Thursday, 30 October 2014

Ambassadors Are They Spoiling Us? Well, No Actually.

As a blogger who has been reviewing and the like since 2009 (in fact January marks the 5th anniversary of Family Panel's launch, which is crazy), I've been part of lots of different schemes and brand link ups.

Some have been great, others, not so much.

In the beginning when brands and PRs first started to engage with the very small amount of us there were back then, we all learned how it could work together. It was easy back then to say what we liked and what we didn't like, how often we expected to engage with a brand and its programme and likewise PR's and Brands could tell us what they wanted to see in return.

Now, Ambassador programmes are everywhere, run by brands and, in some cases, third party groups who have sprung up offering blogger engagement and signing up as many bloggers as they can find to bump up their virtual address book.

In this third party and Brand race to sign up interested bloggers though, we have, all of us, created an issue with the quality of engagement and the ability to be mutually beneficial. This has left some feeling programmes are no longer for them, and are run from a one sided viewpoint weighing heavily towards only the Brands benefit.

I'm not going to name and shame here, and anyone reading this who blogs and reviews probably has a good idea of who they feel offer worthwhile engagement and who to avoid.

Blogger groups from Facebook and beyond offer the ideal place for writers to vent- and vent they do with gusto, telling each other who not to be bothered with and who is the most coveted to become involved with if your name gets passed to them.

Of course, what works for the vast amount of bloggers may not work for others.
On venting about one such third party group, I received a mixed response, with just as many agreeing with me as disagreeing.

Its true that as with anything in life, what works well for some will be a complete waste of time for others. Third Party Ambassador programmes are great for new bloggers or for bloggers just getting started in brand engagement. To more established bloggers, more used to doing things for themselves and not waiting in line to be contacted, they can be nothing more than a click through ad nuisance which takes up blog space which could be sold off for a real advert.

That's another problem with certain programmes. The "I'm a Member" badge.

Some programmes only ask you nicely to display the badge, but don't count you out for not. Others make it part of your sign up to display the badge and wont put you forward for opportunities if you refuse.

Which is fine, but what happens if you display this badge, offering an advert that you endorse this site (and which could normally be sold for Affiliate or direct marketing) and then receive nothing in return?

The same group I vented about asks that bloggers involved display the badge. Yet despite doing so for a year plus, I have not actually received anything in return for space which could have earned me actual cash. In fact, the first I knew the programme had actually started was during a chat about the wait for anything to happen with another blogger!

It turns out this third party, who made massive promises and who wanted me to join as they felt my being involved as a well known blogger would be great and persuade others to join too, have had days out, parties and adverts running through other blogs for months, not to mention reviews and brand engagement.

What have I had? One email. Nothing else.

What its worth remembering with third party groups is that the more of us that sign up, the better they look. It can be lucrative for those who are happy to set up a cheap website, and pretty easy to make cash doing so. The more of us they get to sign up, which is as simple as sending out a #BloggerRequest on Twitter for free, the better the return when it's time to contact brands who will pay to let someone take out the hassle of blogger engagement. Who wants to spend hours scouring the net for bloggers, rake through dead sites, or input lots of web addresses into a Page Rank checker when they can pay these third parties to do it for them (who, in turn, have already gained this info for free from the blogger on them signing up).

On contacting the Third Party to ask what gives, and why I have not got so much as a tweet from them,  did they apologise or offer to look into it? You'd think after the email I got from them asking me to get involved with them they would bend over backwards right?

Nope. They blamed me, saying my blog obviously wasn't quality enough for their clients and my stats are clearly rubbish.

It was pretty much a standard email too- saying I needed to bring my Page Rank up from low (mine is 3, which is pretty much great for a blog, and the average for bloggers who covert a decent number).

To me, I laughed and ditched the badge. But if it's not bad enough to swallow up as many bloggers as they can find, when they fail to come good on their promise to work with us all in equal measure they blame the blogger! And to some newer bloggers, this can, of course, make them wonder why they bother.

With many schemes, even those not run by a third party, many feel they grow tired of seeing the same old faces working with the brand and being lavished with gifts as promised to all  and grow disillusioned.

So, why do some programmes find it so hard to work with bloggers fairly? Have they got too big? And what would you like to see to bring them back to a fair for all, small scheme?

What programmes work for you and which don't? Or do you refuse to work with any at all? Let me know in the comments.

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Is It Just Me: Thinking the 50,000 Missing Immigrants Could Be Found Easily by the Parking Fine Enforcement Posse?

If you've just woken up, this is the latest round in "inept Immigration teams against sneaky would be immigrants" reported in the papers.

