Family Kitty Motherhood Pause for Thought

Dear Nicky Morgan, Really?

03/05/2016
Space for the Butterflies - five little words

Kitty on her first day of school – September 2015

Today my eldest daughter will be going to school.  Were she two years older or six years older she would not. We, like so many other parents have watched SATS twist and change; have seen an education system materially altered from when we were small; a teaching staff that are busting a gut to deliver a well rounded creative education, despite a wholesale increase in bureaucracy and constraints; and children whose awareness of testing and the consequences of that testing is disproportionate to their very young age.  At a time when they should be exploring the world around them and letting their imaginations run riot, the existence of standardised testing means that they’re being taught to the test at the expense of education; it’s knowledge force fed by rote with ever increasing requirements.

Parents have raised petitions, parents have written to their MPs, parents have talked to schools, and nothing is getting through. There are no changes being made, but nor are we getting any answers.  And it’s off the back of that level of disenfranchisement that the Let Our Kids Be Kids campaign has flourished.

You may not agree. Actually, you don’t agree with the campaign, because you told the headteachers conference on Saturday that it would be damaging for children to take part in the boycott.  In fact, you said that:

“Keeping children home even for a day undermines their education,”

Really Nicky Morgan? Really?

Let’s have a look at this then shall we.  Well firstly, I don’t think you’re actually talking about the impact of children missing one day of school.  You are a working mother, and even if you’ve never had to do a conference call with a client while simultaneously chain feeding your baby carrot wotsits to stop them adding their tuppence to the conversation, I’m pretty sure you’ve grasped by now that kids get sick.  They get tummy bugs and earaches and horrid coughs and colds and chicken pox; and that can all be within the space of one winter if you’re really lucky.  Children miss school, and they make up for it as quickly as they chop and change their birthday party guest list. So your concern clearly isn’t that the children will miss a day of lessons (and for the record I suspect that any parent that feels strongly enough to protest is probably going to be planning something both educational and fun in its stead).

If it’s not the “missing school” part, but the “keeping home” part, what of that? The argument that I assume you are trying to put forward is that if we as parents take our children out of school for the day we are teaching them disrespect for their teachers and their school, and showing a lack of confidence in what they do.  We are saying to our children that they can be selfish, they can pick and choose what they like out of education and the rest doesn’t matter, and you would claim that in the long run our actions will cause our children to disconnect from their learning. It certainly hits the right notes for some tidy scaremongering (one day out and your children are doomed) and I’m sure it looked very pretty written down on paper.  But let me suggest to you an alternative lesson that the children being homeschooled today might be learning.

What if we as parents sit down with our children and give them credit for a little understanding.  What if we say to our children “we love your school, we think your teachers are awesome and work so hard, we think your headmaster is brilliant, and we’re so glad that you run in the door each day with a beaming smile.  But just as your teachers tell you what to do, there are people who tell your teachers what to do, and we think those people are getting it wrong. It’s not good for you, and it’s not good for your teachers either.”

We can teach them that when things are wrong, they do not have to sit and suffer in silence; that they can use methods of peaceful protest to give their voice a shout.  For the child stressed and made miserable by the tests it validates their feelings, and tells them that we are listening, and we have their backs.  It’s very easy for us to talk about “be the change you want to see in the world”; what if we actually showed them how lone voice by lone voice the mutterings of the playground, the disquiet within ourselves as a body of parents, has come together as one clear call which you have at last been unable to ignore? Wouldn’t that be a far more powerful lesson to instil in our future?

That you chose to comment in your address to a conference of headteachers on Saturday, with no actual school days between then and the day of the protest was an interesting tactic.  I’m sure many headteachers do have children of their own, although given that they can see the experience not just of their own children but of every child in their school, I suspect your remarks were unlikely to have swayed them personally, and as I said, there was no opportunity for them to pass your views back to their parents. So I can only assume that you were banking on your comments being picked up by the media and read by parents over the long weekend; asking them to second guess their decision away from the camaraderie of the school gate.  As I said, interesting, and just a little bit patronising.

So how about dropping the tactics, and the scheming.  We’ve got your attention and we’re here ready to listen.  As parents we have nothing but the very best intentions for our children.  We want to protect them and challenge them, and to light a fire for learning that will be with them for the rest of their lives. I want to hope and trust that you and the rest of the Department for Education want what is best for our children too.  On Saturday you rightly raised concerns that our proportion of functionally literate teenagers is lower than it should be and lower than many of our neighbours, and you’d be hard pushed to find a parent who doesn’t want to improve that.  But at the moment your solution, having acknowledged that something isn’t working, is that we should do even more of the same, just earlier and harder.  Sat on this side of the fence that’s illogical – if you repeat the same experiment you’ve got to be expecting the same results – and contrary to heavyweight academic research on the topic.

