To the new Reception parent

I think I have an idea how you’re feeling, new school parent…..as much as anyone can have any idea how somebody else is feeling that is. You are probably busy labelling uniform, laying it out for one last look, realising you still need to buy plimsolls, wondering whether you have enough polo shirts……that sort of thing.

If you’re anything like me, you’ll be feeling anxious and excited and a little bit heartbroken and….well, like life is about to change hugely. Which it is – but in good ways, honestly. So, as you embark on life as a school parent, here are ten little things I’d like to tell you:

  1. Reception teachers and TAs are some of the kindest, most patient people imaginable. They are full of smiles, encouragement, songs, reassurance and wise words. They are fun but instructive, firm but gentle. They will wipe away children’s tears and, quite possibly at some point, yours too. There is nothing they have not seen, and they won’t make you feel bad for sharing your concerns.  You will want to tell them every day what an amazing job they do…..and you should, because they do.
  2. Reception itself is a wonderful year. It is all about stickle bricks, songs, junk modelling, mud kitchens and dressing up. Yes, it is school but it is gentle and fun and nurturing. It is a period of new friends, broadening horizons, and increased confidence. It is a truly special time, not just for the children but for parents too – developing new routines and getting to know this community of children and parents who will, most likely, be part of your lives for the forseeable future. It will fly by and, as you approach the summer term, you probably won’t want it to end. Having said that……
  3. Learning to read is painful – all of it. The books are painful and the process itself is painful. Hence my point about Reception teachers being angelic miracle workers – they do this all day and every day with 30 children. Helping your child to understand that the sounds C, A and T join together to make the word CAT and not GOAT tests a parent’s patience to the limit; and finding a good time to sit down and do it at home can feel almost impossible – before school is too rushed, and after school everyone is too tired. Be as gentle as you can on everyone, including yourself. It won’t be this hard forever – at some point, something clicks and CAT does start to become recognisable as CAT rather than just looking like a series of symbols. When that happens, it is magical…..it might just take a bit of time.
  4. You have probably worried about your child since the moment s/he entered the world….possibly before. This doesn’t change once they start school. Sometimes though, you can feel like you’re the only one with worries – everyone else looks like they’re getting on fine, but you’re fretting. Is your child on his/her own too much? Are the other children getting invited on all the playdates? Is it normal how tired your child gets after school? Should you be doing more x, y or z with your child at home? It is only by talking to other parents that you discover that everyone is worrying about something; and if they’re not…….well, I’d be interested to meet them. Find your tribe (don’t worry if not everyone is in it) and share your worries. A good tribe will be your rock over the next few years.
  5. If there is a knack to feeling like you’re on top of everything then I’ve yet to master it. The non-uniform days, the assemblies, the reading mornings, the bake days, the change-reading-book days, the school trips……there is A LOT to keep up with. Everyone has their own way of attempting to manage it, but if you feel like you’re drowning then refer back to your lovely tribe – they probably feel like they’re drowning too. Which is reassuring.
  6. For many children, school is exhausting. Whether your child has been at nursery full-time or just for a few mornings a week; it doesn’t seem to make much difference. A school day might be shorter than a full day at nursery, but it is more structured, more stimulating, and definitely more tiring. Expect your little one to be hideously exhausted. And for this reason…..
  7. After school can be….well, challenging. Most likely, your precious little one will hold it together at school but crumple the moment s/he gets home. If your child decides to take all his/her frustration and exhaustion out on you, try not to take it personally – I know it’s hard. Home is their safe space, you are their safe person – this is how it should be. They need cuddles, loads of food and sometimes just to have a good cry. Structure can be good (I sometimes find an after-school activity helps to take their mind off how exhausted they are) but other times they need to put their pyjamas on and do nothing. Go with it, and try not to worry if you are achieving very little from 3pm onwards.
  8. Don’t expect to get any information from your child about what has happened between the hours of 9 and 3. They have spent six hours at school and they have no intention of talking about it when they get home. Occasionally, I find an ‘opposites’ approach works, ie. if I say ‘Ah, I know who you DIDN’T play with today…..’ and reveal the name of the child they play with every single day, they will be desperate to correct me. But generally, I have to accept that what goes on at school will remain largely a mystery, to be drip-fed to me over the next few months as and when they feel like sharing.
  9. On this note, some of what they share may well break your heart. Things like ‘I sat on the buddy bench today and no-one came to get me‘ / ‘X didn’t want to play with me today‘ / ‘Y said she wasn’t my friend any more‘. Keep in mind that these are little children, and we have absolutely no idea what goes on or what is said in those playgrounds. I always think of that programme ‘The Secret Life of 4/5/6 Year Olds‘ when imagining life in the playground. Children’s words can be cruel; but unless my children seem unhappy or their behaviour changes dramatically, I tend to assume that everything is as it should be.
  10. I know it feels like you are losing something huge. Like a big part of your life has gone. Like their life (and yours) will never be the same. Like they are growing up, moving on. All of that is true. BUT, they are still little, very little – you realise this when you watch them shuffling about awkwardly in the front row of school assemblies. They are tiny and innocent. They still want to hold your hand on the way to school. They still want your cuddles and a goodbye kiss. You are still more important to them than their friends. Than music. Than films. It doesn’t all change just because they’ve started school. This is a magical time when a whole new world will open to your child – you will be amazed at the huge strides forward s/he takes this year, from whatever their starting point. Embrace the good bits, laugh at the funny stories, cry with pride at the assemblies and, during the hard times, just remember that you’re not on your own.

