Moon Surfing: Lunar Astrology for Teens

Full cover of Moon Surfing 🙂

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Bathing Blue and Catching Up

[Bumper set of blog posts today, while I’ve got time!]

Apart from the misery of Emily being so poorly, we have been doing bits and bobs over the last few weeks. Just before the weather turned sour again, and before Emily’s hands became a real problem, we gave Blue his first bath of the year, which was hysterical – we got absolutely soaked, he played up, pawing the ground, trying to dodge the hose and generally being uber-cute, and then promptly rolled the second he got back into his field and ended up far dirtier than when we’d started 😉 He had hay fever at the time so he’s wearing his fly mask back in the field.

Emily has been working on a big IT project with Gramps, devising a front and back end for a (hypothetical) piece of library management software, which is very involved and rather impressive. She’s also done quite a lot of work on politics/government, looking in particular at select committees (oh, what a coincidence…..there just happens to be that lovely select committee inquiry on home ed coming up….) and on other forms of government scrutiny. Lots of psychology going on, including a look at the undergraduate psychology course available free from MIT Open, which looks very good indeed. Psychology is fast overtaking politics as a potential career choice, I think.

Meanwhile, we also finished looking at radiation and radioactivity, did some more early 20th century political history, reluctantly progressed with maths, even more reluctantly progressed with English literature and did all sorts of other bits and pieces I’m now struggling to remember :-/

The plain weariness of dealing with Lincolnshire County Council has had at least one pleasant consequence, in that we’ve met some lovely new friends and went to meet a new family the other week for a brilliant afternoon where time flew by. Lincs sent me the “full and final” response to my complaint at the beginning of June. It was, essentially, one of the most arrogant documents I’ve read for a very long time, and utterly failed to either fix anything or apologise for their rudeness and prejudice. Meanwhile, some FOI requests to them are now nearly a month overdue, and they haven’t bothered to acknowledge my request for an internal review of those FOIs either – they really do not appear to be competent in any of the areas I’ve had the misfortune of experiencing. So, those FOIs will be referred to the Information Commissioner to deal with. I do have matters in hand regarding taking a next step against Lincolnshire CC, but I will not be detailing events here until they’re done and dusted, since Lincs seem to have nothing better to do than to read this blog.

Rumblings at the spiritualist church reached fever pitch last week, with a crisis EGM being called to attempt to deal with the incompetence, power-grabbing, unprofessionalism, malicious gossip and general unspiritual behaviour of the self-appointed senior committee member. Needless to say, said EGM failed to resolve anything, but matters are in hand there too, which I also won’t be detailing on here for obvious reasons.

I now have a publication date for Moon Surfing: 26th October 2012 🙂 Time to start the hard work of getting some reviews in. The publishers will be doing quite a lot of marketing, but I need to do my bit too. On unrelated writing matters, there are more book proposals in progress, a drama script in progress and various ideas for home ed related Huffington Post blogs, all nipping at my heels and wondering when on earth they will get done. Soon.

Posted in Careers and Finance, Family Matters, Home Education, Home Education Law | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Chatsworth

Much belated photos from Chatsworth, which we visited at the end of April on a day of torrential rain. We loved, loved, loved the house, and Emily took lots of photos of the details and furniture she liked, being particularly enchanted with the (dusty!) wooden carvings over the doors and the snake emblem which cropped up everywhere. We hated, hated, hated the modern sculpture which obscured the view from the fountain to the house, and which littered the path towards the house, one piece of which looked for all the world like a big red skip and the rest of which looked like rusted square blocks. Um – why? There’s a time and a place for that kind of sculpture, but obscuring one the most famous views in the country isn’t it.

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Mystery Diagnosis :(

Emily’s been very poorly for the last three weeks, which has somewhat taken away from both my desire and my time to blog. We’re still here, still home educating and still refusing to let jumped up council officials get away with ignoring statutory guidelines on home education, but obviously Emily’s health is rather higher up the priority list.

Early in the new year, Emily started to get an intermittent rash on the back of her hands. It would only ever last for a few hours at a time, and wasn’t itchy, and there would be days or even weeks between occurences. We thought it must have been a minor allergic reaction but since it vanished so quickly each time and caused no discomfort, we didn’t think much of it. Some over the counter hay fever type tablets made it vanish on the rare occasion it hung around long enough to be still in evidence when we visited a chemist.

