The HLP Diaries: The Tale of the Terrifying Trap

To celebrate Potential Plus UK’s new Community Area, here is a tale to remind us just why, even as perennially pooped parents, we all continue to bother – Slightly Mad Mummy


Once upon a time, there was a group of fantastically firm friends, some furry, some feathered, some fragile and flighty, but all of whom were among the brightest young animal minds in the land.

There was Stephen Hawk (but everyone called him Stevie) and Maggie Aderin-Peacock, both young birds with exceptional scientific minds. There was Brian Fox, a fine and wily scientific thinker. Then there were the tiny twins, Hannah and Stephen Fly. Hannah had a marvellous mathematical mind, and Stephen was a wordsmith without parallel in the insect world. And last, but not least, was the little lupine literary genius, Virginia Wolf.

One day, as they were gambolling through the forests of animal land, they found themselves caught in a terrible trap. The trap didn’t look scary; in fact, it was brightly coloured, welcoming, with pictures of smiling children adorning the walls, but it was a trap; a trap worse than any those intrepid friends had ever before encountered. For they had unwittingly stumbled upon the Kingdom of the Classroom and were now at the mercy of those fearsome folk of animal land legend: the edu-gaters.

They tried to appease the edu-gaters; oh, how they tried. They did everything asked of them: they played with the Numicon, they experimented with the sand, and they used wow words in every sentence imaginable, all in the hope of being allowed to move on and away from their classroom calaboose. And, you know, they really did so want to please them, as they were good, sweet and sensitive little animals. But every day, the edu-gater was unwavering and would ask them to show their work again and again, and again; to do it in another way, and another way and another, until, before very long at all, the group was dejected and sad.

As time went by, Maggie began to feel frustrated and started to swing her legs underneath the table. The edu-gater said she was naughty.

Stevie began to ask the edu-gater questions on science that the edu-gater was unable to answer. He was told he was rude and would need behavioural interventions if the issue continued.

Virginia began to feel that the overuse of wow words was actually making her writing more amateurish; holding her back from developing her own true literary voice, so began experimenting with a non-curriculum-approved style of writing. The resultant novel received great acclaim in animal land and won little Ginny a legion of admirers, but the edu-gater said that she had not followed instructions and had to stay inside at lunchtime to work on her wow words as punishment.

Brian began to disengage from the classroom activities, but the edu-gater simply said that he needed to work on his focus during lessons.

Stephen and Hannah found solace in each other, retreating into a world of their own, but were told they had socialisation issues and needed to attend workshops to remedy the problem.

Their parents tried to intervene to help; tried desperately to deliver them from their detention-under-duress, but the edu-gaters were resolute, and their children remained imprisoned. Dejected and downcast that they hadn’t managed to spring their offspring, the parents turned to plan B: even if they could not break them out, could they, perhaps, at least get them a more appropriate level of work?

Mummy Fox tried to tell the edu-gater that Brian had actually done a number of television series on science that were actually incredibly popular amongst the entire fox population.

“He, um, has filmed some great shows that have really helped to popularise science and aid a better understanding of tricky scientific concepts for the ordinary fox on the street,” said she, nervously.

The edu-gater was unmoved.

“Well, frankly,” she said, “I’m surprised. I was under the impression he wasn’t too keen on science, because he certainly hasn’t been showing a huge amount of attention in class…”.

Mummy Fox wanted to suggest that perhaps Brian might be a little bored, that perhaps he needed something a little more challenging, but she noticed the edu-gater’s jaw clench, and her eyes narrow with a look that double- dared her to challenge the immovable opinion of an edu-gater, and she found herself silent.

The edu-gater smiled, and that was that.

Mrs Wolf tried hard, too.

Please could you let Ginny out now, or at least let her off the…” – she wanted to say “interminable” but thankfully did not dare – “…VCOP lessons. I really think she’s got all of that now, and she’s terribly sad in class. If she were just allowed to do some of her own writing, that would really help; it is just so very important for her wellbeing. And it has earnt her a legion of lupine fans…”

Mrs Fly tried a similar tack.

“I appreciate that this term you are focusing on sticky words, but young Stephen has just finished his latest book and it was a New Stork Times bestseller, and Hannah’s books are an inspiration to many a young animal interested in STEM. You couldn’t give them something just a little trickier to do, could you?”

The edu-gater, again, was unmoved.

