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.