A Positive Place

wild challenge 1 017Somehow I seem to have stumbled upon one of those places in life where positivity is flowing in abundance.  I am a very positive person but the world can be a very challenging place so positive places are  hard to come by.  A positive place is not just defined by positive energy it is also encapsulated in time and space.  You absolutely know when you have stumbled across one because if you pivot on your anchor foot you will see positivity in all directions.  I see it in our island community, in the youths I meet on a daily basis, through happenings in the lives of my family and friends and in the wider world at large.

This wee positive place was shattered into a million pieces this morning when UNICEF and Oxfam contacted me with news of a second major earthquake in Nepal.  People that are out there rescuing have been hurt themselves…

If you are truly in a positive place it will find a way to win through and today it was my 15 year old son who shone the brightest of all and restored my faith in human nature.  As soon as he was aware of the second disaster to hit an already devastated country he was up and on his laptop.  He is a member of a brand new youth group for Oxfam and he understands his responsibilities very well.  He had been working on background research of the charity so armed with that he immediately set up a facebook page so that he can start to build a network that is capable of helping Oxfam to help others.  He has already put the emergency appeal on the page and we are all busy sharing the page and the appeal like mad.  Meantime he is plugged into several news reporters waiting for updates.

So, through the gloom of the disaster emerged a 15 year old young man taking his first steps as a humanitarian activist and I was fit to burst.  I was busy chasing national dance awards and rehearsing every spare minute when I was wrapped up in my self obsessed 15 year old world.  The contrast is too acute.

The new Arran Oxfam Youth Group have plans to campaign and fundraise throughout the summer with a tentative appointment with our new MP in the autumn for some serious lobbying.  I strongly suspect they will a force to be reckoned with as the youth voice always has the loudest impact in humanitarian contexts.  All my four children have worked with me with international charities for years but this is different.  Both Max and George are part of the new Arran Oxfam Youth Group and I am watching them fledge from a distance.  Within our family we have all long since agreed that Max has the biggest heart and now he has the chance to use that to help others who live hundreds of miles away.  Although I am incredibly proud that is not really the point.  The reality is that we raise our children to be the best they can be and something tells me that Max is beginning a journey that will define a lifetime.

PLEASE support these young people by liking their facebook page HERE.  They will soon have their own blog as well but all their plans will be announced on their facebook page first.  Many thanks from a very humbled…..

scottish island mum

An alternative route to university

If you follow Scottish island mum on facebook you already know that we have just had some very good news.  George (our third child) is 17 and wants to go to the University of Highlands and Islands to study a BA in Adventure Tourism.  His route to university is non-standard in that it has not involved GCSEs/Standards or A levels/Highers so we approached the programme leader so see if his alternative qualifications would be accepted.  The programme leader kindly revised not only his qualifications but his entire profile to include his Duke of Edinburgh work, voluntary and work experience and confirmed that he would not hesitate to off him a place.  Obviously we still have the UCAS process to get through but knowing that his qualifications will be accepted was very important confirmation.

valentine 2 001

I know that many followers of Scottish island mum are very interested in our home schooling journey so I promised a detailed breakdown of George’s route to university.  It is important to say that there are many qualifications out there and the world of distance learning has exploded in recent years.  However, my time as an academic allows me the inside track on university admission policies so I am hoping to pass that on.  The UCAS site itself has lots of excellent advice and I would highly recommend keeping a close eye on it as both the Scottish system and now the English/Welsh system at 16plus is subject to so much change.

What has not changed is the spine of the qualifications system which is presented as a framework.  For England and Wales that is the National Qualification Framework (NQF) and for Scotland that is the Scottish Qualification Framework (SQF).  If you want your child to take distance learning or online courses rather than the ones offered in schools check if these courses are accredited by these frameworks.  More importantly, at what level.  For university entry youngsters in England and Wales need to be studying at level 3 and in the Scottish framework it is level 6.  Typically universities will be looking for 3 A levels or 4/5 Highers.  Grades for both are converted into UCAS points with most universities asking for a total points value.  However, this is shifting as well as more and more universities open up a non-tariff entry meaning that passes within a certain level e.g A-C is sufficient.  University of Highlands and Islands is one of these universities and you can read about their admission policy HERE.  

Let us focus on George’s route by way of an example –

It is important to note that George is a very bright young man (known as the brainbox in our family) so this would not work for everyone.  

GCSE/Standards (level 2 on the NQF)

Most universities ask for at least maths and English

George obtained his maths level 2 from Stonebridge College Basic Maths course (accredited by NQF at level 2)

English level 2 from the Open Study College

He did not do any further level 2s.  The reason for this is that level 2 subjects are a gateway to level 3 and he was more than capable of operating at level 3 so he moved up to that level as soon as he had achieved his level 2s.

At level 3 on the NQF (equivalent to A level)

He has almost completed a level 3 diploma in Animal Care with Stonebridge College

His next level 3 diploma is in Tourism Management from Stonebridge College

That will give him the equivalent of 2 A levels.  That is enough for entry into his university course.  However he is additionally taking –

Higher Digital Photography with Argyll College in a satellite campus based on the island.  He thinks this course will be useful for a career working outdoors.

This means he will actually have more qualifications than are required.

The advantage of this route for George is that he has been able to study at his own pace, in his own time and in his own home.  The photographer higher will give him time with other students which will be useful as well.  With most distance learning courses there are no exams as they are assessed throughout the course.  Once our children leave full time home schooling with us they sign up with a particular college and are assigned a tutor and we take a much more back seat.  All of our children have learnt a super range of study skills through distance learning and they have all done very well on all their courses.

Now this is an important bit.

I know from processing literally thousands of UCAS applications at my time at the University of Winchester that lecturers look to the whole profile of the applicant not just their qualifications.  What they do additionally to their qualifications is of EQUAL value.