Then about six weeks ago, she developed a couple of blisters at the base of the 3rd finger of one hand. She rides every day, and they just looked like ordinary blisters that might be caused by the reins rubbing; we got Blue new reins and Emily new gloves and again, didn’t think anything of it. But the blisters wouldn’t heal. Then about three weeks ago, the blisters suddenly started to spread, very gradually across the rest of her hands – tiny little blisters on her fingers mostly. A chemist recommended some hydrocortisone cream and said it was an allergy; we used the cream for a few days, and lo and behold the situation got much worse, with splitting, bleeding, sore skin and more spreading blisters. Emily stopped using hand washes and things like that, and we bought dermatological soap-free stuff, but that changed nothing.

And so to the GP. They said it looked like pompholyx eczema – and indeed it did. Doc prescribed a stronger steroid ointment, warned that it could take several weeks to clear up, and sent us away telling us to come back if it got worse. It certainly got worse. At some points in the last couple of weeks, it’s been too painful for Emily to even hold a pen or type; she hasn’t been able to ride very much as she can only hold the reins for 15 minutes or so at a time; it’s been very miserable and painful for her. Early last week we noticed that she had blisters and red blotches on her feet. This type of eczema affects the feet as well as the hands, so that wasn’t a complete surprise, albeit a very unwelcome development. But then suddenly, the blisters mostly vanished and were replaced by large red raised blotches, which then began to spread up Emily’s legs and onto her wrists. I called the GP; they called me back five minutes later and told me to take her there immediately.

To cut this long story short, the GP was slightly baffled by the change. He called for second opinion from a colleague, who was also baffled. They now don’t think it’s pompholyx – they think it’s an autoimmune disorder of some kind, especially considering Emily had unexplained alopecia a few years ago. They did some blood tests there and then, during which Emily nearly collapsed 😦 We’ve now got to wait a week for the blood results. In the meantime, they’re trying another type of steroid cream and some oral tablets. It’s very, very worrying now and very distressing for Emily. None of the disorders they’re testing for are remotely fun. Our poor baby girl 😦

I hadn’t posted any of this out of respect for Emily’s privacy – however, she wanted me to post this. Emily also wants me to post some pictures from our days out over the last six weeks or so, so I’ll do that in the next post.

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Huffington Post

I’m delighted to say that I will now be blogging regularly for the Huffington Post on home education and mind-body-spirit topics. My first post there is: Ultra Vires Home Education Monitoring – Badman Via the Back Door? – highlighting that local authorities around the UK are engaged in ultra vires home education practices and policies (Lincolnshire, of course, is sadly far from alone in this) and offering my opinion on why that ought to matter to us all. It’s on the front page of the Schools section at the moment, but I gather they would like to feature it on tomorrow’s proper front page 🙂

[added on the 24th – it is indeed a featured post on their front page today, and the top featured post on the main education portal, and one of the three headline posts on the schools section 🙂 ]

Posted in Home Education, Home Education Law | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

But If You’ve Got Nothing To Hide…

Since I decided back in April to take a stand against Lincolnshire County Council’s home education power grab, I’ve had a depressing number of people shake their heads in bemusement at me or at Jon, online or in real life, asking why it matters and why, if we’ve got nothing to hide, we object to being monitored by the LA.

It’s not so much depressing that non home educators don’t understand the law on home education – that’s not surprising. It’s not even that depressing that so many non home educators believe home education *should* be regulated and monitored to within an inch of its life, and are often surprised at how little legal power a local authority has in this regard – that’s excusable, in the most part, because people with no experience of how home education works tend to just “not get it”.

No, it’s depressing because so many people don’t seem to understand that it matters when an authority tries to pretend that it has powers it does not have. It especially matters when a local authority takes the position that an entire section of its community is guilty until proven innocent. It’s home educators at the moment. Who might it be next?

It’s also depressing that people could think I would voluntarily put myself and my family through this hassle and stress for something which did not matter. It really, really matters.

There is, of course, the much quoted “First they came…” statement:

First they came for the communists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist.

Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Jew.

Then they came for me
and there was no one left to speak out for me.

….which so eloquently illustrates why it matters when no one takes a stand. But don’t be silly, I’m told. It won’t come to that. Of course they’re not going to start inspecting what we feed our children or checking whether schooled children are being abused at home during school holidays. It’s just a report, once a year. If you’ve got nothing to hide, why not?

