Dear Nicky Morgan, about those listening ears …

Dear Nicky

I sent my children to school today, as did most parents.  Some did not.  Over 45,000 parents signed the petition supporting the Let Our Kids Be Kids strike and boycotting of this year’s SATs, parents who feel so strongly that the new curriculum is damaging their children that they felt they needed to make a stand.

The fact that many more thousands of parents sent their children to school today does not mean that they are on your side – for this feels like lines are being drawn.

I sent my children to school for several reasons (apart from the very practical reason of being at work).

My eldest child is in Year 5.  The boy more or less invented Civil Disobedience.  At the moment this is reserved for broccoli, washing and his brother choosing what’s on the TV.  I am not about to give him the idea that boycotting school is an option if he can come up with a good enough argument.  This is because I care about him, about his education, and about moulding him into a responsible, intelligent citizen,.  At the moment, he couldn’t care less about much – telling him that school is anything other than non-negotiable is insane.

My youngest child is in Year 2.  He cares deeply about everything.  He’s a bright boy, conscientious and hates to be in trouble.  Keeping him off school today would have make him incredibly anxious that his headmaster or teacher would be cross or disappointed in him. I don’t think, at 7, he can understand the nuance of disagreeing with Government policy rather than the teachers.

So off to school they went.

In one corner, Government supporters will say that standards must be improved and our children deserve better.  Parents, teachers and mental health experts will point to increases in anxiety and the damaging effects this is having on our children.

I don’t think you understand anxiety (it’s a noun although I’m not sure what sort); I don’t think politicians, by their very nature, can. Politicians, must develop a thick skin, be decisive, be unswayed by opposition. These are not the traits of an anxious person. I don’t think you understand what it does to people, and children in particular. It is not fussy about intelligence or ability, it is not about strength or weakness. It’s about fear and with that fear comes a reluctance to try. Doing nothing is better than doing the wrong thing.

Increasingly I see joy being replaced by worry.  A recent piece of homework asked him to memorise a poem to recite in class.  We eventually chose one, after rejecting some of the more unsuitable junior school ditties his brother had taught him. Although he has the memory of a supercomputer and had given a nativity performance to rival Mark Rylance, there were tears of genuine fear that he would make a mistake, or forget a line.  We had to very gently explain that the point of it was to encourage a love of poetry, to discover new things, not a memory test.

I see him reluctant to write stories like he once did.  I see him hesitate before using a difficult word in case he has spelt it incorrectly. I see the look of crumpled dejection when, although he’s on the top table, he’s still hasn’t got a tick in the top box.

He makes up the most amazing pun laden jokes, he has arbitrarily taken it upon himself to memorise capital cities at bedtime, he has mastered the armpit fart.

I spent a long time drilling my 10 year old that having messy handwriting did not mean that he couldn’t be great at writing (Goddammit).  Spotting the modal verbs in Jane Eyre (no, me neither) doesn’t mean you are any more capable of understanding what those words mean.

Now don’t get me wrong.  I’m something of a grammar pedant.  Whilst I’ll accept (and even commit) the odd slip, on the whole apostrophes are non negotiable and I know what to do with a semi-colon.  We have an amazing language which deserves to be treated with respect and its rules adhered to.  I also accept that a sound knowledge of grammar might make us a little better at languages.  In which case, ditch the SPAG and make French compulsory.

The Government spokespeople (whose own grammar isn’t that hot), obviously haven’t faired too badly.  Julia Hartley-Brewer defended them on PM today saying she had been ‘failed by the comprehensive system as she was never taught this stuff’  So much so that she is now a successful columnist, commentator, and regular on Radio4 and Question Time – the utter drop out.  She talked of woolly liberals who never want their children to fail, or get less than an A, and never want them to challenged.

It’s actually the complete opposite.

I want my children to be armed and dangerous with all of the myriad of skills they will need in adult life – skills that will make them successful and happy.  These are not fronted adverbials or subordinate clauses.

The Government doesn’t have a monopoly on wanting to make Britain great.  The skills that will make it great are not scoring 100% in spelling tests, the world has changed.  They are inventiveness, innovation, analytical skills, looking for answers, creativity, leadership, resilience and confidence in their own abilities and talents.

I and my children’s teachers seem to spend our lives trying to instil feelings of enthusiasm, joy and self-esteem only to have it knocked out of them when we’re not looking.

