I keep hearing how changing government standards and expectations are pushing more and more (wonderful) teachers out of the profession. I keep reading about the expectations, targets and tests that are making it harder and harder for teachers to teach in a way that instils a passion for learning into our kids. I’ve read and thought about the impact that these demands could have on the mental health of the next generation; how making school a stressful – or less enjoyable – place to be could damage children’s relationship with education forever. As a parent it worries me. As a member of society it worries me.
We had our school parents’ meetings a few weeks ago and our six-year-old son’s teachers gave us mock SATs papers to look at. I could hardly believe it: five thick test papers covering English and Maths. With a huge emphasis on grammar. With TEST emblazoned on the front and at the back ensuring that any teacher – in the knowledge that telling kids they’re doing ‘tests’ can cause stress – will fail in a mission to pass them off as just ‘some fun’. With one of the maths papers requiring an ability to read and reason before you even get to the actual mathematics. FIVE THICK TEST PAPERS. They’re only six and seven years old!
Then I went into school last week and noticed the handwriting of the kids in my son’s class. I looked and I remembered the papers they were going to be given and my heart sank. How are they all going to manage? These kids aren’t unintelligent or incapable, their handwriting is unrefined because they’re six and seven. They can’t all read perfectly and reason wonderfully yet because they’re six and seven. And the fact that the teachers are unlikely to be able to train them to pass the tests with flying colours isn’t because the teachers are bad – they’re great! But the kids are flippin’ six and seven years old.
The government can’t do this, I thought – they can’t assess all these children’s intelligence and aptitude and potential and possibilities based on these tests. These tests don’t look at how a child’s eyes light up when someone reads them a story or how they can draw a wonderful picture with only a handful of pencils or how they can invent an entire imaginary world with the contents of a recycling bin.
These tests don’t show that that child is awesome at football, that this one can captivate a room with her wicked sense of humour, or that this little boy is really empathetic and kind. Oh, or that this little girl here could one day be a novelist if we don’t teach her, right now aged six, that she can’t write much at all. She can’t write much YET because she’s SIX.
And yet they ARE trying to assess our kids, and these tests necessitate a style of teaching that’s counter to so much research about the best ways that kids learn. A way of teaching that means the rules of grammar take precedence over encouragement to write for the enjoyment of it, or means maths questions must be tackled in a way that no one would ever use in the real world. We have so many talented teachers in this country that are trying so hard to wrestle with the curriculum to make learning as engaging as possible, but the government is making it harder and harder. No wonder they’re resigning in droves. No wonder schools are struggling to recruit staff.
The government can’t do this, I thought.
They can’t do this to our kids.
And then I thought… what if… what if we just don’t let them?
What if on SATs day we parents all agree not to send our kids into school?
Not because we don’t believe in school. Not because we don’t believe in education. But because we DO. We believe, no, dammit, we KNOW it is incredibly important. That it is fundamental to society and that we, as a society, have to get it RIGHT (or heck, right now I’d settle for just ‘not so completely wrong that it makes my eyes bleed’).
What if instead of school that day we have a National ‘Learning Is Fun’ day, where we all teach our kids by giving them exciting, meaningful and memorable experiences?
Where we teach them love of words and stories and literature by reading them great books?
Where we ignite their imaginations with drama and stories and art?
Where we teach them history by visiting interactive museums and talking to people who had real-life experiences?
Where we instil a love of maths or science through practical experiences and experiments?
Where we teach them about the things we love, be they gardening or building or hiking or snorkelling or painting or writing or morris dancing… whatever… in the best way we can?
We do it together, with friends, family or wider communities or we do it on our own, just us and our kids, but everyone does their bit, even if it’s only a tiny bit, to show their children the fun parts of learning and the ways in which it can affect our lives.
And then we share, share, share what we’ve learnt. We share it on social media, on TV, on the radio, in the local paper. We share by drawing pictures and putting up posters… doing pieces of performance art in the street (I don’t know, whatever, just think of something!). We share as much as we can, as widely as we can.
And together we show the government what teachers have been trying to tell them all along if they’d only listen: what really makes children tick, what really ignites their passions, what sets their imaginations free and lets their potential soar.
On that day, we’d do our best to support our country’s wonderful teaching profession. It would be a day when we as parents would say: we will not put our children through this. Our kids deserve better. Teachers and schools deserve better. Society deserves better.
No, Mr Cameron, no.
UPDATE: I was so overwhelmed by the response to this post that, along with a fellow blogger, I’ve launched a #THISislearning campaign. Please click here to find out more!
*** Since I wrote this post a new petition has been launched at 38 degrees, calling for a SATs boycott on 3rd May. Click here to find out more***
This post was inspired by The Prompt which, this week, is ‘Mighty’. I often feel helpless in the face of this government and I got to thinking that although I feel tiny, together we have the potential to be mighty.
You might like to sign these petitions calling for the extension of the Early Years Foundation Stage from “birth to 5″ to “birth to 7″:
This one is on UK Government and Parliament Petitions. If it gets 100,000 signatures it will be considered for debate in parliament.
This one is on Change.org.