What price a university education?

Today’s student protests against the rise in university fees comes just as my 13 year old daughter is about to decide which GCSE’s she will take. We spent the weekend looking at University courses as she is determined to become a geneticist. We winced as we looked at the fees and for the first time the reality of the huge debt students leave University with hit home. We have five children so there will be a massive amount of student debt heading our way over the coming years.

I was the eldest of six children and I did a four year degree including an exchange year at University of Kansas USA, then a PGCE all paid for by the state. My husband too did a degree in Geography and his PGCE – we both agree we probably didn’t appreciate the worth of what was being provided free of charge.

Our children will have no option but to borrow to pay for their university education – todays protests will more than likely be hijacked by anarchists, allowing the government to deflect attention away from the issue of student debt – I say it’s all about priorities – and the government should prioritize the education of those who are future of this country – on this one the coalition has got it very badly wrong.

No room for bullying in Cyber Space

The actress Meera Syal has spoken out in The Telegraph today after daughter was the victim of a cyber bullying campaign. Although she was involved in a court case and was later found not guilty of an assault, it emerged in court that she had been at the receiving end of threats on Facebook. The issue of bullying via Facebook  was one which loomed large during my daughter’s final year at Primary School, although fortunately not involving her circle of friends. Playground fallouts translated into online slanging matches, involving pupils and then astoundingly, parents, culminating in the school threatening to get the police involved

Even more concerning, is the rise of anonymous faceless forum posters known as “trolls” who hide behind the anonymity of the internet to make viscious personal attacks on people. Two fellow mums who blog have been the target of horrendous vitriolic and libelous personal attacks on their blog comments this week alone. At the back of these attacks is often plain simple jealousy – both these bloggers write brilliantly. When I was pregnant with my last baby and part of an online birth group we were infiltrated by a “troll” who pretended he or she was pregnant and then announced quite falsely(causing untold distress) that they had had a stillborn baby! We will never know if that person was even a male or a female – young or old and it is this ability to hide that makes bullies and trolls fearless online.

As a new home educator seeking advice from more experienced home edders in a forum I mentioned that I had been a teacher. I stated my personal view that I wasn’t against involvement with the LEA or compulsory registration and it was like setting light to a touchpaper. There followed personal attacks and suspicion of my motives in being part of the group.  I was actually banned from a home ed yahoo group by its very fundamentalist owner because I expressed legitimate views about home ed which were different from her own! (Happy to be banned I might add – it was like leaving a group of religious fanatics!)

It is every internet users responsibility to stand up to cyber bullies. We need to educate our children to the pitfalls of social networking. Just as bullying is  wholly unacceptable in the” real” world it should not be acceptable online. Website owners and forum admintrators should do all they can to remove hateful/bullying posts from their sites when they appear and ban the poster.

Freedom of expression is not an excuse for online vitriol and as one blogger pointed out yesterday, the annonymity of the intenet is not as entire as the trolls and bullies might think….

Remembering the fallen?

As we approach Remembrance Sunday it is appalling to read that thieves are stripping war Memorials of their commemorative plaques in order to sell them on as scrap metal. One example given today is the village of Carlshalton whose war memorial has been entirely stripped of metal of the 14 brass plates bearing the names of men who died in World War 1. As the great-granddaughter of a soldier who lost his life in Ypres saving the life of another, I am truly disgusted. If ever there was an example of a broken society this it it! It strikes me that there is a good argument for bringing back National Service -if our war memorials are being desecrated then respect is truly being lost from our society.

Coalition threat to womens’ financial security

The Fawcett Society report out today has found that the financial security and human rights of women are under the biggest threat ” in living memory” according to a Guardian article today. The coalition governments policies disproportionately affect women. As the Fawcett Society says:

” On average, women earn less, own less, and are more likely to work and retire in poverty than men. The government’s approach to cutting the deficit will widen the gap between women and men: Female unemployment is rising as jobs are cut in public service -The benefits and services women rely on more are being slashed -Women on low incomes are becoming poorer -The pay gap looks set to widen -Women’s access to vital support services is being undermined -Increasing numbers of women are being forced to give up work as cuts to childcare support means their jobs no longer cover the family’s care costs.”

Child Poverty Action Group further highlights the issue that Universal Credit, unlike Child Tax Credit, will go to the main earner – for many non working mums like myself Child Tax Credit and Child Benefit is the only money they have direct control over as currently these benefits are usually paid to the mother. Child Poverty Action Group says:

“…. the most concerning design flaw that the Government must tackle… Payments in tax credits that are specifically for children’s needs and childcare currently go to the parent with care, usually the mother, but in the Universal Credit will be paid to the main earner because of the IT system. This transfer of thousands of pounds per family ‘from the purse to the wallet’ will threaten allocation within household budgets to meet children’s needs.”

“We cannot have an IT glitch driving a change that will turn back the clock on women sharing in control of the household budget and may lead to less spending on children’s needs. A firm commitment is needed from government that a solution will be found.”

