Sunday, October 15, 2017

In which I appear on Radio 4's feedback re home education

This week I was invited to the BBC studios at Lincoln to be interviewed by Roger Bolton for Feedback on Radio 4.  My reason for contacting feedback was that Winifrid Robinson had presented a programme called "Out of School, out of sight" for radio four which had been broadcast a few days earlier.  Depending on when you are reading this, you may still find it on the iplayer.

The programme started with an interview between Winifrid and a someone from the family who had withdrawn their children from school allegedly in order to home educate, who had told their family they were moving to Dubai, and had decamped to Syria.

For some reason, Winifrid believed that if the family had been registered, this would not have happened, ignoring the fact that when a child is deregistered from school the local authority is automatically notified by the school, and therefore is "registered" on a list of electively home educated children in that area.

Starting the programme with that case set the wholly negative tone of the programme from that point on.  The programme makers were definitely of the opinion that registration and inspection were the answer for children who were claimed to be home educated and clearly were not being home educated, in the face of its own evidence that this is not the case.

Two of the problem families, a mother struggling to home educate child who was threatened with a pupil referral unit if his attendance didn't improve, and a Jehovah's Witness man who had been home educated by his mother, were subject to regular inspections by the authorities... and yet this didn't appear to be helping or have helped.

Ignoring that, the programme went on to interview a couple of actual home educators, firing questions such as "What qualifications do you have to be a teacher?" at one poor woman, and spending some time on the continued breastfeeding of the other.  Neither of them appeared to have any problem with inspections or registration.

In fact, the styles of home education, the benefits of home education and the success stories of home education were not a part of this programme, which a BBC statement claimed was entirely commissioned to concentrate on the children slipping down the holes in the system, either because they were not being educated suitable to their age ability and aptitude, or because they had been opff-rolled by a school desperate not to have their results cluttering up their test scores.  However, as I told Roger Bolton on Feedback, this was not obvious from the programme and was not stated anywhere in the programme.  It was presented as though the freedoms that home educators rely on were the problem, and if these were withdrawn everything would be fine.

I feel it gave a very unbalanced and negative view of home education which was not in keeping with the ethos of the BBC, and should be rectified with another much longer programme studying the positive aspects of home education.  Or maybe that's a programme we will have to make ourselves.

Friday, September 08, 2017

Sceptics and cynics and fleas

I've had a real problem with fleas this year.  The dog has those spot-on drops usually, but she missed a dose while I was down south looking after my mother after her fall downstairs, and when I returned she was fairly covered in the jumpies.  It's been a bad year for fleas, and vacuuming, spraying the carpets and her bedding and washing everything helped but didn't eradicate the problem.

I've tried a number of commercial solutions, but I am highly sensitive to the commercial flea spray and developed eczema on my feet and eyelids, so was looking for something else and found recommendations from hundreds of people for diatomaceous earth.

I hadn't heard of it before, found a food-grade supplier and ordered some, which came today. It's a white powder with odd properties... it has a drying effect as it absorbs moisture and oil almost instantly.  I've read a number of sites which swear by it and say that it works like magic for fleas, but you have to be careful only to use a little as it tends to dry out the coat in animals.  I was worried about the prospect of Tizzy licking the stuff off her coat, but she doesn't seem inclined to do that and it's not harmful if she does.

In doing internet research on diatomaceous earth I found a lot of claims for a whole variety of health benefits for people, in ridding them of parasites, lowering cholesterol, and adding silica to the diet.  I looked for research, mainly aiming to establish its safety and the quantity required for a therapeutic dose, and came across a website denouncing its use in humans.

I read the article expecting to find some evidence to back up the claims of quackery, but found none.  This is one person's opinion that people cannot make claims for this substance because it hasn't been through clinical trials for this purpose, and denouncing those making any claims for it.  But actually, there seems to be little scientific evidence for or against it.

This is true of any number of natural substances which have been used by people for centuries.  And what angers me about this sort of "trust me, I'm a doctor" approach is that it is one person's opinion, and no more valid or backed up by science than someone who tells you that diatomaceous earth is good for ridding pets of fleas, or red mites.  It is backed up by anecdotal evidence, which is entirely dismissed by the scientific fraternity, although for many traditional remedies, that's all there is.

When drugs have been put through clinical testing, you can be sure that any harmful effects are recorded, and that the boundaries for safety of the substance has been established.  But do all people react to all substances alike?  Aren't some fatally allergic to peanuts while another will happily munch away at a bag of them unaffected?  Can science cater for the endless variety in people's reactions?  No.

The third leading cause of death in the US is inappropriate treatment or medication - medications which have been through clinical trials.  It must be the reason that when doctors go on strike, the death rate actually drops, instead of rising as one would expect.  Would I prefer that diatomaceous earth had been put through clinical trials?  YES.  Am I going to wait to use it until they happen?  NO.