Apparently, if it's not enough there is already a backlog from 2007 onwards of at least 300,000 cases waiting to be dealt with, they have somehow, "lost" or "misplaced" 50,000 others who were turned down and scheduled to leave.

Now, 50 would be careless. 5,000 would be shockingly poor. But 50,000? How the bloody hell do you manage that? And how do we sort that out now? Bar ending up with UKIP no doubt just bumping off anyone who looks a little bit foreign whilst Mike Reid sings his Calypso in the background.

That, obviously, is not the solution. Unless you are Nick Griffin. So what do we do? How do we find these people without costing the taxpayers (you know, us who are actually British and have to pay for these monumental fuck ups?) huge amounts of cash, which no doubt will end with Smugron declaring there was nothing that could be done and they can now stay, like last time?

I think, readers, I have a cheap solution. One which is already in force in this country and filled with the type of rabid ner' do wells who enjoy making people who are in anyway wrong in their eyes life miserable.

I give you, the humble, much maligned, Parking Fine Enforcement teams found in every local council building from here to Scotland and back again.

These types, along with their friends from the TV License Enforcement posse, will leave no stone unturned in their pursuit of your cash, should you stay in a parking spot for two minutes longer than you've paid for. They will send letters, they will take you to court, they would, no doubt, if they could, hang you by your ankles and shake your pockets out of every last penny in the name of government protocol.

They are primed and ready, so why not give them the task of cleaning up where other's have failed?

They will shop their own Grannies if it means doing the will of the Prime Minister.

I say, let them put down their parking fine paperwork, and give them the files of these snide firm, they are bound to find them in at least 2 hours, and then the Immigration process they went through can be completed without fear of them running off again due to the fear of these lot after them with their rules and rubber stamps, as well as driving them insane with rhetoric.

If you can think of a better way, I'd love to hear it, and no doubt, so would the Tories!

All jokes aside, if we can't even trust a department tasked with looking after the countries interests, how can we go about monitoring the kind of undesirables who want to create chaos via terrorism, or keep track of possible sources of Ebola?

50,000 people can't simply disappear, they must be earning a living and paying to live somewhere?

Lets hope the Government does actually fulfill one election promise, before we can't move for people in a country already bursting at the seams.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Don't Mention the C Word (Yet)

Why people?

Why is my sodding Facebook feed and my supermarket walk filled with the dreaded Christmas already?

I swear if the supermarkets get any earlier, we'll get the run up to Christmas type adverts from January 1st onwards.

I say dreaded about Christmas, but I do enjoy it, I just enjoy it from the correct time in December.

I don't even start thinking about presents until mid November. Yes I know there will be those of you who have already done all their shopping, and had it wrapped, and their cards written, probably since July. That isn't what Christmas is about.

 Christmas wouldn't be fun in our house if I hadn't left it up until the last minute every year since records began. The only year I was ahead was last year, and it felt weird having everything sorted so early on (by early on I mean mid October).

It should be a law in this country that, until after firework night (another custom hijacked so now you get 3 months of fireworks rather than one night as it should be), no shop is allowed to display anything containing the words "tis the season" or " ho ho ho", or hang anything remotely tinsel related, anywhere.

As soon as Mini brought home an Operation Christmas Child leaflet from school, she came home and stuck her Christmas list to the fridge. It brought me out in a rash. That and my purse hid in trepidation. I don't think she quite got that the child she was meant to sort out for Christmas was many countries away, not in her house.

Every advert break is met with choruses of "I want that" about every multi-coloured plastic tat that the toy companies chose to display. And you just know that, if you do give in and buy a selection of the tat, by Boxing Day most will be chucked in the toy box, and the choruses of "I want that" will begin all over again.

I don't mind planning the food, I don't even mind the hit my bank account takes.

But please, lets be sensible, and celebrate Christmas when it should be celebrated.

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Look Out! There are Kids in the Kitchen with Betta Living

Way back at the start of the summer, the Brats were intrigued by a big red box which turned up at our home.

Inside, was a challenge set by Betta Living Kitchens to entertain those most picky of kids without spending hundreds of pounds in the holidays.

They put together a list of 20 fun things to do throughout the house and garden, everything from rainy day cooking kits and crafts to sunny day planting activities and games, and asked us to have a go at some of the ideas for ourselves.


One thing the kids absolutely loved were the Muppets
face masks, Mini loves The Muppets and immediately decided to twin Miss Piggy with various items from her dressing up box. Littlest decided to show off his Kermit mask to our neighbour's child, which set off quite the fashion show.