school shoes x 3

Good luck, stay strong…..and don’t forget to buy those plimsolls.

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Measuring what matters

One at a time, they came forward and stood on the big white X on the floor. The big white X which meant ‘THIS IS WHERE YOU STAND’. You could see the concentration on their little faces. They looked out to the audience of parents and carefully delivered the lines they had been practising over the last few weeks. They recited poems and held up their art work. They talked about their favourite moments from this year. They stood proudly and spoke clearly. And then…..well, then they got into position for their Africa-inspired dance. They leapt and twirled and weaved around each other whilst waving brightly coloured bits of fabric. They danced their little hearts out and made mums and dads cry.

At the back of the hall, with parents seated either side of her, their teacher danced with them – full of enthusiasm, she leapt, twirled and waved a ribbon; encouraging her little charges along.

This was Year 2’s Leavers’ Assembly, which marked the end of these children’s three years at infant school. And what a long way they have come.

After this wonderful display, parents went into the dining hall where tables were laid with tablecloths and little vases of flowers. Teas, coffees and biscuits were served. ‘Oooh, we didn’t expect this‘, muttered appreciative mums and dads. This all felt like……..well, like a proper occasion. So we drank tea and ate biscuits as our little ones chatted away excitedly; and there was a real feeling of warmth and loveliness in the air. Many of us parents didn’t know each other three years ago, but a solid community and support network has built up around this school and these children. And now this group of parents mingled happily as they drank their tea, delighting not just in the achievements of their own child, but in the achievements of all of these children who have come so far since their first days in Reception.

As I left the school that morning, I couldn’t help thinking that it’s a shame that the people who measure our schools and put together charts and graphs and league tables don’t see more things like this.

It’s a shame they can’t measure the pride these parents feel, the community that has been built, and the good feeling in the air over those teas and coffees.

It’s a shame they didn’t see that teacher, doing everything she could to encourage her class from the back of the hall. Joining in with their dance, leaping and twirling as she waved a ribbon around.

It’s a shame they don’t know about the child who was so shy during Reception that assemblies for parents used to make him freeze. He would never have looked up, looked out, delivered lines, or twirled around with a pink scarf the way he did in that leavers’ assembly.

It’s a shame they can’t see the confidence these children have developed – confidence when dealing with each other, with their teachers, and with other adults. Confidence to try new things, to step out of their comfort zones.

It’s a shame they can’t see how these youngsters have learnt to organise their play, resolve differences, take turns, and bounce back when things don’t go their way.

It’s a shame they don’t know about the little one who, a year ago, desperately wanted to join in with the football at lunchtime but didn’t think he was good enough. Look at him now as he runs off to join in, a huge grin on his face.

It’s a shame they can’t see how these children have gained in independence, maturity and resilience. How some of them used to struggle when they didn’t get the results they wanted, but have begun to learn how to deal with disappointment.