Drug companies and those invested in medical research will not pay for medical trials of substances that can't be monetized by patenting.  For this reason I think there should be a research tax in the UK which could be used to fund research into commonly used substances.  When research was conducted into lavender oil, many of the traditional claims for the oil were substantiated.  And like diatomaceous earth, there were a lot of claims in many different directions.  I don't think I need to take the word of experts or laypeople... I am going to try it, and see what I think, the same way I might try a drug the doctor prescribes... although in that case I might read the patient leaflet and decide that I'd rather not, thanks.

Sunday, May 14, 2017


I haven't blogged for a long time. However the upcoming election is making me feel very unhappy as so many people recently have said to me that they don't believe Jeremy Corbyn is capable of running the country. In the end, I don't think that's the issue.  The issue is, do we want the Conservatives to throw the NHS and all it stands for away?  I don't think we do.

Jeremy Corbyn's policies are what people should be looking at.  And the major item at a crossroads in this election is not Brexit but the NHS.  The tories have been starving the NHS of money in many ways at once.  They have made the NHS use commercial contracts for services which were traditionally provided by local hospitals, which in some cases seems to have replaced a working system with nothing at all.  People are complaining that having waited six months for a paediatric appointment they have been left in a no-man's land when Virgin healthcare have taken over the supply of services. 

Through the magic of corporate accounting, Virgin Care doesn't just make no profit, but actually makes a loss, and thus doesn't pay any tax in the UK.

The government are treating health services the way they are treated in the USA, as a commodity or a product, as though the long experience of dealing with a patient or trying different therapies with a consultant is worthless.

Taking contracts and money away from hospitals so that a service can be run by a for-profit company also takes money and flexibility away from hospital managers.

If you care about the NHS and its future as a free-for-all  health service you cannot vote Conservative.  That's all.

Wednesday, March 08, 2017

International Women's Day

I'm reminded by the Google Doodle that it's International Women's Day.  It's a day to be bombarded  by images of women doing amazing things, but it always makes me feel quite sad.  When I was at school in the 1970s we were definitely given the impression that being "just" a wife and mother was not a cromulant ambition for an intelligent woman, and I believed that.  I looked at my mother, who left her job when she was pregnant with me, and saw that women in her generation and those before her, had very little choice but to give up any career they'd begun for themselves, in order to stay at home.

I started work in the City as an industrial journalist, working on technical magazines, annual reports, and a staff magazine for Lloyd's Register of Shipping, more or less convinced that I would never want children.  I was the eldest of six, and knew all about the sleepless nights and mess and chaos which came with children, as I was almost old enough to be the parent of my youngest sister.

I married, and we were both agreed we wouldn't have children, but when my sister had her first baby I realized that being a mother wasn't just all the negative things I'd already experienced with my siblings - it was also unconditional love, and caring for the next generation.  An opportunity to bring up a child in love and nurture them.  Having brought myself to the point where I almost believed that I had no maternal instinct at all, seeing my sister with her baby awakened me.

It was another couple of years before I had my first baby, and I realized how much your own experience as a baby affected how well you are able to parent.  I began to have flashbacks of being a baby, and remembered trying to sleep with lights in my face and people talking loudly, feeling the backs of my legs cold when wrapped in a blanket... and those things informed my parenting.

I was definitely not an earth mother at first.  Even the night before my first baby was born, I was still thinking it might be practical to fetch my husband home to deal with dirty nappies.  Of course, all that was forgotten the moment he was born.  And I began to learn that what I had thought of as endless drudgery can be the most rewarding job you've ever done... it's all a matter of perspective.  I know that not all mothers fall in love with their babies, and not all mothers fall in love with all their babies, but I was lucky, and I did.  And I didn't find looking after them to be a brainless and unfulfilling occupation, but the best and most enjoyable work I ever did.

I can't help feeling that our society is discarding something valuable by trying to claim that men and women are equally capable of mothering children.  Millions of years of evolution, and the fact that our bodies are designed both for the having of the babies and the feeding of them once born, must offer some advantages mustn't it?  There are some women who are terrible at looking after children and some men that are brilliant at it, but on the whole, even in relationships where the tasks are shared evenly, the women have the edge.  When my mother worked in an old people's home for a while she told me that it was always their mothers that elderly people cried for, never their fathers.  If properly bonded in the first few hours of life, I believe that mothers have a bond with their babies that comes from nine months of being in the same body.

That's not to say that I think people can't love and nurture babies they haven't carried, I don't, I think the instinct to protect and nurture the young is there in everyone who had a loving upbringing.  It's harder to do though.  A woman who is allowed to bond properly with her baby in the first few hours of life doesn't have to make any effort or use logical argument to make her care for her baby, it's as natural as breathing.  Writing about this is making me uncomfortable, even though it is what I believe, because I fear to offend those who have adopted children or taken on stepchildren, which is more and more prevalent in our society, or for those who had post-natal depression and have struggled to bond with a baby.  I can't help feeling, though, that society would be a kinder and better place if we did recognize the damage that can be done to the mother-child relationship by interfering with the bonding process in childbirth and afterwards. 

