Monday, November 18, 2002

Education Secretary, Charles Clarke, would have us believe that “top-up” university fees would be no harder to come by than a family holiday or a car. The message here is that a university education is now a luxury rather than a hard earned right.
I don’t know how Mr. Clarke is fixed but my family car is an aging Rover Metro and family holidays come along once in a blue moon. This is what happens when you live within your means rather than going into eternal hock. My family and I live in a modest semi-detached bungalow in a rural area because the same type of property in a town is out of our price range. Our previous four bedroom semi was increasingly difficult for me to look after following an industrial accident that left me permanently disabled and it took everything we had to move somewhere I could cope with. My husband is paid far less than a fireman and I receive a pittance in benefits, the loss of my higher rate DLA made things worse thanks to some power-crazed clerk believing s/he knew better than my doctors so didn’t get any decent medical evidence to back up my claim and the officious git(s) ignored the specialists reports I sent them (an appeal is pending). And this was after they snatched tens of thousands of pounds of my compensation thanks to some parting legislation from Margaret Thatcher. Don’t you think it’s strange that when now I no longer fund my own benefits (the money will have run out since my last claim in 1999) my DLA mysteriously gets cancelled?
The shambolic state of our education system is a scandal. Both my husband and I received a good Grammar school education before the rot set in during the late seventies. In contrast, our son’s primary education was a complete disaster even though he was beginning to read before he started school.
His first six years consisted of bullying (which quickly ceased when I threatened to go public) and incompetence. To cut a long story short, by year five he could barely string a sentence together, his handwriting, despite all my efforts, was poor but at least he could read well. One teacher complained that my son, during maths lessons, only wrote down the answers (usually correct) but refused to do the workings out. He never asked why, only whined about it. I discovered that my son was short sighted and couldn’t see the blackboard. All those lessons that were taught with the board, save maths, his favourite subject, went completely over his head. I finally got my son to admit his problem and had his eyes tested the next day. He told me that he thought he problem was because he was “thick”. He was made to believe he was stupid by his stupid teachers!
A week after his eye test he was assessed by an educational psychologist (EP) at my own request. This was a result of his peculiar behaviour in school being seen as “disturbed” although he was just a normal kid at home. I knew my son was bright from a very early age but several teachers told me I was deluding myself. One teacher thought my son was suffering from Aspergers Syndrome, a type of autism. I researched this condition and satisfied myself that none of his so called “symptoms” where remotely symptomatic of Aspergers. What I did discover was a website dedicated to the problems gifted children suffer at school. I clicked on “Visual Spatial Learning” because at the time I hadn’t a clue what that meant. It listed various types of “odd” behaviour and special abilities that I instantly recognised. It could have been written about my boy.
I printed off the information and gave a copy to the headmaster and my son’s teacher. A few days later the EP assessed my son. I was invited to come along and discuss the results with the EP when he had finished his assessment. I was kept waiting for almost an hour. Why? Because the EP ran out of tests before my son ran out of ability to answer them! He scored the 99th percentile in all the tests placing him in the top 5% of able learners. He wasn’t another Stephen Hawking but he proved to be very, very bright. He was “diagnosed” as an exceptional visual spatial learner. People with his ability make exceptional pilots, surgeons, cosmologists etc. He had underachieved, not because he was incapable or autistic but because he couldn’t see the bloody board. Not one single teacher had ever asked him why and when I asked him he wouldn’t say because he thought I would believe him to be stupid too.
My son made up for six years of primary school neglect in three months when he attended weekly, one-to-one sessions with a private English tutor.
Another reason why the family moved to this area was because of the schools. The previous education authority wanted to compound their crime by dumping him in a no-hoper school despite the EP’s report. I wasn’t having any of that. Ideally he should be in a grammar school but there wasn’t one. We can’t afford a private education so he now attends a science and technology “college”.
My son excels at maths, science, IT, art and music. He is also very good at French and geography. His dream is to be a physicist or chemist and research alternative energy sources because he is horrified at the way the world is being polluted. If Bleugghh and Clarke get their way then my son, and children like him, are going to have a hard time attaining their goals. Despite being highly intelligent he is already handicapped as far as winning a place at a top university is concerned because he attends an ordinary school. In order to receive the education he desires either he or his father and I are going to have to beggar ourselves.
This country should be investing in the future, not short-changing it. Anyone would think that Bleugghh didn’t want an educated electorate!!! The sad fact is, if he had been born in Europe or America rather than "progressive" Britain, his education would have been of prime concern to the state