Saturday, 25 February 2017

the same, but different. (charli writes poetry)

Today I faced my biggest anxiety, which is seeing a family member after four years due to a really bad fallout. And now I'm home and want to process so... I'm going to write.

the same, but different.

i'm the same as i was back then
(four years ago)
pen all over my hands,
the frizzy hair,
my backpack full of books.

but i'm not.
i wear skinny jeans,
i have splints adorning my arms,
i learn concepts larger than life.

my values are still spelt out,
loud and strong
(too loud for most)
and i still tend to be cuddled
away in a hoodie.

but i've learnt how to be diplomatic,
how to do no harm but take no shit,
and i just know where i want to be.

and yes, i still wear trainers,
and no, i still don't like fish.
but i am not who i was
and neither are they.

their house felt so much smaller
but the situation was so so big.
and she -- she looked so withdrawn
and there was this lack of regret
but i am okay.

the hand-soap was the same brand
and they haven't even had a new tv.
the picture of me age 5 still lay on the mantelpiece...

there was such an air of vulnerability
tentative, tangible vulnerability.
but i am okay, and it is over now.

Monday, 13 February 2017

the frustrations of undiagnosed chronic illness

My name is Charli, I am 16 years old, and I suffer from chronic pain and fatigue. I have hypermobility, tight joints and muscles, but otherwise... no-one has said yet that there is anything specific wrong with me.

I'm in mainstream education, and on the face of it, I cope okay. I use a writing slope and wear splints, and I just get through it. I rarely complain, even in hour-long tests where I write 7 pages, or the lessons where I can barely move for the pain in my shoulders and back.

Nobody really knew anything was wrong until I started wearing splints, when suddenly all I ever got asked was "what have you done to your wrists?" with that sense of intrigue, the tone of the impending "get well soon". Their faces drop when I respond; sometimes sarcastically if I'm tired, seriously if I'm not. Their faces drop because they realise they can't say "get well soon".

Because there is nothing for me to get well soon from. This isn't going to go away, and will probably get worse, if the last few months have spoken for the future. I'm beginning to accept this, generally, but every time I see the drop in the sympathy, it's yet another kick. A kick that this is my life, my future, my reality.

Some days all I can think of is the pulsing pain, the cloudiness from the fatigue. All I want is to focus on my work, put down poetic words on paper, or simply work through a set of maths questions. I thought I knew frustration as a child, but nothing is worse than being in school, appearing fine, but battling a fog in my head.

I hate not being able to focus on the whiteboard, read the passage. Some days, my pens feel so heavy, metaphorically or literally; but my ability on the face on it provides no message.

The teachers who say I'm doing fine or talk about how much I've progressed since inpatient... well, they're right. In my strength, resilience, and reduction of anxiety, I'm doing extremely well. But they don't see the headaches, my annoyed tears when their 20 minute homework takes 2 hours. They don't see the hours and hours it takes to push information for a short mid-unit test into my long term memory, because my short has become practically non-existent. Cramming is no longer an option. Several of my classmates tell me that I'll be fine, because I'm smart. Because I'm clever. They will never see my screwed-up face half way through my exam, because even with my rest breaks my wrists scream at me.

And the thing is? This is such a concentrated version of my frustrations, because I don't feel this way every day. But there's this background level, because it's hard to accept. I'm sure I will, eventually. I'll get there. For now, I just keep going.

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

a response to the government's decision to open more grammar schools

I was going to open this blog post saying something about simply, peacefully scrolling through my twitter feed when I saw this, until I realised that scrolling through social media is no longer relaxing. The atrocities that are Trump, Brexit and the general shambles of the world make for a lack of simple scrolling, and tonight was no different. I came across this article that told me that by 2020, there is going to be "£150m for short-term bids to create selective places within academies or expand existing grammars".

I have a lot of personal bias against grammar schools, but I'll go into that later, for there are far more important reasons why I truly believe that this is an awful idea. The overall idea of grammar schools is to take those who are intellectual in a subtly different way to others, shown by a test that is in no way similar to the KS2 curriculum; but this becomes completely redundant due to the likes of tuition.

By opening more grammar schools, you are not offering free places to an above-standard education to kids who may otherwise not achieve, because these children don't have the upbringing to want to go to one nor the money to be tutored for the test. They will not be like me, who took the test without tuition for the sake of it - because I had the motivation and valued education. Now, this is completely down to an individual, but by opening grammar schools, all you are doing is essentially opening a free private school. The people that go there have a motive, and often, it isn't by the parent.

The article says that "And under discussion is the idea that new grammars should be focused on "opportunity areas" which have been identified as having particular problems with underachievement and poor employment opportunities.". But this isn't how it would work - you cannot simultaneously focus on underachieving children while making them take a nationally selective test (the article also tells of a new national test, rather than local, as I took). They will not take the test. They will not stand up to those who can afford the tuition, or who have had that better upbringing.

That's not what the country needs, more schools that need to be tested for. What the country needs is to be putting more money into comprehensive schools that are of high quality. They need more money for SEND, particularly for access equipment and such - when I first met with my SENDCO, we were told that I couldn't really be funded; I go to a Walsall school, but I live in Birmingham, so neither sector wants to fund me. To both of them, I am not their problem. These schools need funding for the arts, for gifted and talented kids, for every single child's individual needs.

Having been to both types of school, I have found no gap in the education, only in the education styles. Personally, I don't think more schools with separate tests need to be opened purely for this purpose. My comprehensive school is supportive, targets individual needs and has high standards - but they are not the same for everyone. In my own experience, my grammar school did not look at the grades I could personally gain, and there were no sets, so we were always either lagging behind or bored because we were ahead.

There are several studies out there that say single-sex environments are bad for children, and from the amount of mental illness I have seen from grammar school students, I would agree. This is not only from personal experience but from seeing people on social media, seeing those from my old school... it's so, so common - it's damaging. This is only one article, admittedly from many years ago, but valid nonetheless.

I may be a sixteen year old girl, but I feel like I can say this with confidence: the government need to be focusing on improving the care of the majority, not the minority. Let's focus on the schools we have, make them better; make school places fair and consistent. Fund comprehensive schools that are of a lower calibre to their counterparts and build them up to what many others are, similar to my own.

Let's give every child the same access to a solid education - intelligent or not. Because every young person deserves it, whether they are going to someday be a massive part of the British economy or not, because it shouldn't matter.

Maybe I haven't quite gotten across what I'd really like to say in this post. But for now:

“One child, one teacher, one book, one pen can change the world.”  - Malala Yousafzai

Let every single one of us be that child. Give our teachers what they need to be that teacher. Give us those books, and those pens. There is a better way forward than what is proposed.