It’s a shame that, while we’re trying to decide how good schools are and whether we are ticking all the right boxes, so much about who our children actually are gets lost.

It’s a shame that so many of the important things don’t seem to get recognised these days. People, community, values. The determination, thoughtfulness, resilience and confidence that our children will take with them as they move onto the next stage.  Because ultimately, it is these things that will be the difference in the world. Not how quickly they can learn their times tables, or their understanding of a split diagraph.

That’s what I think, anyway.

Balancing boys

On being a bit of a teary, emotional mess at the end of a school year

We’re nearly there now, the home straight. One week to go.

You’d think I’d have got the hang of this by now…..this is my third year after all. But it’s still exactly the same, and with every end of term event it hits me just a little bit more.

It’s a slightly-teary-but-I-can’t-quite-express-why feeling.

It’s feeling the need to look through baby photos and toddler photos and….well, just all old photos; and tiny shoes and tiny clothes and then wondering how we got to this point. It’s knowing that I’m officially letting go of something that I’ll never get back.

It’s the end of a school year feeling.

Over the last few weeks the letters have kept on coming – discos, end of term assemblies, transition day, class photos, end of year reports. 101 events to remind us that our children are moving on, moving up, leaving this stage behind them. And then there are lists and more lists of what we need for the next school year. Forms to complete and sign and return. Us parents are full of good intentions – we will be organised and get onto this immediately (of course we will…..). In my end of term daze, I am trying my best not to be a walking ball of tears as I come to terms with the thought of the end of a milestone school year for us. No more Reception (this alone is enough to make me weep – I LOVE Reception) and one boy moving onto Juniors (which means a TIE…..if I think about it for too long, this will also make me weep).

It is hard to sum up just how much one school year means in a small person’s life (and in mine too). How far we have come since last September. How many excited stories and over-tired tears. How many milestones, achievements and proud moments. For the little ones down in Reception, getting used to the school day – registers, bells, menu choices, lunches, assemblies. Grazed knees and accident forms (we get a lot of these). New friends and new routines.  Grappling with holding a pen properly. The painful process of learning to read. Biff, Chip and Kipper. Bob Bug. Sounding out C-A-T and putting this together to make ‘GOAT’. And then that magnificent moment when something clicks and suddenly words (or some words at least) become recognisable as actual words and not as impossible puzzles to be solved.

For the bigger ones, overcoming fears, developing new skills, trying things which are way out of their comfort zone. Growing in confidence and maturity. Ready to take on new challenges.

And our teachers and TAs have been there with us through it all. Through the worries, the fears, the tears, and the proudest of proud moments. And I look at the thank you cards sitting in front of me and wonder what words could possibly express our gratitude, or how much this year has meant to us.

I’m not sure that the emotion that comes with the end of a school year will ever go away. It will change, but I suspect it always be there. There are other huge milestones in our children’s lives; but unlike other milestones, this is one that everyone is going through at exactly the same time. Every child, every parent, every teacher – getting ready to say goodbye and then go through it all again in September.

So please ignore me over here in the corner. Blubbing away as I say my thank yous whilst small boys tug on my arm desperate for snacks and more than ready to start their summer holidays.

I’m pretty sure I will be exactly the same again next year.

boys looking out

 

Why are we teaching 6 year olds nonsense about exclamation marks?

How are you enjoying your topic at the moment, sweetheart?‘ I asked my increasingly reluctant-to-talk-about-school 6 year old a few weeks ago. Their current topic is Africa, and Africa is right up his street.

Hmmmm‘, he said. ‘I’m not sure we are actually doing Africa any more. We seem to be doing animals instead.

Even so‘, I replied; ‘whether it’s Africa or animals, it sounds like something you’d enjoy?

I think our topic is actually exclamation marks’, he said. ‘Exclamation marks, and a couple of things about animals…..But mainly exclamation marks.

Oh, what have you been learning about exclamation marks?‘ I asked.

I know that sentences with an exclamation mark must start with ‘how’ or ‘what’ and end with a verb. Like “What a cold day it is!” ‘

I felt confused – where had this come from? Is it really seen as a priority for 6 and 7 year olds? Why are these restrictive and probably very daunting rules being foisted upon young children? And what purpose can this one possibly serve?