What we seem to be teaching children is that they are wrong.  The seed is planted that the ideas in their head aren’t nearly as important as getting the answer right.  That memorising facts and definitions is more important than understanding them.

Knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit, wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.

Worse than that, it’s teaching them not to make mistakes.

In the adult world, great leaders and managers don’t constantly criticise the people they lead (OK, some do, but they’re rubbish).  They look for strengths to develop, they encourage, they instil a vision that will inspire and motivate.

I can’t tell you how much I want my children to fail; to fail over and over and then have another go, to try things that they’ve never done before, to try things that they know won’t work but do it anyway. To get things wrong or to get things right but in an unexpected way.

To do something great, or remarkable, or just different … or not.

Instead we are in danger of raising a whole generation of very small animals entirely surrounded by water.  Children who know exactly what is expected of them and by what percentage they are lacking.  Children who always seem to get everything wrong, even when they are mostly right.

Now I know you and your colleagues are working towards expected levels on your listening skills.  Junior Doctors and patients don’t seem to be getting very far and now teachers, parents and experts are telling you about their actual experience of real life children, but you’re still not that bothered.  Apparently you do trust us to make decisions complex economic, agricultural and legal arguments on EU membership which I’m pretty guaranteed I, along with 90% of the rest of population, am not qualified to make.

So fingers on lips, hands on knees, and pay attention.

All too often we skip spellings but rarely story time, so I shall leave you with some hints and tips from Antoine de Saint Exupéry.  It’s a metaphor but I’m sure that will be OK. He’s French and everything.

If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.

Yours sincerely

Louise

 

30 thoughts on “Dear Nicky Morgan, about those listening ears …

  1. As a parent, of 4 wonderful children, your words touch a chord with me. I feel blessed that my eldest three are now out of school, but my daughter is still struggling through it all, and I am constantly trying, as you say, to bolster her up, only to have her knocked back down. It is heartbreaking. But we will soldier on, and I do hope that change will come.

  2. Fabulous. Also agree with everything you’ve written. I teach year 1 and creating interesting fun lessons that the children are enthusiastic about is becoming harder and harder when we’re required to include the 20 minutes phonics, 20 minutes SPaG and story time is cut.
    I have two children (Years 4 and 5) and have gradually seen my bright, enthusiastic, happy children becoming stressed and tired. I found my daughter downstairs at 6.30 the other morning practicing her spellings and she’s not an early riser.

    Further than that, I’m also a writer. I have three published novels, one coming out in December and another on the go. I have NEVER consciously sat down and analysed whether I’m using a subordinating conjunction or a fronted adverbial. I write something, read it back and decide if it sounds catchy or garbled and adjust accordingly. I shared the SPaG test with a group of authors, many with a lot more experience than I have, and they were dumbfounded at what we’re expecting our children to do.

    It makes me furious. Writing this has made me furious as I think about it and now I need to go have a cup of tea and sit down.

    1. It’s sad. My sons’ teachers do a great job of engaging them but lots of things have been squeezed. They did persuasive writing last week where they had to write to the Head. They loved it – it’s just such a shame that they don’t choose to assess them on that.

  3. James Stewart says:

    As an FE lecturer I write with empathy to your letter. The education system is in a dire status. Area reviews of post 16 provisions are little more than an audit by our Government to expose the college finacial liabilities as they begin to collapse like a house of cards due to the severe budgetary cuts they’ve made. At the end of the day the business k stops with the government! If the colleges collapse it’s not looking good for them and tax payers are the ones that are going to pick up the pieces. We need educational practitioners that can set the agenda not politicians… worried about getting re-elected.
    I’m not sure how much more my team and I can continue fudgeing figures, so that the college looks good, we’ve totally lost site of our goals of training the next generation of employees and instead are focused on figures and ultimately disadvantaging our post 16 learners and our employers. Where are our innovative thinkers going to come from? Where are they going to learn skills that will be assets in the employment market. This year learners have to do 30 hours unpaid voluntary work experience as part of the post 16 curriculum. Apparently if they have a part time paid job this is not acceptable as work experience! Cleaning their house/bedroom is as it is considered work experience for becoming a domestic cleaner! Mowing the lawn is as that’s preparing for garden services. Please come on Ms Morgan your half baked imposed ideas need more thought and justification for them to be implemented effectively. Why fund properly the post 16 market, allowing for proper facilities and wages for the front line staff that need to be attracted in to this sector to inspire the next generation… it does not take much!