The great thing about the activities is they are simple, and pretty easy to set up. So, if you want to get on with some housework and entertain the kids at the same time, it was nice to open the backdoor and give the children a set of kid friendly ten pin bowls which kept them amused for hours.  After the housework was taken care of, it was great fun getting into the kitchen and helping the children to learn how dough works to make pizza (as well as getting to eat something you've made afterwards), as well as reigniting a love of making and sticking with felt animals and shapes.

Littlest, being a fan of noise, thoroughly enjoyed using wooden spoons to create a noisy racket with pots and pans (otherwise described by him as "being like David Bowie and drumming and singing loud"), and Mini liked the quiet enjoyment of decorating paper dolls in bright colours.

It can be easy to spend lots of money on the children at any given time of the year, rather than looking back to my own childhood which was spent making and gluing and acting out games in the garden and beyond. I recall many happy days with a book which had a whole heap of ideas called "101 Fun Things for Kids" which included a whole chapter of ideas to send SAEs to different people like the RSPB and be sent a load of things to colour in and birds to spot- all for the price of two stamps. Of course, its now easier and cheaper to do as we can use their websites for the much the same thing!

I was impressed with how simple and cheap the activities were and how they engaged the children for hours- rather than hearing them loaf around watching TV and asking for the occasional sweetie, they were laughing and joking and in many cases, learning new skills too.

I would definitely recommend a return to old school ways of putting the fun back into weekends without breaking into your savings!

*We received a box of goodies to try out from Betta Living to compile this post*

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

#Sweepyface, Twitter and the "Blurred Line" Between Trolling and Freedom of Speech Online

On this blog, I have often said that freedom of speech and opinion is one of my most important beliefs in society. Something that should be promoted and protected.

Being able to form an opinion of your own- even if its completely opposite to what everyone around you thinks- is something I promote with my children and always will. Don't get me wrong, I'm not talking "argument for arguments sake". I'm of the opinion that if you feel you can justify having an opposing opinion, then you have every right to voice it, and spark debate through it.

The problem is, modern etiquette. Social media, encompassing blogs, Vlogs, Twitter, and the rest, however big or small, are read only devices. I have fallen foul of this on several occasions. By design I'm sarcastic, but sarcasm can be taken completely the wrong way when tone is absent down to it being on a screen.

In the last few days, the tag of Troll has very much come front and centre and whether having an opinion, and tweeting it, constitutes freedom to voice an opinion over being a troll. If you simply tweet about a person or situation, but not @ them in this tweet (or, in the case of Sweepyface, tweet opinions about someone who does not use Twitter), does this still make you a troll?

To my mind, a Troll is the kind of person who threatens to hurt someone in a violent way, such as what Stella Creasey experienced last year. Or someone who I have encountered who just goes all out to cause utter distress directly to the person they decide they don't like (or even to go as far as to cause me personal issues by pretending they are me on forums I was never a member of). These people don't bother me very much anymore as most are snide enough to be abusive, but not so brave as to put their name to it.

However, with Sweepyface, I feel strongly that the tag of "Troll" is being used as the situation she was voicing an opinion of is one that many people online have an opinion of but which is felt it cannot be voiced.

I have always maintained in my own social circles that I believe that, whilst the McCann's never foresaw what happened to their daughter, they were negligent and lax to have left her. I am aware that most people will be shocked at my voicing this. But I can't help thinking that, had they have been from a council estate and claiming benefits, they would have been vilified and arrested for neglect. Instead, they are posh, well to do, Doctor and wife, so we all use soothing voices.

I don't believe they "deserved" what happened. I don't believe that they don't probably beat themselves up about it day in and out. But, fundamentally, the person I feel sorry for in this instance is Maddie. Pure and simple.

I'm not one for tweeting that as its the "opinion that dares not speak its name". However, Sweepyface- along with quite a number of others- did.

Did she deserve, before a Police Officer even came to her home, or any legal action was taken, to be doorstepped by a Sky News Journo? No. She didn't.

Sky acted in an appalling manner when they did that, and surely, if there had of been a Police Investigation into her Tweets, and subsequent case against her, it was detrimental to any case for them to taken that action. And why just Sweepyface? Why not doorstep a few of the apparent hundreds of people online who use the #Mccann hashtag and forums full of conspiracy theories to voice a negative opinion of the parents?

Now, a woman is dead.

And yet, still agencies refer to her as a troll.

It leaves an unwelcome taste in my mouth.

There is an ever increasing blurred line between freedom of speech and troll behavior.