So talk to us. Talk to the parents, not to the headteachers. Write an open letter.  If you truly believe that increased testing at primary level is the right answer; that knowing about intransitive verbs really is essential knowledge for a ten year old, then tell us why. A proper why, backed up with evidence and fully reasoned out, not just “because I say so”. And if you can’t, then listen.

Because one of the biggest tragedies in all of this is that it’s got this far.

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I am absolutely thrilled to be a MADs Finalist for the Best Craft Blog category this year – if you haven’t voted yet, please do, all the details are here or click on the banner – thank you

 

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  • sustainablemum 03/05/2016 at 11:18 am

    It is a tragedy, one that I am so grateful I am not part of. My youngest would be sitting the tests this week. She is still six. She probably wouldn’t pass any of them, as she has been allowed to learn at her own pace, which goes to show how inappropriate they all are. Of course for some children they will be the right test at the right time but I am willing to bet they are in the minority, so the majority of children are dragged along too and like you say potentially put off learning for life.

    • Carie 03/05/2016 at 1:55 pm

      It’s crazy isn’t it. I’m sure there are as many children who aren’t too phased by the tests as there are children who are worried, struggling or both but any kind of testing that isn’t gradual on the job assessment by the teachers is going to involve being taught to the test and as there are only so many hours in the week and weeks in the term that will come at the expense of other subjects.

  • Amy 03/05/2016 at 11:25 am

    The education system is so flawed. This is why we’ll be going down the unschooling route. You may have already seen these, but I recommend watching Ken Robinson’s talks on YouTube.

    • Carie 03/05/2016 at 1:57 pm

      I LOVE Ken Robinson’s TED talks – he speaks so much common sense – it frustrates me that no one with power to do anything about it actually seems to be listening!

  • Chloe (Sorry About The Mess) 03/05/2016 at 1:38 pm

    I was really torn as to whether to keep Arlo off today. I support the campaign and wholeheartedly want SOMETHING to happen to make the government take note. So, I wanted to add to the numbers, it didn’t feel right not to. My concern was what to say to Arlo. How to explain why he was having a day off without in some way politicising him and alerting him to a potential negative viewpoint of education before it’s naturally occurred to him – he loves school so far. In the end it was simple – I told him it was a special one-off day where he gets to do learning with me – no agenda or negative message. We’ve had a lovely day at the museum.

    • Carie 03/05/2016 at 1:59 pm

      Oh that’s wonderful! Kitty went in because she enjoys school, and because I want to support her school but I did think long and hard about whether to pull her out. Had she been in the SATs years it would have been a no brainer. Fingers crossed that this year enough noise has been made to make the government stop and think!

  • Notmyyearoff 03/05/2016 at 4:37 pm

    I was so so pleased to see the strike all over the media and news today. But Nicky Morgan, even today, doesn’t get it and I even heard the word “condemn” when talking about parents actions so I have eye rolled a lot today. I see it as a big step though and I hope it continues xx

    • Carie 03/05/2016 at 8:45 pm

      You and me both on the eye rolling – it smacks of a lack of confidence in their position if the only argument she and her department can come up with is not “this is why the SATs are a great idea” but “parents you are wrong and have caused untold doom and gloom for your children”!

  • Claire @ Clarina's Contemplations 04/05/2016 at 12:00 am

    Don’t even get me started on the state of our education system! Go Carie!

    • Carie 05/05/2016 at 12:05 am

      There’s plenty of space on the soapbox you know!

  • Emma T 04/05/2016 at 12:18 pm

    Brilliantly written piece and very clear reasoning as to what all this is about from a parent’s view and probably many teachers’ as well. I asked N if anyone was off his school yesterday, and he said a few in other classes. I’m surprised because the head is very anti anyone taking time off for any reason so it’ll be interesting to see what is said about it in the newsletter at the end of the week. I know my youngest nephew would have been due to take the Year 2 tests this year but I think he went in.

    I totally agree about the testing at this young age. We used to do the usual spelling tests, times tables and general working through workbooks so the teachers always knew how we were doing even without formal national tests. And I’ve got a degree including english without knowing any of the technical terminology for sentence construction. I write and read reports for my day job and do data analysis without knowing half of the things the 6/7 year olds are expected to learn. I went to a good school, was top of the class for maths and english through primary school. It’s just over the top and not essential to know to these extremes in order to be able to read and write well.