I decided that my boy had probably exaggerated a bit – perhaps they had had a little focus on exclamation marks but to him it had felt like more than that. However, a chat with his teacher revealed that yes, they have indeed had a drive on exclamation marks recently…..or, as I now know from having done a bit of research, a drive on exclamation sentences. If you are wondering what the difference is between a simple exclamation mark and an exclamation sentence……. well, an exclamation mark can be still used as punctuation in a statement such as ‘How amazing!‘, or ‘Help!‘; whereas an exclamation sentence should adhere to the rules outlined above by my son.  ‘What a beautiful day!’ does not count as an exclamation sentence; whereas ‘What a beautiful day it is!’ does. And of course this is the sort of language we use with each other and our children all the time, isn’t it?! ‘How beautiful you look!‘ / ‘What a wonderful jacket you’re wearing!‘  – you know the sort of thing.

The Department for Education‘s guidelines on the matter tells us this:

The definition of an exclamation should not be confused with the uses of the exclamation mark for punctuation. The exclamation mark can be used in a variety of sentence forms and not just in exclamations.

And yes, if they are to be judged as writing at the ‘expected standard’ then our Year 2 pupils (who are aged 6 and 7) should be able to recognise and write examples of exclamation sentences.

Really?

Really??

And if the answer is yes, then my next question is, why?

Is this going to make them better writers? Better thinkers? Better people? Because I’m not sure that filling young children’s head with this prescriptive nonsense will do any such thing. And if you’re not going to achieve any of those things then why do it? Just so that we can say ‘yippee, look at our 6 and 7 year olds who are now able to pass tests that are much harder than they were before‘ – is that why? Just in the name of ‘raising standards’?

If we really want to encourage our little writers, surely one of the first steps is to get them reading. Get them to the library…..you know, those brilliant places full of books that have had to reduce their opening hours because they have no funding? Get them reading and get them telling stories. Get them creating, writing stories and acting out stories. Encourage them to write and to use language without being restricted by frightening rules which make no sense to them. Let them know that writing is about endless possibilities, not about rules and restrictions.

If anything could sum up the utter ridiculousness of what is happening in our schools in the name of ‘raising standards’, then surely it is this focus on exclamation marks.

What absolute complete and utter nonsense it is!

(and yes, this is an exclamation sentence)

boy-writing

N.B  I am not a teacher. This is how I have understood things from a) my son b) teachers and c) things I have read. If I have got anything wrong then please feel free to correct me 🙂

Mrs May, can we talk about school lunches?

My eldest boy started school in September 2014 – just when the free school lunches for infants started.

He will end his time at infant school this summer, just as the free lunches look set to end. He is the free-school-lunches boy.

You should come and meet my biggest boy sometime, Mrs May. Come and see him as he pores over the menu for the term, committing each option carefully to memory. Come round on a Monday as he gleefully exclaims ‘mmmmm, traditional chicken pie with mixed vegetables today – yum’. Come over one weekend and listen as he begs me to make ‘Scotty meatloaf’, just like the one they have at school. Hear him talk about the superiority of school’s cabbage over mine. Come over at 3pm one day, Mrs May, and watch my three little boys running out of school desperate to be the first one to tell me what they had for their lunch – ‘sticky chicken with rice AND pasta AND carrots AND cucumber AND sweetcorn and BANANA MOUSSE for pudding! WITH SPRINKLES!’ Come over at breakfast time and listen to the 6 year old advising his brothers on the best lunch choice of the day – ‘don’t go for the jacket potato today, ok…..not when you can have roast beef!’

You should come and visit our little school sometime too, Mrs May – come and meet our lovely school cook. Come and watch her at the beginning of the day, setting up in the kitchen and waving to the children as they arrive. Come and ask her how she feels about serving the children a good lunch every day. Let her tell you about the children – she knows them all by name. She’ll tell you about this little one who loves Wednesday roast, and that little one who polishes off every last bite and then asks for seconds. Come along to school and ask her about the recent jacket potato competition, which asked the children to come up with ideas for their perfect jacket potato filling – the winning entries were served for lunch later that week. Speak to the teachers……ask them how excited the children were as they brought their entry forms into school on the Monday. Ask the cook what ideas the children came up with and which entries were the winners. Such a good idea, don’t you think Mrs May? An idea that got the children to be creative and to think about food. An idea which included every child, without anyone having to remember to bring in their lunch money, or worrying that their parents wouldn’t want to pay for a school lunch that day.  It was so successful that they’d like to involve the children more regularly in menu planning. I know, isn’t that great?

