I know this sounds like a very emotive title, one that I’ve written to grab your attention, but bear with me, I am not exaggerating. At least, not in my opinion.
I have two children in a state primary school. The eldest, a girl, is in her 6th year, Year 5, and my youngest, a boy, is in his 3rd year, Year 2. They don’t struggle academically, in fact, quite the opposite. They are very sociable and love making friends. Nor do they struggle with sitting still and doing what they’re told. Quite a feat for a 7 year old boy (I take no credit – he was born with an unusual attention span).
But in the five years since we entered the school system, I have witnessed the squeezing of my children into timetables and activities that deny them the freedom to just be children. The daily rush to be at school or do their homework stretches the patience of the saintliest parent. The requirement to sit still, listen quietly, be here, do that not to mention the growing mountain of homework sucks their days dry of time to day-dream, use their imagination, or run free in the fresh air, things that should be the basic right of any child.
My son may well be good at sitting still, but he doesn’t enjoy it when its for most of his day. My daughter may be good at spellings but the last thing she wants to do at the weekend is sit down and come up with interesting sentences to describe the meaning of 16 words that frankly most adults would have trouble doing (‘autonomy’ this week).
And when my daughter turned 9 earlier this year, the teacher was so focused on the work that she was required to get the children through, she didn’t even find the time for the class to sing happy birthday to her….
In short, they’re getting fed up with the relentless demands of school and worn out with the constant ‘be here, do this’ refrain from myself and teachers. It is wearing down my own precious relationship with them.
I don’t question the value of school, not at all. Just not so much, so soon for the sake of both children, parents and teachers.
So you can imagine my delight when I discovered that a campaign has been started to claim back the role of play in learning and fundamentally rethink early years education policy.
Too Much Too Soon has been supported by a total of 127 educationalists, academics, writers who’ve signed a letter to The Telegraph and 198 to The Times last month, including Poet Laureate, Carol Ann Duffy. The letter calls on the government to devise a developmentally appropriate Foundation Stage (ages 3-7) and reduce the emphasis on testing. It is being organised by the wonderful Save Childhood Movement.
They are alarmed at the willful ignoring of clear, global scientific evidence that shows that too much formal education too soon is damaging to children’s well-being, long-term success and educational attainment.
Check out this quote from their website: “This period of life (age 3-7yr) is when children establish the values and relationships that underpin their sense of self, their attitude to later learning, and their communicative skills and natural creativity. Inappropriate pressures and interventions at this stage can cause profound damage to the self-image and learning dispositions of the child.”
It goes on: “Children in England are being badly let down by the system. Our children start formal learning much earlier than elsewhere in the world, they are put under all sorts of developmentally inappropriate pressures that damage their heath and wellbeing and now even their play is being eroded. Boys and summer-born children are particularly disadvantaged by the current system and can carry the consequences throughout their lives. We think this issue is just too important to ignore and are bringing people together to call for urgent change.”
Links to the full letter and a couple of other news articles below express it all so well, that I won’t go into the detail here. They only take a few minutes to read, so go and read them!
I love what the Chairman of Heads Conference, Tim Hands, said at their annual conference this year when criticizing increasing political interference in education. “The story of the last 50 years is the intrusion of government and the disappearance of the child. More radically put, it is by extension the intrusion of the state, and the disappearance of love.” Wow. Well said. And referring to more recent policies, he pointed to “principles of commercial accountability” being applied to schools in a way that is “flawed.”
What makes me mad about all this is the sheer arrogance of government ministers whose response is to not just to ignore this advice (as happened with the Labour-commissioned Rose Review in 2008?) but to blatantly call these eminent people names (bad academia, militant Marxists and ‘The Blob’ being some of Michael Gove’s worst.) Education Ministers, Michael Gove and Elizabeth Truss, both insist that earlier education and earlier testing produces better results when people-who-really-know-what-they’re-talking-about says it doesn’t.
Words fail me.
But before we hang our heads in despair, let’s remember that politicians sometimes do that rare thing – change their minds. Especially if they risk getting voted out. Or they can be convinced of the economic argument. My experience advocating for disadvantaged people in different parts of the world has taught me that. We can’t do nothing. We need to act on what we believe. We need to be part of the solution.
So, if you feel the same, sign their petition here, retweet this, link it on Facebook, hassle your MP and do what ever else it takes to make a noise about this. Join in on 30 October (next Wednesday in half term) when they’re having a Day of Action in London. Go with the kids to parliament and make a noise or use social media to raise the profile.
Our children only get one childhood. Our teachers only get one life. We as parents only get one chance to enjoy that childhood. Let’s do all we can to preserve what little is left of it and, in the words of the former Children’s Commissioner Sir Al Aynsley-Green, “Let children be children.”
NB This post is in no way intended to be a negative comment on the staff at my children’s school who are highly professional and give wonderful attention to the children. They work incredibly hard and I have nothing but admiration for them. It is the system within which they have to work that I have a problem with.
Open Letter to Telegraph newspaper by Save Childhood Movement, 12 September, 2013
BBC news article, ‘Formal School lessons should start ‘above age of five’
BBC news article ‘Childhood damaged’ by over-testing says poet laureate