In some households the relationship may not be  stable or the working partner may have issues – drinking, gambling, or may simply be bad at money management – which may mean that money never finds its way to the mother to meet the needs of the children.

And if this were not enough, changes under Universal Credit place a huge barrier in the way of women who might want to start self employment. Under the new rules claimants will be treated as having earned the minimum wage for the number of working hours declared when their entitlement is calculated – anyone who has started a business knows that taking minimum wage in the early years can be a tall order. How many talented women who want to start a business (myself included) will be put off because of the fear that they will lose their much needed tax credit and that in the short to medium term their children will suffer.

Universal Credit is due be introduced in 2013 – there is still take to make our voices heard – the clock must not be wound back and we must join together to fight for womens financial freedom and equality.

The changes I have outlined in this post are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the detriment of the position of women in this country – Sure Start Centres are being mothballed, funding for services which help women who are victims of domestic violence are being seen a an “easy cut” by councils” – the list goes on …

The Fawcett Society is holding a Day of Action on Saturday 19th November. Join the march in London (with a fifties dress up theme) or hold a tea party to show your support.

You can  also add a Twibbon to your Twitter profile or Facebook page here.

I hope that more mum bloggers and websites for mums such as Mumsnet will highlight these vital issues over the coming months.

Fresh Nuclear Fears Over Iran

Reading The Guardian story this morning about USA and UK fears over Iran’s nuclear intentions and capabilities. It took me back to when I was in High School. The fear of a nuclear attack kept me awake at night. It seemed a very real possibility that the super powers would unleash a nuclear bomb on each other either deliberately or by accident. The imagination of my English teachers had been set alight by the nuclear cold war and our drama lessons consisted of re-enacting the aftermath of a nuclear attack. We watched films about Hiroshima and I wrote impassioned poetry about my family being wiped out. Threads a film written by Barry Hines and directed by Mick Jackson was all we talked about.

CND and Greenham Common were constantly on the news. A Leaflet snappily titled “Protect and Survive “ popped cheerily through our letterboxes detailing what to do in the event of a nuclear attack.

If I was afraid as a child, I reflect now that as parents to 6 young children my Mum and Dad must have been pretty concerned too to put it mildy. Being a mum to five now I can imagine how I would feel it the threat of nuclear war raised it head in everyday life – in the form of government instructions on how to create a fall out room in your home and to stockpile enough food and water for 14 days.

The world has been preoccupied with Al-Quaeda and all the while Iran has been hiding like the bogey man in the corner. Washington will undoubtedly ask for UK support if attacks on Iran’s nuclear installations are needed to disrupt it’s suspect uranium enrichment programme. The coalition has enough on its plate already but will have little option but to offer support. USA cyber attacks have been unsucessful in permanently disrupting the progression of Iran’s nuclear capabilities.I’ll  be following watch this story with interest and a little resurrected teenage insecurity….

Summer born children lag behind at school?

A story in The Telegraph caught my eye this morning. A study by the Institute for Fiscal Studies has found that summer born children are at a disadvantage throughout their time education lagging behind peers by the age of seven. My two eldest children are summer born – had the eldest been born two weeks later she would have been in the Year Group below. My children are academic high achievers and labelled as “gifted and talented” but only one teacher has ever mentioned the fact that they are summer born – making their achievement more notable.

I was a primary teacher for 14 years and during my training it was never mentioned that when considering a childs attainment the time of year they were born should be taken into consideration. Being nearly a whole year younger than the rest of the class makes a huge difference to attainment for most children. When teachers do not take into account the age of the child relative to that of their peers a child can be labelled as behind. A child can make a huge amount of progress in the space of a few months – going from being a non reader to a reader for instance, but our school system fails children when not taking all factors into account when assessing progress.

Children are ready for academic learning at different ages – I started one of  my children in an Early Years Unit a whole six months later than her peers because I knew she was not ready for school. I took two of my children out of the system to home educate them because the one size fits all education was not working for them at that time. One child is still home educated the other starts back in a new school today

Parents must be empowered to take a more active role in deciding when their children start school – there is room for more flexibility in the system especially for summer born children. So parents – if the teacher is telling your child is behind and the child was summer born – ask them to think again!

Adoption reform not a minute too soon

It is a national disgrace that there are 3,600 under one year old babies languishing in council care. The story in The Guardian this morning that a new scheme Give A Child A  Home will require councils to work faster and in a  less bureaucratic way to find new homes for children. Knowing people who have gone through the process of becoming adoptive parents the pendulum had swung too far towards suspicion of the motives of prospective parents. Every aspect of their lives was analysed and probed with the emphasis being for them to prove that they would make good parents. Cutting red tape seems to be an anthem for this government and this is one area in which it will be welcomed by the many people who put themselves forward to adopt. At present only 60 babies a year are adopted into families out of 3,600.

A big push on encouraging more families to come forward to provide foster care is also happening and this is desperately needed. Councils will also be judged on the educational attainment of children who are in council care – this is another area which badly needs monitoring. The needs of children living in council homes is a subject which gets very little press coverage and we shouldn’t forget these vulnerable children by placing the emphasis entirely on adoption.