Clearly, as times change and more and more is spoken about online, there needs to be very strong guidelines about what constitutes bullying or offensive use of social media.

Or Sweepyface will be the start of a dark period for social media and and its place in the voicing of opinions.

Friday, 3 October 2014

...And Next I Decided, Actually, Let's Fight Back

We've now somewhat, only just, settled into life as a half home Ed half usual school family. Its been very hard at times to get Littlest to adapt to working at home or, in the local park, or library.

The biggest hurdle we have come across is the size of our little house, which I was previously ecstatic about, is now creating dilemmas we could not have forseen.

Like my lovely through lounge diner.

It's light, airy, easy to keep tidy, and cosy warm. What it isn't, however, is separated from the rest of the house. Thus, its not a happy situation as of course a small room on its own would be much better as it could be turned over to home schooling. All we have is the through lounge and a big cupboard, which was previously going to house the overspill of Elder and my records (omg, Amazon for records, what new heaven is this? I love it) and the Decks. Its now the "School Cupboard" as Mini has christened it.

I kept thinking about the appeal though. Surely, surely there was a loop hole? Surely there was some way to show that it wasn't fair, that they had already made their mind up other than the shockingly small amount of time it took for us to get a full three page write up with the decision on it?
Music Lesson-with a twist

I googled the Appeal Code I had used before about timescales. Maybe it could shed light on something or anything I may have missed?

It did.

There, in black and white, on their own Appeal Code page on the Diocese website, it said that, should new information be submitted by any party without first being seen prior to the hearing, the hearing should be closed and rearranged.

Yet, the Head did indeed use new information, from 3 different bodies in the appeal hearing, which she simply waved in the air n the form of paper with emails allegedly on it, without anyone seeing them beforehand.

I have since asked, several times, to see these emails, as we contacted those who she quoted, and found she was hardly honest about what they told her. Surprise surprise, we never have gotten to see them. Nor have the appeal authority.

No one adjourned the hearing. No one mentioned she had broken the rules. In fact, on looking through the code, there were  at least three sections where they have broken the rules.

So, I thought, fuck it, I'll contact them at the Diocese, see what they have to say.

Basically, in Orgasms for Jesus language, they told me to naff off.

How polite.

They told me to go tell it to the Ombudsman. So I am going to. In fact, I collated all the facts, all the information, and put it to the Ombudsman.

Yes, they may say there's little to do now. They may suggest a rehearing. But I hope that no matter what the outcome, the Diocese, and their attitude towards non Church members daring to want both kids at the same school is dealt with.

Finding things for our Autumn project
I have no great issue Home Educating Littlest, of course I don't. The problem is its no fun for Littlest, he has made only one friend since we moved, he misses Mini all day and he would rather be in school. Its not something we decided to do as a family, we felt pushed to. And Mini is dreadfully jealous of her bro being at home with Mummy all day, something she'd love to do as she seems to think he sits around, does one worksheet and then watches TV or plays in the park the rest of the time.

Fingers crossed this all gets sorted out soon.

Monday, 29 September 2014

A New Frontier in the Parenting Day to Day

That's a bold title right there, isn't it?!

I was quite tempted to title it "True Confessions of a Home Ed Virgin Aged 32 3/4", but was concerned I may get sued by Sue Townsend's people.

By that alternative title you'll gather what we decided to do regards Littlest and his lack of school, not to mention my lack of choice (eg-attendance at shit school or criminal record/massive fine/made out to be a crap mother) of what school he went to.

I got some lovely comments from you guys online, so thank you very much, and I did indeed find out who runs our local council.

Luckily, it was Labour, who are my preferred party anyway and who are clearly after any vote they can get (owing to politics in this country turning into a Democracy version of X Factor).

Bless them, I messaged their Facebook page on a Sunday, not thinking I'd hear for days, if at all. Give them their due, I received a messaged within an hour, saying they'd look into it and suggesting they were as baffled as me.

Down to them, suddenly the Reading Admissions team changed tack. Gone were the threats of court and the "get your kid to our choice or else" conversations. These were replaced with soothing words of consolation and understanding.

I told them though that, politely, he would not be taking a place at the school 9/10 parents we had spoken to would choose not to send  their pet Guinea Pig, let alone their child, and had investigated educating him at home.

No arguments were forthcoming this time, thank the Lord.

So, with my trusty laptop (yet not trusty net connection- bloody TalkTalk, but that's another post to come soon), I researched Home Ed, the Nation Curriculum, our rights and responsibilities, and anything else I could think of.

