My son is 5 and a half and in Year One. In my opinion, his early experiences of education should be a good mix of social interaction, play and learning. As after all, the purpose of schooling is to develop children in readiness for all aspects of adult life, not just educationally. Emotionally it should help to build their confidence, expose them to social interaction with all age groups, races, gender, backgrounds etc. and help them develop emotional intelligence as well as educational ability. Many schools do this, and do it well, however, the Governments latest high-jump bar of targets is leaving little room for children’s emotional development, as academic test results are being steam-rolled to the forefront.
My 5 year old is already expected to read aloud to me 5 times a week. He’s expected to learn to read, write, and spell a range of 50 words by July and also have his letter and number formation scored to make sure it’s at the correct standard. He’s expected to practise additional reading, writing and maths at home 7 days a week while getting enough exercise.
Today he came home with the following letter:
Not only is he expected to continue the current scheme of further learning, but the bar has now been raised even higher to include a weekly spelling test. Fair enough, I thought, it can only be a good thing. But there’s a catch. These children need to get 8 out of 10 answers correct or they will be kept behind in play times and ‘Golden Time’ (a free play time) to correct their errors.
On top of this, they now need to push their tiny bodies further as well as their minds. Currently, our school asks all children to complete a mile walk every day before class to energise them for the days learning. I have always thought this was an excellent idea. But now asking them to squeeze another 30 minutes of exercise into their days seems to be a little bit much.
This all comes from the Government who wants both parents to be working and preferably full time. How are we meant to devote ourselves to work when so much is required at home? Similarly, how are we meant to ask our children to achieve more and more when we have no time to invest in them? Aren’t we simply going to produce a generation of exhausted young people before they’ve even stepped foot into their first workplace?
Besides this, I see no room for considering our children’s emotional well being. In his first year and half in school, my son has gone from being a vibrant confident boy, to now feeling that he’s not good enough, he’s not smart enough, he’s too stupid. He’s anxious that he’s always getting it wrong. He’s terrified of being put back a year and descends into tears when he confuses writing a ‘b’ and a ‘d’. The targets that the government are setting are also making some teachers look out for learning difficulties and disabilities that may not even be there. We are beginning to lose sight of the fact that these children are only five. They are not stupid, lazy, naughty or with an undiagnosed difficulty. They are simply not emotionally or physically ready for this pressure.
Wonderful schools and teachers such as ours are feeling the strain and are first in line to hear complaints from angry parents when they are simply doing the best they can. They are forced to amend homework levels and make changes to try and meet these ever changing targets. I wonder how much it affects them to have these targets. I should imagine their emotional wellbeing is also taking a bit of a beating.
Sally Goddard-Blythe, Director of The Institute for Neuro Pysiological Pyschology (INPP) in Chester says “Children are not mini-adults. The process of development – physical, emotional and mental – is a long one during which there are recognised milestones, which children are generally expected to reach at certain ages – but within and without of these milestones there is also considerable scope for individual differences, especially in developmental readiness for formal aspects of learning. In other countries the process of formal education does not begin until at least six years of age. Elsewhere the pre-school years focus on getting children ready for school in terms of physical, social and emotional development and it is well recognised that are differences in rates of readiness between boys and girls with the needs and skills of boys and girls being different at various stages.”
So here we have three different demographics of strained, stressed and possibly under-achievers:
- The working parents: struggling to balance a career with being a parent. Trying to squeeze additional requirements in whilst trying to ensure that their children are also managing.
- The child: under pressure, feeling that they are often not good enough, not clever enough. Exhausted.
- The School/Teachers: trying to hit their targets and develop children in line with these. Trying to make sure that the children are emotionally as well as academically coping with these pressures so that they don’t become a bad statistic or Ofsted report. Many of these teachers are also balancing bullet point one and two.
So I ask the Government directly how they expect these hypocritical demands to be met? No one would argue that we want to develop the future generations to be achievers, but look to the generation that is growing, teaching and loving these little future stars, we are all struggling with your current demands in one way or another. Is that the lesson you want them to learn?
Academia is important, literacy, numeracy and vocabulary are all essential. But please don’t discount our children’s emotions. They may all go on to pass exams, but if they don’t have to confidence to go for an interview for fear that they are ‘not good enough’ then what was on earth was the point.
I have since been interviewed by the BBC further to this blog. Skip to 1:08 and listen to it here. Radio Interview
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