“I feel I should inform both you, Mrs Wolf, and you, Mrs Fly, that your children have not met the requisite level to receive their pen licences. They will not be receiving the Laminated Card of Approval.”

Then the edu-gater smiled, and that was that.

Weeks went by and the little animals lurched between desperate attempts to please and utter and deep despair. The parents continued to try to advocate for their little ones’ releases, but all to no avail.

Before long, the little animal group had taken to meeting in secret during break times, setting up a thinktank; a focus group to address how they were going to escape their confinement. The animals were, of course, very bright; incredibly so. But still, the answers to the conundrum were not at all easy to come by.

They tried self-advocacy. If they weren’t to be allowed to leave, the little animals themselves would ask if perhaps they could at least move up to a more appropriate level of work. What didn’t work for their parents might, perhaps, just perhaps, work for them? A direct plea from little animal to edu-gater; it was worth a try.

Alas, all was futility. It was, they were told, impossible.

“But why?” they pleaded, in desperate unison.

“Read the Rulebook,” was the edu-gater’s snappy reply.

The Rulebook was the tome of every terrible dictate that the school lived by; all following the hallowed ideology of the Kingdom of the Classroom: the logic-which-must-not-be-questioned. The animals called it the “Cruel Book”, and legend had it that it was infused with the tears of any edu-gater that ever challenged the orthodoxy of the Kingdom of the Classroom; that ever tried to help an outlier; that ever tried to flex to their needs. They would be sent, so the sorry stories go, to the universally-feared “Correction Conference”, which everyone knew was a fate worse than death. Many had witnessed an edu-gater dispatched in disgrace to the Correction Conference. None had seen an edu-gater return.

Lo and behold, the Cruel Book had the answer to their question:

“1. No creature may be moved up to a level of work higher or harder than expected for their age without proving themselves fully capable of that higher level first.
2. Capability can only be proved by specific edu-gater assessments.
3. It is forbidden for any edu-gater to test outside of the agreed level for a certain year group.
4. No child will be moved up to a level of work higher or harder than expected for their age.”

So there it was. In abominable print. The animals felt defeated. Their incarceration would continue.

On one particularly forlorn Friday, filled with the familiar frustrations of repetition and wilful ignorance of the tiny friends’ needs, Virginia mused aloud:

“What one needs,” she murmured, dreamily, “is a classroom of one’s own…imagine the fun we could have; the adventures; the challenge!”

“But we’d need the funds to buy in the teaching and the support we need, too,” said Hannah, with her very best maths hat on.

“Quite.” Virginia stood up, majestic. “Then what one needs is money and a classroom of one’s own,” she declared.

“Pure pipedream-land, I’m afraid, though, people,” said Stephen, saddened by his own sober reason.

“Lovely idea but it just doesn’t work like that in reality,” agreed Maggie, Stevie and Brian, reluctantly.

But Virginia would not be deterred.

“Are you sure…?”

“What do you mean?” they asked her, in concert.

“I mean…Individua,” she whispered.

Stephen shook his head.

“But that’s just a myth; a legend sent down through the animal ages from generation to generation. The magical land where the highly able and the highly sensitive are treated with kindness and acceptance; where children learn at their own level and pace, whatever that may be, where difference is embraced, and needs are supported with gusto and a friendly smile…But it’s not real; it doesn’t actually exist. I mean, just think of the probability of it all; it couldn’t!”

“No…? Are you absolutely sure…?” asked Virginia, a mysterious look spreading across her furry features .

Yes, it was improbable. Impossible, even. But as Virginia’s words lingered in the air, the animal friends found themselves galvanised. They all knew exactly what to do. It wouldn’t be easy; they weren’t even sure where to start, or how to escape to even be in with that chance. But they had no choice. Pipedream, perhaps; mythological, maybe. But they could not afford not to. If there was even the slightest possibility that Individua was out there somewhere, they had to try. And so, for those feistiest of friends, the quest of their little lives had most definitely begun.

To be continued…


In this series we invite members to share their thoughts and lived experience with us – perhaps through an article, advice, sharing their careers, a piece of fiction or a poem. The HLP Diaries are fictional tales of parenting children with high learning potential. If you are a Potential Plus UK member and have an anecdote that you would like to share then we’d love to hear from you: email focus@potentialplusuk.org

You can find more from Slightly Mad Mummy –  both poems and her diaries of flexischooling her daughter – by searching for “slightly mad mummy” on our website.

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