The Net is great for newbie home educators, its a vast tank of knowledge waiting to be sourced, both for me as "Mum and Teacher" (as opposed to my usual tag of "Mum and Nurse, Doctor and Consultant") and for Littlest too. There are hundreds of websites with age and curriculum appropriate material on them for Year 2, and some of these are already known to Littlest as he used them at the old school last year.

Basically, we can set the pace and style, as long as knowledge gets in his noggin. And, unlike other kids, he doesn't have to share me as a teacher or his source material. If he is unwell, we can do quiet games. If its warm enough we can, as we did on Friday, go on a nature walk. He didn't even realise he was learning doing that.

It has been a bit scary at times- the first day was a nightmare of him being a cheeky sod and telling me I'm not his teacher, I'm Mummy so he can be a bugger as he's not at school. But all I did was fire up my net again and ask for advice from those in the know with Home Ed who suggested rather than sitting down and talking at him, to go and do practical number work with sums in the shops instead. He took far more in that way than he did with it on a page.

We have been playing Boggle and Junior Scrabble which are great fun ways to promote spelling and looking at words which will add up to the biggest score. We even made a full Box Trolls costume from old cardboard boxes- not something he would have done at school due to time and material constraints.

Its not going to all be easy, of course, but compared to what we have been through the last few months, its definitely less stress.

Feel free to say hi if you Home Ed too x :)

We're off to do art ourselves.

Monday, 22 September 2014

....But Then, It Got Even Worse

After the last post, I felt I should update a little.

Finally, after I wrote the post, I got a response from the Diocese about the fact they were, frankly, taking the piss.

You'll remember from the last post that I felt I'd been constantly misled over when our Appeal Pack had been sent. Well, I was right to feel that way. As, despite telling me for weeks, over and over again,that the paperwork was with those who needed it, they lied. They lied and lied time and again, as, actually, they didn't send it to the diocese until the 11th September.

I asked the woman I spoke to if she understood that the school had failed in its duty of care and had, deliberately I felt, misled me to think the Diocese was holding the appeal up. She told me, in a patronising way, that it was only a "minor issue" not worthy of concern!

Really!

For her maybe, but for us it was ridiculous. It was a  major concern. And quite rightly so considering the amount of time that elapsed between handing the papers in and them receiving them was over 2 months.

Again, considering all schools appeals should be done and dusted within 30 school days, it was beyond a joke.

I told her that, seeing as they seemed to care little for protocol, I would be forced to seek Legal Advice to ensure Littlest's educational needs and rights were met.

After hearing more crap, and by this point losing the will to live, I put the phone down. I can't be bothered to hear people if they clearly have no interest in being fair, and frankly, at this point, it felt like the whole appeal was a farce and a foregone conclusion.

At this point, I knew we'd fail the appeal. It wasn't being run for Littlest's benefit, it wasn't being run for the benefit of these countless other displaced, educationless kids. It was being run for the school to get their own way, regardless of the consequences.

This was further reinforced when, after finishing the call at midday, I went to pick Mini up from school.

I went from being a part of a "gang" who had invited me out to have a drink later in the week, to being ignored. I sat alone. To be honest, this bothers me not a bit, I'd rather have mates who are true and want to be friends as they like you, not so they can morph you into singing the school's praises, and not being negative (like when I asked for advice about appeals and was told off and threatened with expulsion from the group). 

As I sat there, one of the lying toad secretaries came out with a letter. Elder had asked to speak to the Head to ask why her staff had misled us over the appeal documents, but had not got a call back. So, when paper was shoved in my hand I thought it was to do with that. I didn't have my glasses on, so when she asked me to open it (despite it being addressed to both Elder and I) and sign a note to say I had received it, I declined. She kept on at me, but I firmly, but politely, told her I couldn't read it as I didn't have my specs! 

It was, suddenly, a date for Friday to have the appeal, at the school. 

So, after being told in the morning they couldn't hear it sooner, and wouldn't move it nearer, suddenly they could do both. I couldn't help thinking it was down to me saying I'd have to take legal advice. 

It also said the Head couldn't contact Elder as she was in a meeting from 3.15. Funny that, it seemed the misleading continued as she was happily walking round the playground from 3pm until when I left at 3.30.

I checked all the information I could get online, and actually the Oxford Diocese is very up to date with its site, so could see the appeal guidelines in black and white. If we or any party wanted to submit anything else it had to be done before the appeal, not during it. Any new information submitted would render the appeal adjourned.So, we updated our now two month old information, and waited.