Focusing back on George.

George has just completed his Bronze award with the Duke of Edinburgh scheme and for those of you not familiar with the scheme it has four components –

Development of a –

  • physical skill (badminton for George)
  • Life skill (baking for George)
  • Volunteering skills (community shop for George)
  • Expedition skills (2 day hike with overnight camp for George)

Universities rate the Duke of Edinburgh scheme very highly indeed.  But any applicant who has relevant skill building and work experience will be valued. George is currently gaining invaluable work experience with the island farm park.   Additionally, George has worked for international charities since he was 13 and for his silver Duke of Edinburgh award he is working with Oxfam on their Youth Ambassador Programme.  Also for his silver he is learning to kayak.

You can see a picture of George emerging and so will a university lecturer as they review his application.  His Personal Statement will also have to be excellent but he is arguably fortunate to have me in his corner to help with that.  By the way I do offer that service free to other young people – more details HERE.

Immediately, I think we see two things.  George does not have as many qualifications as most young people his age but what he does have (or will have) are very targeted and predominately at level 3 on the NQF.

The second thing is that he has a profile that is proactive, relevant to his career interests and growing all the time.  Universities love this sort of profile.  Targeting what your children get involved in out of school hours is really important.  It is the quality of experience over the quantity every time.  I lost count of how many applicants I rejected who used their personal statement as a way of listing all the things they had done, making sense of none of them and showing little direction or focus.

My advice is obviously wrapped up in all that has come before but to put it in useful bullet points –

  • Never accept that there is only one way to get to university – look at all the alternatives out there.
  • Check that the courses are accredited at level 3 (NQF) or 6 (SQF)
  • Contact the universities your child is interested in for advice
  • Encourage your child to take on out of school activities that are valued by the universities and that are relevant to their course/career direction
  • Impress on your child that it is not a race to university and they do not have to go at 18; learning is life-long
  • Ensure that their personal statement is written in the style and with the content appreciated by the universities

I do hope this has helped and, more especially, given hope to those of you who have children that are finding school is not right for them.  This should illustrate that at 16 (at the very least) there are other options.

If I can be of any assistance please do not hesitate to ask.

Best wishes to you all and your children,

scottish island mum

Rotating Precious Moments

I am a huge fan to rotation in life.  I think this fascination with the concept began when I played school netball and we were taught to pivot.  Instead of finding it restricting as some players did I found it liberating and all powerful.  There is something about planting one foot firmly on the ground to anchor the rest of you that is powerful.  The liberation is the ability to draw on that power with the rest of your body to move in any direction you wish.  In these moments I understood the freedom and wisdom of being able to rotate.  I have used the skill all my life and I would be lost without it.  The premise of the rotating netball skill still applies as I do feel it vital to stay ground by planting one metaphoric foot in the earth as my anchor.  For me that is my family as they are my anchor.  They all contribute to that anchor in different ways and I hope that I help to support their anchors.  Being grounded beyond my family relies on a symbiotic relationship with Mother Earth.  Remaining in the lived moment affords a wonderful relationship with the changing seasons and the influences they each bring.

With my anchor in place I reflect on my rotational journeys.  Life has a way of throwing curve balls at us just as we feel that everything in running to plan.  In meeting the curve balls we need to rotate in anticipation of the impact these occurrences will have on us.  Being able to rotate keeps us more flexible than if we do not develop this essential life tool.  I like to think of the curved balls as the netballs that I can catch, place down my anchor and then spend some time deciding where to put that ball while maintaining some kind of control of the ball itself.

rewilding challenge 9 016Control is an important part of my rotating strategy as I rarely hand control over to anyone else.  Those that know me well know me to be fiercely independent with a deep desire to tread my own path through life.  With control comes choices and as I reflect on the curve ball that has presented its own challenge I create time to think where to go next.  As a Buddhist I think all these smaller skills are inherent in a faith that rests on the need to be a reflective soul.  I am currently responding to a curve ball that I wish had not made its presence known but I cannot control these things and nor should I.  How dull would life be if we knew everything in advance?

Living in the moment is sacred to me and I protect that fiercely in life.  I see people every day that have not discovered that essence of happiness as they constantly strive for something more and attempt to live in their own future.  We all know people like that and they can be quite influential if we are not careful.  My rotational skills allow me to hold my own agenda tight just like the body protecting the caught ball in netball.

An ex-boss of mine once said to me that ‘it is as if you see the whole chess game from start to finish move by move.’  The irony of this observation is that I don’t play chess but his point is familiar to me.  I do seem to have a natural ability to see happenings through to their natural conclusions and I have a real skill in being able to prioritise and lead projects.  This has been very useful in every aspect of both my professional and personal lives but there is a potential contradiction.  Surely to have these skills means that I am mapping into the future?  I am, of that there is no doubt, but what my boss really meant is where the truth lies.  I can map into the future but in doing so I can also consider all the variables or curve balls that might de-rail any project and have contingency plans; rotating skills.  I have worked with a lot of people that can project manage very well but come unstuck when the wheels start coming off.  In essence they lack rotational skills.

lovely early flowers

lovely early flowers

I live a much quieter life now but I draw on my rotational skills just as much as I ever did.  I support my children into the adult world by staying one step ahead of them and advising them accordingly.  In my writing work I keep my personal journey tight and well protected and nowhere is this less important than Scottish island mum.  I keep that brand very tight and controlled and free from external influences.

In my creative world I study trends within an inch of their life as this helps me predict new trends and place my creativity and outcomes accordingly.

In rotating I feel the excitement of the challenge as well as the grounding of the anchor so when people ask me how I stay so positive despite a very deliberating illness this is the long answer!

Enjoy each and every live moment.

Blessings to you all

scottish island mum