    I do think children need to reach a certain level, and yes I’m a stickler for spelling and grammar etc, however it’s all unrealistic and unnecessary.

    • Carie 05/05/2016 at 12:08 am

      Thank you very much – it will be fascinating to see if it gets a mention in our newsletter this week – the Reception gate is further round the building than the other years at our school so we didn’t have the chance to suss out how full Year 2 looked yesterday but I hope that even a little bit of protesting has finally got Nicky Morgan’s attention – we can but dream!

  • Emma T 04/05/2016 at 12:19 pm

    Oh, and thanks for linking up to #schooldays

  • Suzanne3childrenandit 04/05/2016 at 9:33 pm

    Firstly, so thrilled to see you as a finalist in the MADS Carie! Secondly, I think our education system stinks at the moment. I also think it contributed to my daughter’s current situation. BUT (and there’s a big but) I would never have been able to persuade my son to ditch school for a day – he loves nothing better than a maths test! I talked to him about the SATS and he actually thinks they’re a good idea! But then I think it’s because he’s bright, he’s one of the lucky ones who will pass (there is only a pass or fail now). Sadly, more average children are destined for failure with these new rigorous and totally unreachable targets. That is disgusting. No child should be told they are a ‘failure’ at the age of 11. It’s a sad state of affairs, it really is.

    • Carie 05/05/2016 at 12:12 am

      Well thank you very much and also a complete YES from my quarter. I’m glad your boy isn’t bothered by them, but what a situation, where our dearest hopes are that the tests will do no harm because we don’t believe that they are serving any beneficial purpose!

  • Jess Powell (Babi a Fi) 04/05/2016 at 10:09 pm

    I’ve said this so many time this week – but I really am glad to live in Wales! We have our own problems, for sure, but the ‘learn through play’ foundation phase and the new curriculum are both such positive moves away from the mindset that all education is about is sitting at a desk and regurgitating facts. All this focus on grammar and formal testing and Latin seems so outdated to me. x #schooldays

    • Carie 05/05/2016 at 12:13 am

      Wales seems to be the current location for government common sense – both on the junior doctors and education. It’s very pretty too….!!

  • Lucy Dorrington 11/05/2016 at 11:25 am

    No one will convince me that the testing is for anyone’s benefit other than the Government’s. What they fail to take into account is that you can’t box every child up into one education measure. They are all individuals, who learn at different speeds and in different ways, they are never all going to perform to ‘expected levels’ on the same day, but that doesn’t make them any less worthwhile or intelligent and they certainly shouldn’t be made to feel that way.

  • Sally 02/06/2016 at 2:05 pm

    This is such a difficult issue and I feel that education generally is really not this government’s strong point! I could happily have a huge rant about the whole academisation chaos, that has been causing me, and I’m sure lots of others, massive headaches over the past couple of months, I think it’s going to result in a very costly mess being made of our education system. I could also rant over the way changes have been made to the curriculum and Sats this year, although I do quite like the changes to the curriculum and think they’re a significant improvement, the way it’s been organised and dropped on to teachers is just crazy. Basically I think this government completely fails to really think things through with education and plan/work with teachers and parents. But although I think 7 (in fact Maria was actually 6) is on the young side for testing to start, I am fairly pro testing in general. BUT, it has to be done in the right way. Happily in Maria’s school I think it is, but sadly many schools feel pressured into approaching it with a less healthy balance. But having been heavily involved in governance for many years now I do definitely feel there’s a place for testing, and as a parent I also think that. So many elements of later life involve deadlines, performing on the day, stressful situations, not to mention later education too – and I think testing is one way to help prepare children for these later issues, to prepare them to take these issues in their stride, but it has to be done in a careful, nurturing and positive way, particularly when they’re so young, and very gradually built up. It also can’t be the be all and end all of assessment – for either the child or the school, but it is useful as part of a balanced picture, particularly in a school which is not giving the child the education they deserve. And there are still plenty of those out there. We ‘took one over’ just over a year ago and you really wouldn’t believe some of the standards in there, particularly standards of behaviour. You also wouldn’t believe some of the teachers in there, and if you haven’t got a strong effective headteacher or a strong, effective governing body prepared to sort out a poor headteacher (never easy), then poor teaching can go on for quite some time without being sorted. Testing isn’t the sole answer, but I believe it does help, academisation on the other hand? I don’t believe that helps at all!