I don't like the fact that feminists seem to disparage the work that women have traditionally done in the home and family as though it were worthless.  The view seems to be that only a moron or someone brainwashed by society or culture to think it is the only thing they can do, would ever want to be a full-time mother and housewife.  There has been a definite rise in the media of the attitude that women who want to be full time mothers are letting the side - and their children, especially their daughters - down.
But the original suffragettes weren't fighting for the right to be men and do those things which men had traditionally done.  They were fighting for recognition that the things traditionally done by women are worthwhile and of equal value.  Their campaigning for equality was not designed to make everyone work in a career, but to allow for the truth that our work, no matter where we do it and whether we are waged or unwaged, is of value to the family and to the country.

All that has been lost in the scramble for equal pay, and equal opportunity.  The net effect has been to devalue women's traditional work until it is seen as little better than being a road sweeper or loo attendant - the lowest of the low job. Women who want to do it are looked down on.  I was shocked when I realized that although I was the same person who worked in the city and organized two departments and six million pounds worth of printing, I too became someone who made people's eyes glaze over when I mentioned I was at home looking after a baby.  The implication is that you become a person of no interest to others the moment you stop work.  I even wrote to the Times to express that surprise, and received a lot of mail from women who felt the same.

I felt betrayed by the women and careers officers who guided me and gave me the impression that being a wife and mother isn't something worthwhile.  I fear that women today have no more choices than their grandmothers - where once they had to give up work, now they must work and have a career, whatever their own desire.  It seems to me that we have lost as much as we have gained, and that days like International Women's Day are designed to fire up girls to want to be astronauts or engineers, even if their dearest wish and natural talents mean that they want to stay at home and raise their own children.

I have a hope that the rise of transgender and multifaceted sexuality may one day mean that a person of any gender or none might be able to listen to their heart and follow their desire, whether that be for a wife/husband/civil partner and family or professional career, or dancing, or artistry, or hedge-trimming, or house building or genetics, and that society will begin to recognize that the nurturing of the next generation is not a cop-out for lazy people but a worthwhile job which brings rewards, not just for individuals, but for their families and society too.

There has been an immense amount of propaganda over the past century designed to manipulate the working population to provide what commerce and the war machine has required in terms of workforce.  Perhaps one day we will recognize the truth of what the suffragettes were fighting for and accord nurturing the children in a family the same status and reward as making armaments to kill them.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

What sort of a world do you want?

I've been thinking a lot over the past couple of weeks.  Being alone gives you a lot of time to think without interruption, and while Tom has been away I have been thinking a lot.  One of the things I had been thinking about was how stupid it is that our government is subjecting the ill and disabled to assessments and denying them the benefits they need, and that this is costing more than it used to when we relied on doctors and medically qualified people to do it and were less punitive.  So many news stories have been published recently about people dying shortly after they were assessed as fit for work.

I live in a mainly Conservative area, and I can't understand it!  The people here are lovely, kind and warm, and it seems impossible that they should support a party which is forcing families and the sick and disabled into abject poverty.  So this morning I printed out and stapled together a poster I have pasted to the big window in my house.

What sort of world do you want to live in?
One in which disabled and sick people are cared for by all of us?
Or every man for himself?

This government and the previous government have been systematically dismantling the welfare state

They are now subjecting disabled people and terminally ill people to long assessments and interviews and 40-page forms, and their new system is actually costing MORE money than simply paying the disabled and sick and accepting some people may be frauds.  Many people who need benefits are being denied them.

People on benefits are "sanctioned" which means removing all financial support and the right to free prescriptions etc, in order to meet targets set by the profit-making companies now in charge of these things.  It isn't only the people on benefits who are suffering, many of the employees of these companies are under extreme stress.

More people than ever before are on the streets, or admitted to
hospital with malnutrition.  Use of food banks has grown dramatically.

Not only do sanctions cost more to administer than they save, (National Audit Office) which means we're paying more to starve families than we did to feed them,  if we closed the loopholes which allow corporations and rich individuals to avoid paying a fair share of tax, that would gain £37 billion - more than we need to offer social care and support the NHS.

If you  agree with this, please write to your MP, and consider whether you want to support these changes in our country.

Is this the world you want for the future?
And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity. 
I believe that love requires us to act now.

I put a PS on the bottom to say that I am neither on benefits nor disabled, because I wanted people to understand that it wasn't my own self-interest which was driving me to take action, but a wish to help those who are being penalised by the crazily awful system we have in place.  Although there would be nothing wrong with someone who is on benefits or disabled writing such a thing, of course, they would be open to the accusation that they would feel that, wouldn't they?