On Friday, we went to the school. I had contacted Reading and Wokingham Councils to ask for advice. I was again told by Reading a place "may" be available for Littlest at the school in our catchment, the only one that is and one which I have heard horror story after horror story about. I didn't leave Kent to find a decent way of life and schooling to end up in the kind of school I'd moved to avoid. So, again, I declined. You'd think as a parent that would be that. Apparently not.

I felt less than confident, to be honest. Elder wasn't allowed in with me, as we had to bring Littlest. How they expected us not to when he has no school I will never know. 

The school Head argued that, despite it being fine for places now, from next year it wouldn't be OK. Despite most schools taking in up to 90 pupils for each year group, this school takes 70, under "duress".

Sorry, but that's ridiculous. We live in a country bursting at the seams, everyone needs to do their bit to get bums on seats. But not this school. 

They kept arguing a lack of space and how lunch times are a nightmare. They have to eat pack lunches in their classroom (what a shocker. I had to do this at both primary and secondary. So did Elder. And he left school in 1985). They have a field at the back of the school with a gate to it, but this is the councils (who lets them use it when they like). They have to use the church hall for certain things. The church hall that is literally a 1 minute walk from the school. 

They made no mention of the waste of space swimming pool they have sitting there, costing money. Not many normal schools have one, and they manage it. There is several Leisure Centres in Reading, in fact, there's one a 5 minute coach trip away- far nearer than at their previous school. Where they swam in winter, for the record. 

They didn't mention the wasted money on iPads. These things are a false economy in schools, they require costly apps, and they break easily. 

Was I allowed to say this though? No.

When I did get the chance to ask questions, one I asked was why they moan so much about  the free school meals initiative for lower school. After all, they were warned about it in advance, and every other school has to deal with it. But it was seen as asking a question relative to Littlest, as I said, surely, they could give parent's the option of taking children home for lunch, as I would happily do with Littlest. So they didn't answer it. 

It was at this point that the Head- who isn't, apparently just Head at this school but at several others (no idea how that works, in fact, it clearly explains the lack of admin skills of the secretaries)- came out and said she had new information.

Now, it states very clearly all parties must see all evidence before the appeal. We hadn't seen this new information (I still haven't), and nor had the Chair or other two people on the committee. Nor had the clark. It was just waved in the air by the Head, and she read it in a way to discredit me.

Did they adjourn as per the appeal rules? No they didn't.

She stated as fact that she spoke to the admin at our old school who was surprised Littlest wasn't at school in September. I had told them, and they'd agreed, that there was no way we could carry on from September. She also stated that I had declined a definite place from July at the pit school I didn't want him to go to. She grinned when she did it and was allowed to make me out to be a liar.

It was basically game over from there- I had known it anyway from the phone call with the Diocese who seemed to not care for rules or Littlest. But this, and the lack of adjournment, sealed it for me.

We phoned our old school, and they denied saying anything that made out they expected him in school, so she lied. No wonder she didn't hand it in.

I got to make my case. I spoke about how much Littlest has gone through. How when he and Mini are at school together, when things do go wrong with him medically, she keeps calmer than adults do- she's been brought up around his health needs. How we didn't plan on moving at short notice, and had looked and looked for affordable property in Maidenhead. But I knew it fell on deaf ears. They questioned me about the crap school in our catchment and I said, yes, I had told Reading that wasn't the school for Littlest. I told them that Reading had never seen any of Littlest's medical evidence and have never asked to. I told them that when I contacted the school, before we moved as I was trying to find places for them, they had had a sharp intake of breath and said someone would call me back when I mentioned Littlest's health needs. No one ever contacted me back. It would be a logistical nightmare to get two children to two different schools every day twice a day. It was alright to assume you can drop them on the side of a busy road, but you physically have to walk them in, wait for them to line up, and then, hope the teacher doesn't need to speak to you. And what if one has an assembly, a school trip, sports day? What if Littlest is ill? What if its raining? The damp is a bad thing for him. No way will it work.

Oh and to make matters worse, when I said one would have to be late to school and come home early, the Head narrowed her eyes and told me she would not allow this to happen, that the Welfare Education authority would be informed. So, she'd create a problem and then grass me up to make matters worse. What a bitch! 

I knew we'd lost. I knew. 

I tried my best, tried to show Littlest is a special case. They didn't even conduct the appeal as if he has any special needs. 

I was informed that a decision would take 5 days, but the Clark was very sure I'd hear sooner. 

Well, she would be, considering it took just an hour to email me a fully typed three page document. I can't prove it but it was pretty clear it was already written and waiting. They fobbed us off. 

