enough in trawling more and hence posting from elsewhere, but for now here is a press release from the Greens, or at least one of their Principal Speakers (which has me a tad contused as to who speaks for whom).

A few points of note (well, that I noted), with which I am in pretty much agreement:

The 60 per cent by 2050 targets cited in the revised Climate Change Bill

"It's criminally irresponsible to adopt a target that not only flies
in the face of science, but also undermines the UK's commitment to
making a fair contribution ..."

"...low level targets that we are not
likely to meet do not constitute radical action on climate change."

On the Planning Reform Bill

"The current proposals for a separate planning system for major
infrastructure projects mean undermining democracy in favour of an
increasingly centralised and authoritarian government."

"Consulting with local people for disruptive, polluting projects like
airports is essential, and any attempt to 'streamline' these
processes to save money, or to hand them over to appointed yes-men is
a scandalous affront to the rights of ordinary people in the UK."

On the Housing and Regeneration Bill:

"...give priority to the maintenance and
improvement of existing properties before building 3 million new homes."

What a week that was!

Hardly a day goes by without it being some kind of 'week'.

Apparently, or at least according to an email I have just had, it is 'Waste Not Week.

Now, as oft noted, my enthusiasm for raising awareness knows no bounds but I have a few small niggles.

The main one is that if there is a 'week' for such things, is there not rather a danger that, by definition, the other 51 are not, how to say, as strong. So I rather prefer to think of not wasting to be more of a 24/7, 365 kinda deal.

Then there's the cost. Who pays for all the effort that goes into such efforts? The DM packs, the PR, etc, etc? And hence the enviROI generated.

And who, exactly, are the beneficiaries? I can see it keeps some folk occupied. And makes money for a goodly proportion. Plus the media can fill a slow news day.

As to the rest of us...?

Recipes for the day

I was/am/will be intrigued how the latest anti-food waste 'initiative' will pan out after its massive 'launch'. Here's the latest salvo... serving... Things to do with soggy veg ...

Yum. You can almost here the boxes ticking: PR coverage in the Guardian, check.