Get my child out of your box!

I have a confession and it’s something I’m not particularly proud of.

Last week I have allowed the government and their flawed education system to get the better of me and it has sent me a little bit mad.  How mad?  Well there’s been tears, a lot of tears.  There’s also been anger.  Anger at school, anger at teachers, but mostly anger at the state education system we have to live with in this country.  My anger is mostly misplaced as, deep down, I know it is not the fault of teachers or schools, but I can’t help thinking they could make things just that little bit better.

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My issue, of course, is the never ending demand that our children be tested and tested … and tested.  I have only my eldest child in school at the moment and although he is thankfully unaware of all the testing that has taken place this year (he is in Year Two), I’m angry that his performance at age seven (yes, age SEVEN) has given him a label, put him in a box, ranked him, judged him and set him up with an expected potential for the rest of his school life.

My frustration is doubled because yet again I find myself alone at the school gates in feeling passionately critical about something to do with school and/or our education system.  This gives me a label too.  I’m a problem parent.  I’m to be avoided and hushed and fobbed off.  Why can’t I be like everybody else who just accepts what they’re told and are agreeable?  Why must I ask so many questions?  Seriously, I’m even sick of listening to my own frustrated thoughts in my own head, so I can only imagine how my son’s school feels.

My eldest son, Charlie, attends an Ofsted Outstanding school and that rating means the world to our school.  I’m not sure it does to me.  I struggle to find anything meaningful about Ofsted and I find their highly sought after ticks in boxes rewards a school’s management technique.  I have said many times that the difference between an “Outstanding” school and a “Good” one is a Head Teacher (often inspectors themselves) who has worked out how to get the i’s dotted and the t’s crossed.  I’m sure there are many things about Ofsted Outstanding schools which are excellent.  I’m sure Outstanding schools are managed well, perfect lessons are planned and classrooms are displayed superbly on inspection day, but does this mean that outstanding schools will be better than good ones for every child enrolled?  Does it mean an outstanding school’s teachers are all better than a good school’s teachers?  Does that mean every child attending an outstanding school will do better than their counterpart?  Of course it doesn’t.

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So at the start of Year Two – a year where all six and seven year olds in the country are tested so that the government can rank their schools and proclaim their progress – Charlie was popped in a box marked “where he should be” and he was left there to coast.  Unfortunately for Charlie, he’s an easy-going, kind-hearted little guy who lives to please everybody.  His attitude to learning is pretty laidback; he’s a bit of a dreamer (did I mention he was SEVEN?), but he can always be expected to do his best.  Also VERY unfortunately for Charlie, he was a late bloomer who wasn’t “where he should be” when he was baseline tested in reception, but soon after he caught up, overtook others and started to find his way.  Charlie started Year 2 where his baseline test predicted he should be at the END of Year 2.  So, with all of those children he overtook in reception/Year 1 needing to get up a “level” or two, Charlie was left to coast.  Teacher’s efforts were fully concentrated elsewhere.

Last week my son’s school report came home and, although positive, there was nothing in it that told me my son’s teacher knew who he was.  I cried.  In comparison, my second son who is leaving his lovely privately-run preschool, came home with his report and it was filled with love, appreciation and anecdotes that captured the essence of who he is.  My word, did his teachers know him!  I cried again, but for an entirely different reason.

We were told last week that our book-loving, geography obsessed seven-year-old who sings his heart out in his drama classes, helps his little brother to learn his alphabet and teaches his little sister to count is average across the board.  He was well above average going into Year Two, but now he’s average.  This is where he should be (as his test when he was 4 predicted) so nobody minds that he was overlooked and disregarded for an entire year.  Unfortunately for Charlie, this is the year the government decided to issue him an even stronger label and pop him in a box.

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What a shame it is that the government’s pointless and self-satisfying tests can’t give Charlie a massive tick in a box for his kindness or his compassion for others.  The tests haven’t born witness to the love he has for his siblings or his level of fair play.  The government isn’t interested in the puppet shows he puts together or his enthusiasm for singing and dancing at his drama class.  They don’t care about the astounding progress he’s made in swimming this year or that he has a cracking sense of humour.  They don’t care that, at home at least, he reads and reads and reads.  This is who Charlie is, this is what is important in life, this indicates whether he has potential to grow up to be happy and successful and this is what schools and governments should recognise and celebrate.  These are the things I wanted to hear about in his school report.

Our children are the same age as those in France and Scandinavia who are yet to begin formal learning and French children are deemed to be better educated at 16, so what should we make of this? It indicates to me that Charlie should have been making more mud pies this year instead of being trained to pass tests.  Once put in a box with the lid firmly shut, it is very hard to get out and I’m positive that the scores awarded our seven year olds (or eleven year olds for that matter) can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Please, don’t fall for the government’s sales pitch.  Don’t let them tell your seven year old child they’re a high-flyer as when they inevitably level out, this means they’ve failed.  Don’t let them tell your child they’re average as no child is average.  Seriously, that’s probably the crappiest label of all.  Finally, don’t let them tell your child they’re a low achiever as the world is enormous and there are millions of things for them to excel at.  Shame on your child’s school for not uncovering that special something!

Don’t let anybody put your child in a box with a label stuck to it.  Make sure you help them fight their way out!

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Finally an apology.  I apologise to my friends for being so morose this past week.  Hopefully this article will help you understand better than I’ve been able to verbalise.  I also apologise to Charlie, as follows:

“Back in January we bought all the books (mostly Maths – which you love – but which makes your little head hurt!) and you sat down every night with Daddy “revising”.  This was because the government wanted to rank your school and demanded your teachers train you to pass tests so they could.  You enjoyed doing your maths, but I’m cross with myself for getting you to do it when you could have been having fun with your sticker books or playing the Xbox.  I promise I won’t ever do this again.  Instead, I’m going to ensure I build you up so you have the confidence to rejects labels and fight your way out of boxes.”