Now, I'm told I do have a choice to not send him to the crap school, but if I make this choice, I will be sent to court and tried as a criminal, with people too lazy or non caring to send their child to school. 

What type of choice is that?

The Head even suggested we moved again in the appeal! The only thing other than that was to pay handsomely for Breakfast and Afterschool club for Mini, for what will amount to 20 minutes. They wont pay for this though, I have to, at around £100 a week. All because they refuse to see Littlest has needs and should be with someone who, rightly or wrongly, has become a comforting caring when he becomes unwell at school.

So, readers, what do we do next? I am stumped. I feel like my entire right to make decisions for my son have been revoked. I feel let down by a closed off, secretive system where rules are broken and nothing is done if it is in the interests of their diocese member. I fear that phonecalls and threats from outsiders who know nothing about us, or my son, are sure to come thick and fast. I don't even want Mini to be at our chosen school now, as clearly my card is marked. I dared question the precious church and precious head. I have been removed from the Facebook Group for trying to sell my ticket to a dance they having for families next week- sorry but I dont fancy it.  

Its cult like. 

And in the middle of all this is a child still sitting, with no work and nothing to do all day but wait for a resolution.

I have contacted our local Labour party, but I don't see what else I can do- even if I do try and take it to the Ombudsmen, it is still to do with the church, 

And that, that is the crux. You must not question the church. Or face the consequences. 

Sunday, 14 September 2014

And Just As Everything Looks to be Going Well, Something Comes and Kicks It In The Nads

I would actually have liked to end that title with "as fucking usual". But it wouldn't fit.

So, we've been in the new house since the end of May and all is well with it. We have halved our bills (having a boiler that isn't as old as me clearly helps), we have settled in nicely and we even found a very nice local pub just one street away.

Mini started school. Littlest didn't. However, considering, we thought, that we put in his appeal on July 8th, it must be coming soon to sort it all out.

Kick in the nads alert.

The law states that, all appeals must be done and dusted, from the parent's handing the forms in to request one, to the hearing, and the decision, within 30 school days. Which, by our 8th July, should mean it all being sorted by 25th September.

Yes, that was a bit pesky but it's those blasted school days they state. The whole, entire August did not count down to the holidays. But, that was fine. It would be sorted out sharpish after that.

The thing is, I don't really get the school days and how the holidays has such an impact. Its not the school that deals with the appeal. Its the council, or in our case, Diocese, as the school we feel is best for Littlest, and where Mini already goes, is Voluntary Aided. So, its not for the council to step in.

But the diocese is part of the church, right? And, I may not be a church goer save for weddings and christenings, but I'm pretty sure they don't also naff off during the summer holidays.

Except, the school admins decided, for reasons only known to themselves, to not send anything, at all. Not our appeal request, not our supporting evidence, nothing.

When they sent an acknowledgement on receipt, it took them 2 weeks. At which point, I gave them a polite call and asked when we would get an appeal date. I was told, by someone who really sounded like they didn't like being questioned about matters of a secretarial nature, (standard school/GP secretary behavior in my experience), that the date would be forwarded in the future as "its the school holidays in a week". Yes, but I asked, has the paperwork we gave in several weeks back been forwarded to the relevant people. You know, so as to not hold it up after their summer jollies?  I was told it had. So that was fine then.

On the first week back, I popped in and spoke to the same lady in person who looked really like she wanted me to piss off for asking about the appeal. I was told she'd phone later.

Not wanting to piss her off further, though not quite understanding how a polite and simple question could have pissed her off in the first place, I went home, and sat by the phone.

No phone call came.

Now, I don't like being fobbed off. Especially when I have a 6 year old, wanting to go to school, upset because his sister has gone off in her uniform. I felt, school days or no school days, we had waited long enough.

So, me being me, and not being that bothered about pissing anyone off (you might have noticed that readers?) I went in again.

To be told she had sent the paperwork that afternoon and was waiting to hear back.

Hold the freaking phone, people.

Those following will notice the deliberate cock up there. The paperwork, which I was told in July had already been sent, had now, suddenly not been sent until the 3rd September.

I was told I should hear by Friday.

Except, I still didn't.

So I went in again. I spoke to someone else this time. I would have preferred to phone, except despite there being 3 secretaries in that office, no one seems ever to answer a phone.

Lo and behold, I was told- you guessed it, she was sending the statements that day, so I should hear soon.

Again, hold the freaking phone.

So, this paperwork has now been sent on or around  the 8th July, the 3rd September and now the 5th September. That is one busy set of paperwork. No wonder they can't answer a phone eh?