  4. Natalie King says:

    Beautiful post! Your words capture the thoughts of many parents, myself included. When ‘confidence’ is one of the most important gifts we can build in our children, it seems so sad and short sighted to jeopardise that gift over early testing on grammar that most of the adult population don’t even understand!

  5. Rachel says:

    So if you break the bright, innovative, confident children in order that everyone (through fear and being ‘wrong’) is subservient then you’ll have willing slaves to your rule. No? Perhaps I’m just being cynical. Great article and I hope the little ones make it through ok in the end ❤️

  6. Bec Matthews says:

    My son has worked wonderfully hard to get to the top group in the times table quiz in his class… BUT …he will NEVER get the gold medal because although he knows all the answers he just can’t write them down in the allotted time ( 100 questions in 3 minutes) Each week he is gutted that he failed, yet again, by missing one or two answers. What on earth are we testing? Is it the ability to write quickly or knowing that he has all the answers and understands how the times tables work? Even as parents we struggle to do it in the time allowed !

  7. Elizabeth Bentley says:

    Brilliant letter. I was at primary school in the 50s. We never covered grammar/ syntax in this detail, and I’ve never needed such knowledge even when studying foreign languages (I have a degree in French and Spanish). Why on earth the powers that be think it helps either reading or writing is a mystery to me. What helps reading and writing is reading and writing, and reflecting on what you read and write. That’s what we need to teach those children who struggle with reading. And the biggest help they can get is access to interesting, fun books that encourage them to want to read. Libraries, in fact, with the skilled librarians to help find and understand the books that work for them.

  8. Mike Hindle says:

    What a beautifully written piece.
    As a primary school teacher and educational consultant with 25 years’ experience I am truly saddened and worried by the pressure we are now required to subject our children to. And so unnecessarily, which is the most frustrating part!
    Look at the Finnish education system (the most successful in the western world) where children do not begin formal education until they are 7. Educational decisions are made by educationalists, not politicians who think they know about education because they went to school. I’ve been in a plane but I couldn’t fly one! In Finland children are not over tested. They realise the fact that seems to elude Nicky and the government – you don’t fatten a pig by weighing it.
    It is a genuine concern to me that our children have become data points and adults in training rather than being allowed to experiment, discover, solve problems and wonder at our amazing world.
    So Nicky, you may be listening, now show us what you’re made of and allow our children to be children and our teachers to do what they’re brilliant at.

    1. Clive Price says:

      Our teachers are not brilliant. Most are mediocre, many are less than that and some are excellent. Go into the class of an excellent teacher and you see high expectations with the pupils buzzing with learning in every moment … and still within the same system in which they become your “data points”. And sometimes in the same school you find lessons in which children are bored, because there is no pace, and stressed because the teacher isn’t clear about expectations, or because class management is ineffective, or because of lack of understanding of children’s needs.
      Teachers might determine effective ways on how to teach; but they have no more insight into what should be taught than any other member of the society and the children’s parents.
      The National curriculum arose out of the late 1960s and early 70s when some teachers in some schools got rid of curriculum and discipline and the experiment, at the children’s expense, was a horrible failure. Maybe they had the same sentimental ideas as Mike Hindley. The HMI research at the time showed very low levels of learning. The government invited schools to organise their curricula. They failed. So the National Curriculum working parties were set up – made up of educationists. Each subject working party created massive curricula which needed heavy pruning. Then educationists were asked to provide ideas for assessment. The results were grossly time-consuming strategies which would have taken so much time that nothing would have been taught in a school day. Heavy pruning resulted in the SATs. The OFSTED handbook was published and was open for all to read. It was the first time that really clear expectations were published of what teachers and schools should be providing for their pupils. Most schools have improved greatly – their pupils do well (in spite of the many distractions added through political interference). When you can visit a marvellous nursery school in which a 4 year old is testing an electrical circuit for herself and then 3 weeks later visit a Year 4 class in which the teacher thinks she is doing a good job by getting children to test an electrical circuit one has to ask: is this a symptom of a system that apparently gives Mike Hindley nightmares or is it a system in which there are inconsistencies due to poor leadership and management and poor teaching (which you won’t eradicate by talking about weighing pigs). If I had a pig, and I had a clear purpose for him, then I might well weigh him frequently to see what would be the best diet for him. All the schools have visited have had children in them, behaving like children. I haven’t visited as many homes … what is the provision like there?