I’ll tell you why not. Because my daughter is happy, healthy, well cared for, loved, adored, well educated and fully enjoying almost every single one of the rights afforded her by the UN Convention on The Rights of the Child. Except for one. She is not enjoying the right to privacy. Or at least – she will be, even if we have to go to court over it, but Lincolnshire County Council does not seem to believe that she is entitled to that right. She is discriminated against because of her (and our) lawful educational choice.

I’ll tell you why not. Because there are some children in Lincolnshire who are not as healthy, happy, loved, adored or well educated as my daughter, and who are not enjoying a full complement of rights. Those in abusive homes – Lincs CC does not have a very shiny record in this area of social services. Those “looked after” by the council – another not very shiny reputation there. Those in failing schools, and schools governed in the interests of making money for vested interests rather than in the interests of the children. Those in any kind of school who are suffering bullying; those who are bright but bored in school; those who need extra help with their education which they are not getting. While my daughter is one of the lucky ones, I will not permit interference in her life from those who inaccurately claim a duty to protect her rights, yet do so poorly in protecting those children who do need their help.

I’ll tell you why not. Because evidence suggests that when one home educator gives an inch, a local authority like Lincolnshire will take a mile from another family. But everyone allows visits, they’ll say. But everyone lets us speak to their child. But everyone can see that we’re fair and honest and protecting your child’s rights. They’ve already tried it in this complaint. The vast majority of families co-operate with us, said Debbie Barnes, as if this magically made their policy legal or ethical. And while my family has previously been judged “suitable” by this authority, what of a different family, perhaps a family with a more unorthodox set up, or a different style of education, or where there is illness or disability, or poverty, or where the parents are not middle class and well educated themselves? What if, by effectively colluding with this local authority, I make it easier for them to bully and harass a different family? Don’t think it doesn’t happen – every home educator knows it does. And for those who think that local authorities never get it wrong, or that social services only ever gets involved where they need to get involved, or that councils are never malicious or dishonest in their dealings with families, or that families are not sometimes, tragically, torn apart by those supposed to be serving them – wake up. Leave the fairy tales behind and do even the most basic research, and you’ll find that these things can and do happen. I will not play even the tiniest of parts in helping them to happen to someone else.

I’ll tell you why not. Because when my tiny daughter was at school, she suffered horrendously – at the hands of other children AND staff. Her head teacher did nothing. Nobody from a local authority came knocking at our door then to find out if her education was adequate or to make sure she was safe. Nobody cared, because the boxes were ticked and they had done their “duty” to my child. Like hell they had. We removed her from their system, opted out of their box ticking, took away their control over her life and vowed that we would never give it back. The ignorance and prejudice on display from them during this complaint has served to underline once more that we did the right thing picking up our bullied, bemused, frightened little girl, turning our backs and striding away from the system. On a point of principle, I cannot and will not ever accept this local authority pretending that they have my daughter’s interests at heart.

I’ll tell you why not. Because instead of writing a report or jumping through an unnecessary, ultra vires hoop so that the local authority can grab back some of its box ticking power, I prefer to spend my time with my daughter and my family. I have more important things to do than to co-operate with poorly phrased, vaguely threatening requests for information from a local authority which suddenly claims to care so much about my daughter, but which happily tramples both her rights and ours in its rush to exercise an ill-advised superiority complex.

And I’ll tell you why not once more. Because we are not criminals in waiting, who need to prove our innocence on a regular basis. We have broken no laws. If the law were changed tomorrow to allow home education monitoring, we would go along with it through gritted teeth, however much we disagree with it. Because, like most families, we are law abiding citizens. Yet this local authority breaks the law with impunity, simply because it disagrees with it – because it finds the current law on home education “unsustainable.” A fundamental right every British citizen should enjoy is the right to be considered innocent until proven guilty. That this local authority can so blatantly disregard that right for home educating families tells you all you need to know about them, their agendas, and why we will stand and fight, for as long as it takes.

