Is school robbing your kids of their childhood? Then sign this petition and let kids be kids!

TMTS Campaign Badge

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.

TMTS poster

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.

the-blob-poster-1958-steve-mcqueen

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.

Extra Reading/Sources:

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

Save Childhood Movements response to Government’s arguments and related research

24 thoughts on “Is school robbing your kids of their childhood? Then sign this petition and let kids be kids!

  1. Couldn’t agree with you more on this. I know it was only a minor point of yours but my son’s teacher wasn’t even prepared to allow him to give out sweets on his birthday (too busy in the classroom) let alone, sing happy birthday or even ask him what he got! I know they’re only doing what they are told and all that but seriously, birthdays are such an important part of a child’s life and school has become way too serious. This is NOT what life is all about…..remember that quote? ‘Show be a boy until he is 7 and I will show you the man’….so true. 0-7 is such an impressionable age and the education is ruining all the fun 🙁 Go Siobhan!

  2. As a specialist early years teacher and AHT, it makes me so sad to see what is happening to young children in many of our schools! I just don’t know what to do for my own children (boys, one August birthday) who will be entering the system very soon! Maybe I will have to make my dream a reality and open my own nursery and primary school as I am yet to find what I’m looking for in my area!

  3. Great post, I particularly love the quotes – they are just so true. I find the education system in the UK sad to be honest. It doesn’t anger me, frustrate me… but it does make me very sad. How many children are being robbed of a real childhood?… In my job I’ve had pregnant women inquiring whether they can get their children into school earlier than 4 if they put their name down in early pregnancy…. honestly. My son was ‘due’ to start school this September and quite frankly I couldn’t imagine him in the system at his developmental stage. As parents I feel we should go with our instincts – if we feel that it truly is too much, too soon – then why are we going along with it? Because it’s the norm? Because it’s ingrained in our culture? I fully support the campaign and I desperately hope it makes a difference!

  4. Brilliant post – my daughter is almost 4 and it has been so frustrating this year to see so many children leave her brilliant play focused nursery to go to “pre-schools” which are doing sit down lessons. These children are 3 for goodness sake!!

    I absolutely don’t have a problem with stretching and exciting children but so much of what is going on in early years teaching is not doing anything of the sort. So much of the teaching actually gets in the way of kids learning great science, maths, history etc.

    Have pinned this on my parenting board – Alice @ Mums Make Lists

    #pocolo

  5. My daughter’s birthday is Aug 29th. I first realised that she started school (at just 4) too early when she began bringing homework home. I was horrified that she had reading, phonics and spellings.

    What’s more play (free choice) time in the classroom is limited to a brief period for her this year (now Yr 1) to only one day a week.

    I know she is bright and is seeing it for what it is, but in all honesty she is far too young for these pressures. I feel she ought to be learning through play for the next couple of years at least!

    I have signed the petition and I want to thank you for bringing it to my attention.

    • Thanks Emma. Yes, it must be SO hard for children like yours. I know someone who actually planned her pregnancies so her kids (turned out to be boys) were born in Sept for this reason. Now THAT is forward thinking. Sadly, we don’t all have the power/ability to do that, but I like her forward thinking….!

  6. Wonderful blog. After speaking with a a tutor I found that children in the Netherlands start academic schooling later, have play learning for longer and, by the age of 11, are more advanced than UK children. I am sick of seeing my 7 year old daughter treated like a 14 year old. She has three lots of homework per week, two of which are to be done each night. By the time she has dinner and finishes her homework it is time for bed. Weekends are spent brushing up on maths and maybe having a little playtime.
    The school holiday tasks are ridiculously long too.
    When are children allowed to be children? Not often any more.
    The government (whoever is in power) need to stop treating these children like the future workers they are desperate for them to be and let them be kids.

  7. As a teacher of 19 years I obviously agree with the Too Much to Soon campaign!But I couldn’t help but be surprised that a child Birthday was not celebrated in school( unless it was a one off,or C was away when they were celebrated?)Our birthdays are celebrated in Assemblies where the whole school sing to the children!They wear Birthday badges and everyone knows it’s a special day for them.
    Although we have to do a lot of number crunching,the emphasis is very much on fun….learning outside,cooking,drama,leaf hunts playing Dragons Den!Radio broadcasts with bbc radio Cambridge.Sitting still doesn’t feature a lot on our agenda,and that is in a school with a huge number of Free School meals and real deprivation and serious behaviour issues.
    But yes, it IS too much to soon especially with Infants.

    • Thanks G, for your comments, precious as you are a Primary school teacher. Yes our school used to do birthday assemblies, for some reasons they’ve stopped recently, so that could be why there isn’t a culture of singing happy birthday in class. I know the staff take every opp to make learning fun, so don’t think our school doesn’t have that element. They have fantastic History days, imaginative book weeks, dressing up days etc. There was only so much I could fit into a post which should be as short as poss. But it does sound like ours is more academic than yours….I’ve been invited by S’s teacher to come and observe/help for a morning after I asked at parents eve how much learning they do outdoors. I’ll take her up on that, it’ll be interesting.

  8. As a mother of four, and now grandmother of four, I do so agree with Too Much Too Soon. If your, bright, capable children are being put off school because of the academic pressure, what is it going to be like for those who are struggling. And, though it is not p.c. to admit, it’s harder for boys who are (on the whole) programmed to be physically active and curious. They need a more varied ‘curriculum’ to use up this curiosity or they are in danger of being put off learning for life. Did anyone else see Gareth Malone on BBC TV exposing a group of boys to risk-taking and competition? A whole class of reluctant- or non-readers were stimulated to a love of books in order to win a ‘silver cup’ for their group.

    • Always v interesting to hear what the older generation think. Thank you mum! And yes, that’s my point – if ones doing well academically are finding it a bit of a slog, then how on earth are those children who aren’t as academic coping? I thought Gareth Malone’s programme seminal. It was the first time someone actually looked at this issue seriously and thought it the bravest project for him to take on. It was superb. I’m a big fan of Mr Malone. I’d vote for him as the next Education Minister!

Leave a Reply