      1. Mike Hindle says:

        I agree with huge amounts of what you say Clive. Absolutely, pace and high expectations are essential in delivering lessons which engage and motivate children. I may have become a bit sentimental, yes, as I see children switch off and talented teachers leave the profession. By the way my surname is Hindle, not Hindley. But everyone makes mistakes. Even 11 year olds in SATs week.

  9. Thank you. I’m a year 5 teacher. Before teaching I worked for 10 years in professional services. A large part of my various jobs involved proofreading, copywriting and reading complex legal documentation. I also have a 2.1 degree in English from Durham University. I can honestly say that I have never used 3 quarters of the grammar I have to teach my class of 9-10 year olds. I wasn’t taught it at school or university. I didn’t use any of it in my jobs or my degrees and neither do any of my friends, a number of whom are journalists and authors. But I every day I start the children off learning their modal verbs, prepositions, determiners, subordinate and relative clauses, adverbial phrases et al because the government thinks this is what they need to know.
    It deeply saddens me to think that my wonderful class full of bright, creative children are potentially developing a sense of failure because only the best of the best rote learners can name the verb type.

  10. I 100% agree with the above comments – Plus how on earth will teachers cope today with so many children who don’t have English as their first language? Has any-one even considered this?

  11. Supernell says:

    The most important job a primary school can do is to teach children to love learning.
    This is becoming almost impossible for all the reasons that you have given. How sad.

  12. Clive Price says:

    I feel so cross with this self-indulgent, meandering ‘letter’ that I don’t know where to start. Maybe with comparisons. With the past and with other countries? The expectations of children in the past were greater than expectations now – in terms of memorising, of neatness, of behaviour, of testing. The standards of education in our country are lower than most other developed countries. So maybe we might have to consider the possibility that either our children are uniquely, in time and space, wimps or modern parents are wimps.

    An example. In the 1970s we taught in Health Education that if there is a danger/hazard/risk then you learn how to cope, you ‘skill up’ to meet the challenge. This has morphed into the 21st century approach of: if there is a risk, you avoid it; or weep about it; or blame someone; or demand that ‘somebody should do something about it’.
    We used to worry about self-esteem (an invention of the 60s), and now we find that young adults find it difficult to distinguish between fact and their grand opinion or special feelings. They require some safe space so they can avoid hearing uncomfortable ideas. And what followed … circle time and other distractions – instead of focusing on simople straightforward learning of skills and knowledge, real subjects, real topics, about the real world around them. “Team building” becomes an end in itself rather than the incidental learning experience of being in a team. But too many parents (and teachers) have a problem with competitiveness.

    When I was 7, I was expected to learn by heart Psalm 23. It was a pressure but I was expected to face it (by classteacher and by mum and dad) – after all, when they had been children they had been expected to learn far more. And they gave th impression that this was possible. I coped and I’m glad I can still remember it.

    When I was a teacher, I worked extremely hard at teaching, enabling, facilitating (all those trendy words) so that children in my class would learn. I had to entertain, I had to pace myself and fit their pace. But I constantly stretched them, and demanded more of them … and, you know what, they loved it and soaked it all up and didn’t even realise they were “working”. You use ‘common sense’ (not always common enough) and you read the child and the situation. Some stress is good, but you don’t let it become negative in its effect.

    Too many teachers project on to their pupils their own anxieties. They realise that SATs are a test of their own performance. When SATs come, these teachers are so worried about failure (their own failure) that they pass on their anxiety to the children who then feel that something horrendous is happening. The teachers that cheat on SATs don’t do it to improve the cjhildren’s scores! When OFSTED arrives, some teachers (the weaker ones) fear the worst, get negative, become anxious and the children pick it up. Others just continue their work, show how they do it and listen to any constructive criticism.

    Some teachers are worried because they are gullible enough to be informed only by their union – a politicised and corrupted source of information. Nor should we believe that government of whatever colour has it right – they too have ideological filters through which they determine education policy. The education establishment (extending through teaching colleges, unions, the department of education) are driven largely by ideology and not by the needs of our children (or our society). Just think of all the secretaries of state for education and consider how much any of them improved education. And this latest on seems to be one of the worst.