Posted in Family Matters, Home Education, Home Education Law | Tagged , , , , , , | 25 Comments

Lincs CC Complaint#10 – A Reply to Mr McArdle

In the interests of transparency, so lacking in Lincolnshire County Council, this is the email reply I sent to Tony McArdle this evening. At close to midnight, on a Friday, which by his logic ought to earn me brownie points even if what I have to say turns out to be complete twaddle. Some – and I’m among them – might consider it unwise of a county council Chief Executive to start complaining about what is written on a personal blog that nobody has directed his staff to or asked them to read. Some might consider it an attempt to deflect attention from the real issue. Some might consider it just plain bizarre. Jon thinks I should write an article for the local press warning people to be careful what they say in case the council is snooping on them and using their words to try and make them appear unreasonable in any complaint. What an evil thought 😉

————–

Mr McArdle,

Thank you for your response to my recent letter. I would like to place on record the following points:

1. My complaint was never about “the legality of the council’s actions in writing to you requesting information about your daughter’s home education” – for a start, the council did not write to me requesting information, it wrote to me announcing a policy. As I’m sure you realise, my complaint is about the ultra vires monitoring policy itself, and I do not appreciate this attempt to trivialise the matter.

2. You state that my letter “complains that, by asking you to deal with the council in accordance with our complaints policy, that the council was obstructing your complaint.”

Please note that the only information I had about the council’s complaints policy is what is stated on the council’s website here: http://www.lincolnshire.gov.uk/local-democracy/compliments-comments-and-complaints/what-happens-next-complaints-policy/ Note that on that page, it states that the next stage after dealing with a Director is for the complainant to contact the CE directly, and that although the CE may *then* task a senior officer to investigate, the CE will respond directly. At no point does it mention that the CE should not be contacted directly, or that a stage 3 complaint will be automatically escalated to someone other than the CE, or that the CE will not respond directly – quite the opposite. With this in mind, it is clear that I sought your email details in order to do as instructed, unaware that you would apparently be following an unpublicised, different complaints procedure.

3. “insisting on a response from me” – an interesting choice of words, and David O’Connor used similar in his email to me yesterday. As pointed out above, that is what your website says will happen, so that is what I requested and expected. I don’t appreciate the insinuation of unreasonableness on my part.

4. In all three of my attempts to to acquire your contact details, I was clear and explicit that I intended to contact you myself, for the above reasons. It was never explained that this was apparently not the correct thing to do, and at no stage whatsoever did I request that the complaint be automatically escalated on my behalf.

5. I note your lack of an apology or explanation for why, after three requests and nearly 20 days, I had still not been given your contact details, although I thank you for your acknowledgment that this was indeed the case.

6. Should it turn out that a member of the legal team be instructed by David O’Connor to oversee this stage 3 complaint, I will have to refer the matter immediately to the LGO. While of course I accept that your legal department must be involved in the process at some stage, in an effort to clarify the legal issues at hand, I will not accept them in an overseeing role, since the complaint legitimately includes concerns about bias from this department.

7. You reprimand me for what you see as disrespectful remarks on my blog. On this, I would make several points:

a) It is a personal blog. I am entitled to express any opinion I choose there, as I’m sure you do in your private life. Nobody from Lincs CC need be subjected to reading it; I have certainly not pointed you to it.

b) I have remained polite in my written contacts with the local authority, even in the face of what I consider to be confrontational and disrespectful remarks.

c) I do not feel that I have been treated respectfully by some council members, particularly with regard to the “guilty until proven innocent” stance from the legal department, and Councillor Williams’ remarks in his email to me. No apologies have been forthcoming.

d) Respect is earned, not given blindly. I’m afraid I do have dwindling respect for the actions of this local authority with regard to home education and its handling of this complaint, and it is hardly surprising that my personal blog will express that, sometimes with sarcasm.

My blog expresses an opinion, just as your letter expresses your opinion, and Lincs CC’s home education policy, in going beyond the law, expresses an evidently biased opinion on home education – the difference being that at least a blog is open and transparent; something which cannot be said for ultra vires policies created behind closed doors.

I will continue to blog the progress of this complaint, not least because it is useful information for other home educators facing similarly ultra vires policies in other local authorities. Indeed, I have blogged a full rebuttal of your letter there as I think it’s important to make people aware of the inaccuracies in it. No doubt that post exhibits my frustration in a way this note does not. Such is the manner of a personal blog versus a piece of formal correspondence. Should I at any point state on my blog something which is factually incorrect, Lincs CC is welcome to comment there correcting me. Otherwise, I would respectfully suggest that, should anyone from Lincs CC find my blog distasteful, they stop reading it.

Thank you for your attention in reading this response. I gather from the unpublished complaints procedure and from your letter that you have nothing further to say on the matter, so I do not necessarily expect a reply, should you not wish to make one. I will wait with interest to hear from Mr O’Connor.

Yours sincerely,

Nikki Harper

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