I don’t usually ‘do’ politics, the hypocrisy and divisiveness of a bunch of middle-aged, middle class, middle men (and women) holds little appeal, but with this week happening to be when parents are making a stand against SATS testing in schools maybe it’s time I took an interest.
This post, however, was not prompted by SATS testing, it was triggered by my experience last week when I was scheduled to attend one of the regular parent-teacher consultations at my sons’ primary school. If I am completely honest it was not something I was looking forward to, and in the days running up to this particular meeting I grew increasingly anxious about the conclusions that his teacher, and indeed the entire education system, would make about my son’s abilities and the effects of my own parenting on his learning.
I worried about this to the point of nausea before I finally got a grip of myself! I am no stranger to the world of education. I belong to a family of educators and I am myself a trained teacher and early year’s practitioner. So maybe that’s why I was so concerned.
I have worked within the short-sighted restrictions of the national curriculum. I have been forced to give children grades that don’t truly reflect their abilities and I have been frustrated at the complete disregard shown to children’s learning outside of the core subjects and the ‘incidental learning’ that happens all the time. (Apologies if this is getting too political!)
The conclusions drawn by the class teacher were that my son is ‘progressing’ in most subjects. Brilliant! But really this is nowhere near a true representation of who my son is or what he knows. I’m not interested in levels, SATS scores and the irrelevant judgements of this ridiculous system, I’m interested in how my son is developing and growing as a whole person. I am interested in all of the things that frustrated teachers are not able to assess and comment on, the things that make my son unique. So here is my own report on his progress:
Bryn has been in the world for just 8 short years so far, and in that time he has achieved some astonishing feats. From learning a language for communication and decoding printed symbols, to developing fine motor skills so precise he is able to build and paint complex, intricate Airfix models and V8 engines.
He is able to read and write (although this is not his most favourite pastime) and he is far more inspired by his military magazines on amphibious vehicles than the adventures of Biff, Chip, Kip and the gang. He is extremely creative and his drawing, painting and modelling skills are beyond his years. He has also recently discovered that he has an ear for music. He now plays the ukulele and the keyboard with relative ease and the help of Youtube!
Bryn has a fascination for science and blowing things up, as well as engineering. His skills in all of these areas far exceed my own and were inspired by a love of fabulous people like Fred Dibnah and Guy Martin as well as a good dose of Myth Busters, where physics suddenly makes complete sense to me!
In PE I’m afraid Bryn gets his sporting prowess from his mother (sorry Bryn!) We both have the coordination of a cat on a merry go round! He’s just announced very proudly that in tennis today he managed to hit the ball at the school windows without actually breaking them! However in Karate (which is not in the curriculum) he is a kick-ass blue belt!
History is Bryn’s passion and is another subject where his knowledge is far beyond my own. He is obsessed with WW1 and WW2 and he knows the inner workings of the Sopwith Camel and the Spitfire like the back of his hand. He lives and breathes history. He reads about it, writes about it, draws it and uses his mathematical skills to understand time, dates and engineering. He talks about history like a professor and he truly amazes me.
As a little boy Bryn is kind, caring, funny and interesting. He has lots of friends and is loved beyond the moon and back by his family. He is a fabulous big brother and has the patience of a saint at times… At other times he is a menace! He is inquisitive, intelligent and has a zest for life. He is a very special boy.
So yes I would agree he is ‘progressing!’ He is also growing into his own person far beyond the realms of the school curriculum.
I am not intending to criticise teachers with this post, I am one! I just wanted to make some suggestions for David Cameron, Nicky Morgan and the other detached and out of touch politicians who seem to believe that they are qualified to make judgements on how our children are educated.
Coincidentally I do not know of any other job on the planet where you need absolutely no experience to be in charge of an entire sector. It’s like putting a fish monger in charge of flying an aeroplane! Imagine going to a job interview that went like this:
Employer: “So tell me what experience you have in this field of work”
Interviewee: “Absolutely none.”
Employee: “Perfect, you’re hired! Here is a large salary for your efforts.”
Nicky Morgan, a Solicitor by trade, has a degree in Law from St Hugh’s College, Oxford. Before that she attended Surbiton High School, an independent school where the motto is “Inspire, Encourage, Empower,” which is, in my view, exactly of what education should do, and exactly what our state system is failing to do.
Anyway, I digress. Here are some of my own brief thoughts on the school system and improvements that could be made. Maybe the first one should be that a Secretary of State for Education should actually have some experience of working in education? (Just a thought!)
Remember that children are people!
I know this sounds a bit strange, but honestly when you are in the midst of trying to boost grades and assess work, it is easy to forget that there is more to your pupils than their reading level. All of the children in the classroom are one day going to grow up and become something else. Airline pilots, chefs, engineers, PA’s, politicians and jobs that haven’t even been invented yet. What they learn at school could and should have a huge impact on what they want to do.
The curriculum should nurture, inspire, encourage and enable children to develop their interests whatever they are. Teachers must be allowed to support children in this without fear of retribution for missing 10 minutes of literacy.
Imagine if the Wright brothers had to cease their investigations into the development of powered aircraft because they were required to dissect a text of the three little pigs, picking out punctuation and pronouns!
The only person a child needs to be compared to is themselves. If a child has made progress, moved forwards, learnt something new, developed a passion and interest in different subjects, then they are learning. Education is nourishing them and they are growing into the person they want to become. Every child is unique, they will all grow into very different people with different interests so why do we insist on trying to squeeze them all into little boxes with levels and grades? They are all gifted in different areas and these should be celebrated so that children are not made to feel like failures because they are not excelling at times-tables! You cannot compare a brain surgeon with an engineer, both very skilled and knowledgeable, both educated, but in completely different ways. This is exactly the situation teachers face in the classroom.
Let children ask questions…and find out the answers
There is a lot of emphasis on children’s questions within the National Curriculum, especially in science. However, as usual, what is lacking is the freedom to let children actually answer their own questions. Unless they ask a specific question listed within the syllabus they have no time to answer it. Children ask fantastic, valuable, thought provoking questions. They demonstrate their own understanding through the questions they ask and would be able to develop their understanding much more if they were given the space and time to discover the answers for themselves.
The restrictions of the National Curriculum, SATS tests and endless demands of OFSTED and the government for teachers to justify themselves, results in a very narrow view of the whole child. (If only they had put this much scrutiny into the banking system, eh!)
Our children are so much more and deserve so much more, and our teachers deserve a bloody medal. Here endeth my foray into the world of politics!