    I make no apologies for being critical. I have been grandson, son, pupil, teacher, head, inspector, father, grandfather – and throughout life have believed in education, broadly and in detail. My great grandmother instilled in me the importance of learning so I could become a doctor or some other professional and not have to work in the mills as she had all her life. We were worked hard at school, with demands and stretching and then we played hard in the streets and in the countryside, climbed trees and fell out of them; played out in summer from breakfast till supper time away from adult supervision. This modern over protective, sentimentalising, claustrophobic suffocation will not have good consequences. Children can be more robust if you let them.

    Don’t assume your child is a wimp who can’t cope; don’t be precious about things; don’t project onto your child your hang-ups; don’t be afraid of letting your child have freedoms; don’t fall into the trap of thinking the newest, shiniest most expensive toy is the best; don’t be afraid to say ‘no’ when ‘no’ is required; don’t see ‘discipline’ as a negative; don’t worry about the idea of expecting your child to take responsibilities; and don’t fear going into school when you see them failing your child. And don’t over-generalise and turn your fears into some political stance.

    1. I don’t disagree with you in the slightest and I certainly don’t think my child is a wimp who can’t be challenged. Merely that the Government’s priority is testing things that can be measured, not necessarily things that are valuable in themselves.

      The ‘work hard, play hard’ approach is exactly what I’m after, and my insistence that I want my children to try stuff and fail seems to be what you are arguing for too. But with school playing fields dwindling, PE time being cut, and more and more time spent sitting down in the classroom I see children becoming increasingly less robust.

      You can’t have a Government which says ‘all children have to pass this otherwise we will fail your school and force through academisation, and then blame teachers for making sure all children pass at whatever cost. “You don’t make a pig fatter by weighing it”

      1. Clive Price says:

        Having seen an awful lot of children and their parents, one inevitably tends to be wary of general “types” …. the over-protective, the careless, the confident, the happy-go-lucky, the confident, the unsure, the neurotic, etc. The mother who sincerely believes that her 8 year old son is being bullied when actually he isn’t; it is he who is aggravating others until they get a bit fed up and push him back … at which point he tells his mum. And still the mother won’t accept reality. It’s her problem, and she’s now foisting it on her little boy. The type of school she wants won’t necessarily suit you.
        I fear that collectively, on average, “we” are recreating reality and moving further away from it and our children suffer the consequences. The new extreme examples are those people who “identify” as different sexes or species. Children need the skills and knowledge and understanding to cope well in the real world where there is joy and danger and some stress and they don’t always win or lose. Sheltering them too much is harmful.
        I think it is useful to pause and compare with children and parenting and schooling in the past and in other places. A sturdier perspective might be gained.
        And it is useful to try to make ourselves aware of the effect we have on children when we project on to them our own anxieties. We really are not as fragile as 21st century Western politicians, anxious parents and self-interested professionals in the ‘caring’ services make us out to be.
        We might be better off if schools were allowed to stick to teaching “subjects” and left parenting to us. Without the ‘therapeutic curriculum, the social working, the social engineering, the diversity and equality and other political issues, more time could be available for learning. Maybe, if schools were not state controlled they would have to cater for the real needs of children and parents. The “quality of education” provided by a school would then be judged on a different range of criteria. But with education being such a politically sensitive and excitable issue, there doesn’t seem any hope for rational debate or decision. Governments are trying to guess what parents want. When parents say they want “good” schools, then inevitably governments claim they provide them and use OFSTED as evidence. I have a horrible feeling that few parents could define exactly what they want in a school. One hears of “popular” schools and they are often what you don’t want them to be. If you believe your children spend too much time at their desks, then compensate out of school with alternatives.

  13. Clive Price says:

    I feel so cross with this self-indulgent, meandering ‘letter’ that I don’t know where to start. Maybe with comparisons. With the past and with other countries? The expectations of children in the past were greater than expectations now – in terms of memorising, of neatness, of behaviour, of testing. The standards of education in our country are lower than most other developed countries. So maybe we might have to consider the possibility that either our children are uniquely, in time and space, wimps or modern parents are wimps.

    An example. In the 1970s we taught in Health Education that if there is a danger/hazard/risk then you learn how to cope, you ‘skill up’ to meet the challenge. This has morphed into the 21st century approach of: if there is a risk, you avoid it; or weep about it; or blame someone; or demand that ‘somebody should do something about it’.
    We used to worry about self-esteem (an invention of the 60s), and now we find that young adults find it difficult to distinguish between fact and their grand opinion or special feelings. They require some safe space so they can avoid hearing uncomfortable ideas. And what followed … circle time and other distractions – instead of focusing on simple straightforward learning of skills and knowledge, real subjects, real topics, about the real world around them. “Team building” becomes an end in itself rather than the incidental learning experience of being in a team. But too many parents (and teachers) have a problem with competitiveness.