Come and meet my boys, Mrs May…..meet my boys, their friends, their teachers and the school cook. Come and meet them, and then tell me you’re taking away free infant school lunches.

I’m not pretending that my boys wouldn’t have school lunches now if they weren’t free – they would. Paying for them would make a big dent in my salary, but I would still do it. I would pay because I like the variety that is served at school. Because I think a hot lunch is better for them than the uninspiring sandwiches I would probably make. And because I like that they sit down as a school community and eat a proper meal. So you might be wondering what my problem is, Mrs May, when I would be willing to pay and when I know that those below a certain income threshold would still be entitled to a free hot lunch. My problem is this – that we have the chance to do this one small thing which can help give children, all children, regardless of income or whether or not their parents want to pay for school lunches, a positive start to their school lives. It is not dependent on whether they fall into the right income bracket, or whether their parents want to pay for it, there is no ‘free school meals’ stigma; it is just what they are all entitled to. A proper lunch in the middle of the day.  All of them, at this crucial age, can get excited about roast dinner Wednesday, or pizza on Friday, or banana mousse or biscuits with sprinkles or sticky chicken or Scotty meatloaf….whatever that may be. (I must admit, I’m not too sure.)

And you’re talking about taking that away.

Please, Mrs May, please don’t tell me that providing breakfast will have the same positive results as the free lunches. Because the good thing about lunch, Mrs May, is that the children are already in school; and so are the staff. And don’t tell me that this is the only way that money can be put back into dwindling school budgets either. Because if your only way of funding schools properly is by taking school lunches away from 4-7 year olds then there is something seriously wrong.

One country I always enjoy reading about, Mrs May, is Finland – you know, that country with the really successful education system. In fact, as well as making some time to meet my boys and the school cook, I wondered whether you might find the time to pay a little visit to Finland? Because they just seem to have schooling and education and yes, even the lunches right. You see, Mrs May, in Finland every child of compulsory school age is entitled to a free school lunch. Every child. The Finnish National Board of Education says:

Finnish school legislation guarantees a well-balanced meal for each pupil every school day. The objective is to maintain and improve pupils’ health and well-being and to give them energy for their school work. (http://www.oph.fi/download/47657_school_meals_in_finland.pdf)

The rationale behind this is probably very simple – children learn better when they’ve had a proper lunch. And ultimately, surely it pays off to invest in education and in our young people? Doesn’t it?

So come and see us sometime, Mrs May. And then perhaps go and have a look at how they do things in Finland. And maybe after that, we can talk again about school lunches.

Primary school kids at a table in school cafeteria, close up

You can go now, mummy

You can you go now mummy”, one of you said, engrossed in your Lego construction.

I thought I had mis-heard, or misunderstood…..I must have done. This wasn’t the way we did things. I am always there until the bell goes and the bell wasn’t going for at least another 5 minutes. At least. I didn’t need to go; you don’t usually want me to go. What about sitting you down on the carpet like I normally do? What about the kisses and cuddles and then waving at the window?

“What do you mean?” I asked.

You can go,” they said…..almost as if they’d agreed this between themselves beforehand. Apparently Boy A’s mummy leaves before the bell, and so does Boy B’s daddy, and….. well, that meant that I was supposed to go too.

For a moment I felt a bit lost…. I didn’t really know what to do with myself. I was convinced that you would soon change your minds, so I aimlessly wandered around the classroom before realising that I looked like a bit of a spare part.

You barely even registered my bizarre behaviour.

I left the classroom feeling like I had left something behind. I peeked through the window but everything was as it should be – you didn’t even look up from your Lego.

