Monday, 29 July 2013

Is the lack of money and parental advice leading to more Summer Fatalities for Kids?

The newspaper headlines have sadly been shouting out at us for about a month now, since the hotter weather had us discarding our coats and heading to rivers, seas, streams and worryingly quarries.

Children are  literally dying.. quite a few of them. They are not recognising the power of currents to pull you under in seconds. They are not heeding warning signs and even adults who may live inland are ignoring signs about tides and getting cut off and being rescued by coast guards.

I live right next to the sea on the N Wales coast. Having 4 sons, albeit there are 10 years between numbers 1 and 4, is no mean feat to feed and occupy during the school summer holidays. We haven't always lived by the coast, and my older sons early years were spent in Liverpool, so I have experience in occupying them in an inner city environment too. Once you add on the cost of buying the new school uniforms in August for the coming year, many parents do not have the money to constantly fund 6 weeks of fun days out. The larger the family, the worse it is.

Our local swimming pool charges £3.50 per child for a morning or afternoon swimming session of 2.5 hours. Times that by a few children, money for lockers and a drink afterwards, and maybe bus fare for teenagers and there goes £20 at least. Those families who live inland and are not as fortunate as my children in having a beach on the doorstep, may seek out the river for a cheap day out and a picnic. While parents juggle the childcare rota perhaps with relatives over the 6 weeks, it is perhaps easier to keep a tab on younger children. But what about the kids aged 12+? I know at that age we went off in a group to either the river or canal for the day and had a paddle if it got too hot. Ringing in our ears were the do's and don't s surrounding what we could get up to near water, and what was downright dangerous. Our parents trusted our ability to think for ourselves, and not to swim in the river, but to paddle about near the bank. Times have changed since the 70s/80s though. Stranger Danger has leapfrogged sage advice on the dangers of water in my opinion from parents.

Many councils run summer activities. But most of these are aimed at 5-11 year olds and after this age kids are "too cool" to participate anyway. My town council came up with a good idea to give free swimming to children who live here. You have to register at the town hall with a parent, complete a form and then you get a swimming pass for that day. However, the problem comes when the kids may want to go tomorrow and you have to go back to town with them and get another pass. Bit of a pain if you have to be at work before the Town Hall is open!

Lack of money to spend on summer outings, leads to hanging around and boredom for many children aged 11+. Coupled with the heat, rivers and canals are attractive places to cool down and so the trail of accidents occurs. Quarries are particularly dangerous places, as the water is deep and freezing cold. Already this summer there have been upwards of 10 preventable deaths of children reported in newspapers, as they did not understand the danger of currents. Many more have gone unreported.

The Government have already announced plans to allow schools to cut down the summer holiday. This is not the answer however. Why not use the schools,to co-ordinate summer activities? Youth Centres are being closed yet would be invaluable at this time of year as would dedicated PlayWorkers. Teenagers need dedicated facilities for,their age group only. They do not want to be in facilities where there are 5 year olds. Volunteers and parents themselves could perhaps help out on odd days to keep a facility running. Apart from the usual sports, pool, snooker, why not ask parents/grandparents to pass on a skill - cooking cupcakes, painting a room, replacing a plug, organising a party with a theme...Give young people skills needed to transfer to adult life.

The Government are fond of "Big Society". Children in families on low pay or on benefit need Youth Centres, Playschemes and more input, not less. Investment in our kids is a benefit to the whole of society. Instead of waking up tomorrow and learning of more needless deaths from drowning, ask yourself Mr Cameron, what your Government can do to inspire kids during the summer break? I know paying their parents a Living Wage would be a start so they could afford the odd summer outing or two, but heavy investment in Youth Centres is also needed.

Lack of disposable income is causing many of these summer deaths of children. Too high a price to pay.

Saturday, 27 July 2013

Come Walk with Me, Mr Gove...

Forgive me if I do the proud mum thing that makes others wince! We all love our kids and their achievements: indeed with 4 sons to support and encourage, it seems never a day goes by that my husband and I are not ferrying, encouraging, nurturing and offering sage words of advice to one of our brood. But our youngest boy is perhaps more "worthy" of celebration over his achievements as he achieves while battling autism.

His love is Drama. He's unashamedly good at it. In fact he could possibly excel in it in the future and have a possible career. He is 14 and has just sat his Drama GCSE exam (2 years early) and we await the outcome in August. However, he also attends Drama School - Thesps - based in our hometown of Prestatyn N Wales. They have supported this child with special needs and encouraged him to fulfil his potential. He recently took a London College of Music Drama and Acting Exam at Grade 4 which is near a GCSE level. Just had the result!He scored over 85% and received a Distinction pass.

Mr Gove - the exam was difficult. It involved a folder of work. He had to choose a theme so he chose - Violence and War. He had to collate war poetry.  I know you are fond of classic poetry Mr Gove. He had to explain to the examiner the contrast between Wilfred Owen's Dulce et Decorum Est and Rupert Brooke's The Soldier. He had to explain the imagery and description and the differences in the way each piece was written and what Luca himself thought of each piece. He also had to include another 4 poems and talk about these thoroughly.  Charge of the Light Brigade was one, another classic, and poems covering the war in Vietnam and the Falklands War as more recent examples.He had 2 performance pieces, he had to learn by heart and act out with feeling. One was from Blood Brothers acting as a 7 year old boy,and the other Shakespeare's Macbeth Soliloquy "Is that a Dagger.." On top of that he was given 15 minutes to do a not previously seen performance on improvisation of the examiner's choice.

So you see "NOT A SOFT OPTION" Mr Gove. For a child with no special needs to even pass is an achievement. To pass with a Distinction when you have autism is a HUGE ACHIEVEMENT : one I hope even you would agree with. To then hear you so casually dismiss Drama and the Arts as soft options and somehow not worthy of note, is frankly appalling Mr Gove. You obviously have no idea of what goes into creating beautiful performance pieces, a love of English Literature and a nurturing of Literature and an understanding of our premier playwrights and poets.

Do not dismiss The Arts. The UK has a very proud history of actors, poets, writers, artists, TV Directors, Costume Designers, Photographers,  sculptors, textile workers, fashion designers, pottery makers. Innovative and Imaginative people who make our country stand out as a country where culture flourishes and is promoted.

Do not let your legacy as Education Secretary be one of destroying The Arts, their worth, their significance in our past and our future.

I invite you to spend time with teachers who teach these subjects and nurture these children. Spend time with my son and hear him talk enthusiastically about his performances, the things he has learnt and gained from and I promise you that you will reflect and think again about cutting Arts subjects and their teachers from the curriculum. Come Walk with Me, Mr Gove......