    When I was 7, I was expected to learn by heart Psalm 23. It was a pressure but I was expected to face it (by classteacher and by mum and dad) – after all, when they had been children they had been expected to learn far more. And they gave th impression that this was possible. I coped and I’m glad I can still remember it.

    When I was a teacher, I worked extremely hard at teaching, enabling, facilitating (all those trendy words) so that children in my class would learn. I had to entertain, I had to pace myself and fit their pace. But I constantly stretched them, and demanded more of them … and, you know what, they loved it and soaked it all up and didn’t even realise they were “working”. You use ‘common sense’ (not always common enough) and you read the child and the situation. Some stress is good, but you don’t let it become negative in its effect.

    Too many teachers project on to their pupils their own anxieties. They realise that SATs are a test of their own performance. When SATs come, these teachers are so worried about failure (their own failure) that they pass on their anxiety to the children who then feel that something horrendous is happening. The teachers that cheat on SATs don’t do it to improve the children’s scores! When OFSTED arrives, some teachers (the weaker ones) fear the worst, get negative, become anxious and the children pick it up. Others just continue their work, show how they do it and listen to any constructive criticism.

    Some teachers are worried because they are gullible enough to be informed only by their union – a politicised and corrupted source of information. Nor should we believe that government of whatever colour has it right – they too have ideological filters through which they determine education policy. The education establishment (extending through teaching colleges, unions, the department of education) are driven largely by ideology and not by the needs of our children (or our society). Just think of all the secretaries of state for education and consider how much any of them improved education. And this latest on seems to be one of the worst.

    I make no apologies for being critical. I have been grandson, son, pupil, teacher, head, inspector, father, grandfather – and throughout life have believed in education, broadly and in detail. My great grandmother instilled in me the importance of learning so I could become a doctor or some other professional and not have to work in the mills as she had all her life. We were worked hard at school, with demands and stretching and then we played hard in the streets and in the countryside, climbed trees and fell out of them; played out in summer from breakfast till supper time away from adult supervision. This modern over protective, sentimentalising, claustrophobic suffocation will not have good consequences. Children can be more robust if you let them.

    Don’t assume your child is a wimp who can’t cope; don’t be precious about things; don’t project onto your child your hang-ups; don’t be afraid of letting your child have freedoms; don’t fall into the trap of thinking the newest, shiniest most expensive toy is the best; don’t be afraid to say ‘no’ when ‘no’ is required; don’t see ‘discipline’ as a negative; don’t worry about the idea of expecting your child to take responsibilities; and don’t fear going into school when you see them failing your child. And don’t over-generalise and turn your fears into some political stance.

  14. Clive Price says:

    I feel so cross with this self-indulgent, meandering ‘letter’ that I don’t know where to start. Maybe with comparisons. With the past and with other countries? The expectations of children in the past were greater than expectations now – in terms of memorising, of neatness, of behaviour, of testing. The standards of education in our country are lower than most other developed countries. So maybe we might have to consider the possibility that either our children are uniquely, in time and space, wimps or modern parents are wimps.

    An example. In the 1970s we taught in Health Education that if there is a danger/hazard/risk then you learn how to cope, you ‘skill up’ to meet the challenge. This has morphed into the 21st century approach of: if there is a risk, you avoid it; or weep about it; or blame someone; or demand that ‘somebody should do something about it’.
    We used to worry about self-esteem (an invention of the 60s), and now we find that young adults find it difficult to distinguish between fact and their grand opinion or special feelings. They require some safe space so they can avoid hearing uncomfortable ideas. And what followed … circle time and other distractions – instead of focusing on simple straightforward learning of skills and knowledge, real subjects, real topics, about the real world around them. “Team building” becomes an end in itself rather than the incidental learning experience of being in a team. But too many parents (and teachers) have a problem with competitiveness.

    When I was 7, I was expected to learn by heart Psalm 23. It was a pressure but I was expected to face it (by classteacher and by mum and dad) – after all, when they had been children they had been expected to learn far more. And they gave the impression that this was possible. I coped and I’m glad I can still remember it.