This Secretary, not a dragon like the other one, even told me about the 30 day rule and agreed it was all taking far too long.

We finally got a date yesterday for the appeal hearing.

Is it prompt?

Is it bollocks.

Its for the 8th October, in Oxford (2 hours away by train).

39 SCHOOL DAYS AFTER THE HANDING IN OF THE PAPERWORK.

That, that, is against the fucking law of appeals.

You can't bring the kids, so how they expect me to not just get all the way to Oxford, for 3 hours, at 2.30pm with one child with no school at all, and one child who will need picking up from the school at 3.20, I have no idea. Perhaps I should lock them in the shed for the afternoon?

The report from the Governors is laughable.

They still expect us to stump up what would be £300 a week to travel to school by taxi and train 5 days a week twice a day, to Maidenhead. And how I'm meant to also get Mini to school is anyone's guess. They make no mention of Littlest's illness, which I find bloody rude considering the amount of Consultant letters I sent with the appeal.

All they care about is that there wont be room for him down to the uptake of free school meals. How very dare we ask for one extra child to sit and have an education- I'll bring him home for lunch if it offends them that much.

We have no end in sight to this, no school for Littlest at all. What the hell are we meant to do? I have no doubt this appeal is a total waste of time on our part, they simply aren't interested. They go on about catchment, but we live 0.2 miles from the school, and there is only one school in the entire part of Earley we  live in that falls under the catchment. And there's no space there either. The ridiculous thing is they mention this 0.2 miles in their evidence as if that's a long way- the last house in their catchment at the furthest point from the school is 7.3 miles!

They also say they have too many in classes already, but the national accepted top amount for schools is 30. Not one of the three classes at the school in Year 2 has more than 25.

Reader, I leave you baffled, pissed off, and on the point of kicking off royally. I asked for advice on the previously very friendly school Facebook network and got properly told off for daring to even mention the school in a negative light (I didn't. I just said it was upsetting him not to be going anywhere at all).

As usual, there is always a fly in the ointment. I'm starting to think I'm fucking cursed.




Saturday, 6 September 2014

#PRRequest, @BuyItYourself and Round 257 in PRs Shooting Themselves in the Foot with Bloggers

Its that time of the year again when a PR thinks they are oh so smart and writes an insightful post to their company blog about how awful bloggers are who review and how we always misuse the #PRRequest Hashtag.

So far, so standard.

However, and although it can't be proved but probably will come out as these things tend to  suddenly a twitter feed (mentioned in aforementioned blog post, funny that) has popped up asking PRs and other (wankier) bloggers to send in tweets and names of bloggers who they then affectively "name and shame" on this feed. It also, curiously, does lots to promote the post about how evil bloggers are who review. That makes up most of its feed actually. As I say, curiously so.

See, this could have worked OK. I'm no great fan of the blatant misuse of the #PRRequest hashtag myself. When it was first used it was a great way for emerging bloggers  to set out that we were here and if you want to get in touch, then do so. It was a waving flag of "PR Friendly" to the brands hungry to snap us and our expertise (and cheap advertising) up.

However, to me, this is cyber bullying hidden behind a right on satire and statement on us much maligned bloggers.

What really grates with me is that they happily name and shame the blogger (or blagger apparently) involved, yet they don't have the balls at their disposal to use their actual name. Hence, to me, this is the PR firms way of slagging us off without shooting itself in the foot and losing our precious free advertising.

Its worth noting that the post's author is actually someone who has approached me (along with other colleagues) to write for them and to review Easter products with The Brats. Its also widely seen as double standards that the Boss of this PR firm is constantly seen using the hashtag to plead for Bloggers to write for free.

If they are so keen to make the world of blogging a better place, why hide behind an alias? You all know what I feel about anonymous people slagging others off.

Its already upset one lovely blogger and that one is quite enough.

What annoys me the most is on the day this all kicks off, and gives bullying bloggers and others the chance to throw cyber barbs on this site without being exposed for it (and thus letting the wimpish trolls that they are who are too weak to actually do it directly have the perfect outlet), we have several bloggers being driven slowly mental by an SEO who has sent bundles of emails over and over, driving bloggers potty over the last week.

Have these bloggers set up an anonymous Twitter feed and named and shamed this SEO? No.

When we get treated as little more than free advertising, do we go to twitter and anonymously slate them? No.

I for one hope this dies on its yawnsome arse soon. And if it is the same PR firm responsible, then there are frankly better ways to promote yourself than biting the hand that graciously drops the washing, the ironing, the cooking and everything else to write you a post.

And apologies all round we hope.