Where did this come from, boys? It had felt like a normal morning……Well, mainly normal, but maybe a little bit different too. As we walked the short walk to your school, you shouted across the road to greet your friends – hi to this one, hi to that one. It doesn’t sound like a big thing, but I had never seen you do that before. As I dropped big brother off at his classroom, you both ran after a friend into the playground. You didn’t stand at my side as you normally do, giving shy stares to the other parents around us.

Then you were off again with another friend, racing towards your classroom. You were in the classroom and taking your coats off before I even got there.

There is a special drop-off arrangement for Reception children at your school – us parents can, if we wish, be in the classroom for the first 10 minutes of the day to help you get settled and organised. And so this is what we always did…..up until today, that is.

I always stayed up until the bell rang. I was always there to see where you sit on the carpet and who you sit next to (even though you sit in the same place and next to the same children every day). At least one of you would usually be hanging off my arms or legs; and often there would be a squabble over who got to show me their carpet place first. Once we were ready to say goodbye, I was required to give you several cuddles, kisses, a high-5; and finally wave and blow you kisses through the window.

You were never upset at being left, but this was your routine…..this was what you were used to and what you were happy with. We had done it this way since September. There was no sign, even yesterday, of you being ready for this to change. There was no sign that I was about to hear “you can go now, mummy”.

Is this it now, boys; or was this morning a one-off? Is this the start of your independence? No more hanging off my legs or begging for another cuddle. Are these the words I will hear every school drop off from now on?

“You can go now, mummy.”

I know it is a good thing. I know it is what we all want for our children and what we all need to happen at some point. And I feel proud of this huge step you have taken. Proud of the smiles you both gave me as you reassured me this was what you wanted. Proud of the simple, uncomplicated way you had decided that you wanted to try a new, more grown-up way of doing things.

But at the same time I feel slightly deflated and like I just don’t know what to do with myself for those extra 5 minutes you have just granted me.

And really….. a little bit desperate to feel you both tugging on my limbs just once more.

Adjusting collars

 

On our obsession with putting children into boxes

When you become a parent, you soon realise that people are very keen to put your child into boxes. Or onto a chart. And if your child doesn’t tick the right box, or fit onto the chart exactly where s/he ‘should’, the implication is that you should be concerned.

It starts with the centile lines in the red book; and then it continues with the health visitor development checks. Can your child jump? If not, why not? How many words can s/he put together? How many things can we find to make you worried about? Yes it’s all very well that all your 2 year old son wants to do is line up cars into traffic jams, but why can’t he thread macaroni onto a piece of string? We’ll follow that up with you in a few weeks. Oh dear, your 7 week premature 12 month old twins are using a whole hand to shove raisins into their mouths and not using their pincer grip? That could be a concern.

Unfortunately, it seems that this is all preparation for when your child gets to school. There goes your precious little one, off to start a new chapter. The little one who makes your heart burst with pride and joy and love. The little one who is flying at some things, struggling with others; but doing everything at the pace that is right for him. You could not be prouder.

And then you get to parents’ evening, and you see those all-important boxes – is your little one ‘exceeding‘, ‘meeting‘, or ‘working towards‘ expectations?

This is what it comes down to – which box does your child fit into?

If you ask parents what they want from a school, I think the answers would be pretty straightforward. Parents want their children to be valued. They want them to reach their potential and for their talents not to go unnoticed. They want a broad and balanced curriculum which gives them opportunities to discover their strengths and talents. They want them to be supported, to have friends, to feel confident and happy. They want them to leave with the skills and confidence they need to be able to contribute to the wider world.

And yet what have we got? A system which is so focused on attainment that it begins testing children at 5/6 – ages at which, in many other countries, children would only just be starting formal school. A system which believes 5 and 6 year old children are ready to move away from the age-appropriate, play-centred atmosphere of a Reception classroom and spend most of their day sitting at desks.  A system which keeps raising the bar, because apparently what children really need at 6 years old is a good, solid grasp of time-openers and subordinate clauses; and because if you just keep making things harder then the children will obviously follow ……won’t they?? A system which teaches children to pass tests rather than to love reading and writing and exploring and creating. A system which makes meeting age-related expectations so difficult that schools feel they simply can’t devote any proper time to subjects which don’t ‘count’ or they will be seen as failing their pupils in the key areas of Maths and Literacy. A system which so many teachers feel they are having to fight against, because it all just feels so wrong.