    When I was a teacher, I worked extremely hard at teaching, enabling, facilitating (all those trendy words) so that children in my class would learn. I had to entertain, I had to pace myself and fit their pace. But I constantly stretched them, and demanded more of them … and, you know what, they loved it and soaked it all up and didn’t even realise they were “working”. You use ‘common sense’ (not always common enough) and you read the child and the situation. Some stress is good, but you don’t let it become negative in its effect.

    Too many teachers project on to their pupils their own anxieties. They realise that SATs are a test of their own performance. When SATs come, these teachers are so worried about failure (their own failure) that they pass on their anxiety to the children who then feel that something horrendous is happening. The teachers that cheat on SATs don’t do it to improve the children’s scores! When OFSTED arrives, some teachers (the weaker ones) fear the worst, get negative, become anxious and the children pick it up. Others just continue their work, show how they do it and listen to any constructive criticism.

    Some teachers are worried because they are gullible enough to be informed only by their union – a politicised and corrupted source of information. Nor should we believe that government of whatever colour has it right – they too have ideological filters through which they determine education policy. The education establishment (extending through teaching colleges, unions, the department of education) are driven largely by ideology and not by the needs of our children (or our society). Just think of all the secretaries of state for education and consider how much any of them improved education. And this latest on seems to be one of the worst.

    I make no apologies for being critical. I have been grandson, son, pupil, teacher, head, inspector, father, grandfather – and throughout life have believed in education, broadly and in detail. My great grandmother instilled in me the importance of learning so I could become a doctor or some other professional and not have to work in the mills as she had all her life. We were worked hard at school, with demands and stretching and then we played hard in the streets and in the countryside, climbed trees and fell out of them; played out in summer from breakfast till supper time away from adult supervision. This modern over protective, sentimentalising, claustrophobic suffocation will not have good consequences. Children can be more robust if you let them.

    Don’t assume your child is a wimp who can’t cope; don’t be precious about things; don’t project onto your child your hang-ups; don’t be afraid of letting your child have freedoms; don’t fall into the trap of thinking the newest, shiniest most expensive toy is the best; don’t be afraid to say ‘no’ when ‘no’ is required; don’t see ‘discipline’ as a negative; don’t worry about the idea of expecting your child to take responsibilities; and don’t fear going into school when you see them failing your child. And don’t over-generalise and turn your fears into some political stance.

  15. Deborah says:

    This is just the most incredible post! My daughter (year 6), has begged me for several years to home educate. Her anxiety levels are through the roof!!! She pulls clumps of hair from her head, bangs her head against walls, crys, shouts and harms herself. How can our children EVER become confident human beings when they constantly have the goal posts being moved. 😟

  16. doorstepwrites says:

    Thanks for this… it really resonates with much of what I’ve been thinking and feeling this week. Good words.

  17. Steve Williams says:

    Unfortunately, whatever your standpoint on the relative merits of correct punctuation , or the necessity of knowing this fact or that and in what order. Appealing to the better nature of a politician is a fruitless exercise.

    They exist for the betterment of their bank accounts and their pension schemes. Whatever achieves that aim is all that matters. Truth is a long, long way down their list or priorities. Somewhere below not answering questions directly and not getting caught in hypocrisy unless you have a plausible ( if indefensible ) explanation.

    In not very long Nicky Morgan will have another area of “expertise” with which to regale the nation. No doubt her views in that area will be just as politically correct as they are now. For politically correct read = to advance ones political career.

    Just as David Cameron never misses a photo opportunity, however ill informed and nauseating. All politicians of whatever hue, have a self serving agenda. Expect the worst and a politician will be close at hand.

    Some if not all of this missive may be badly written, with bad grammar and spelling abounding. But I think even Nicky Morgan might get the general gist of my opinion. Unfortunately I am just one vote, so my opinion is of no interest whatsoever to her or any other politician .

    As for your well argued word to NIcky Morgan. It would be nice to think it might give her pause for thought. Please do not hold your breath .

  18. As someone who wishes to be a teacher this is heartbreaking to read, purely because I know it’s essence is so true. I am subject to the anxiety, needing medication to get through my A-levels, but am motivated by my teacher’s willingness to succeed and bring down this corrput and narrow-minded governments. Thank you for understanding.

    Nicky Morgan is no better than Michael Gove and all they care about is linign their own pockets not raising the next Einsteins, Obamas, Picassos or Descartes.

    Maybe one day things will change, but for now I just hope your little boys succeed like you wish them to.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s