A system which makes a significant number of children feel like they’re failing.

I overheard a conversation the other day between a teacher and a non-teacher. The teacher had taught in at least three other countries, and said that teaching in this country was by far the most difficult. She wasn’t sure how much longer she could do it. None of what she said surprised me.

Teachers’ talents are in the classroom – they motivate, inspire and encourage. They also plan, mark and give feedback. We expect all of this from them – this is what teachers do. But now, we expect all of that and more. We expect them to set targets, track students, prepare for the next inspection, and explain why it is that Pupil A is still in this box instead of the higher up box. And the good teachers, the compassionate teachers, the ones with that passion and the ability to inspire; the ones who want to find out what makes their pupils tick ……..well, data isn’t really their thing. They didn’t go into this just to get children into the right box. They didn’t go into it just to teach children to pass tests. So those teachers, they’re leaving. They don’t want to leave, some of them are devastated. But they can’t do it any more. The raised bars, the expectations, the targets – they can’t do what they actually went into teaching to do. The government is doing its best to fudge over the issue by telling us that teaching remains an attractive career option and PGCE courses continue to recruit well. But it’s not easy to pretend when we all know that teaching is in the middle of a recruitment crisis. It’s all very well recruiting to PGCE courses, but that’s not good enough if teachers are realising soon after qualifying that teaching isn’t quite how it looks on the PGCE recruitment posters.

If you are interested in schools, you probably know that Finland is the shining light when it comes to education. Have a read of this if you’d like to be enlightened:

Why are Finland’s schools so successful?

The Finnish system feels like the polar opposite to ours: children start school later, play is valued; and teachers are highly trained and well respected. There are many interesting things in the article above – I particularly like the Helsinki principal who says “If you only measure the statistics, you miss the human aspect.” In Finland there are no rankings and no comparisons between schools, students, or regions. Imagine – a world without school league tables.

I would put league tables up there as one of the worst things to have happened to schools in this country. ‘But parents use them’, you might argue. Yes they do, but I am convinced that we’d be better off without them. Because for many schools now, success depends on an ability to manipulate data. You hear about it all the time – students at some schools being asked to leave before exam season because they’re not being predicted high enough grades. School sixth forms turning away their own students in favour of high achieving students from other schools. Because doing well in league tables means getting more of the children that everyone wants to teach, and more of those children means you’ll continue to do well in the league tables. So the schools down at the bottom…..well they have no chance.

So yes, parents do use them – because they’re there. But our obsession with league tables has been at the expense of our children. We’re so obsessed with getting children into the boxes that we think they ‘should’ be in, that we seem to have completely forgotten that they progress and develop at completely different speeds. Or that children can have a bad few months, or a bad year. Perhaps this child had glandular fever and that child’s parents separated….. and that one over there, well her best friend went off to another school and she just isn’t feeling settled at the moment.

We lose the many young people whose skills and talents don’t fit into the box we are so desperate to get them into. Frequently, we hear very talented and often creative people say that they always hated school: their talents just weren’t noticed until they got to college. Think of all the future artists, designers, craftspeople, builders, and sportspeople in schools at the moment who are labelled as not meeting their age-related expectations because of their Year 2 SATs results. Think of all the young people who don’t fit neatly into boxes, because SO MANY PEOPLE JUST DON’T.

It seems we spend all our time telling our young people to ‘think outside the box’ when all we want them to do is fit into one.

I spend a lot of time on this blog rambling on about schools. I didn’t start my blog to write about education; but I have three small boys all at the start of their school lives and so right now, school is everything to us. My 4 year old twins currently love going to school because at the moment school is about role-play and building and discovering and creating; but I already feel concerned about how will they cope later this year when they discover that play is no longer seen as being valuable to their learning.

What is really unclear to me is what we’re actually hoping to achieve from all this – parents are anxious, children are struggling to keep up and teachers are leaving. And where is the evidence to show us that what we’re doing is of any benefit? Because it seems very clear to me that we are getting it ALL COMPLETELY WRONG. And really, Ms Greening, we need to do something about it now, before there are no teachers left to teach our children.

Or before everyone who cares moves to Finland.

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