A note from teachers to pupils at Barrowford Primary School in Lancashire has gone viral. The letter, informing students of their Key Stage 2 results, tells them, there are many ways of being smart – exams aren’t everything. It is a defiant move against standardised testing at such a relatively young age and one that cyberspace has given a standing ovation.
I remember a story my parents told me about parents evening. The teacher was making comparisons about my younger sister with me. My mum said, “but she’s not Claire.”. We were lucky to be in a small, community, albeit Catholic, school with great teachers, edging towards progressive except for this faux pas. I had a thirst for books, writing, drawing, reading, my sister wanted to learn but found conventional academics boring. We didn’t have the pressure of SATS in primary or middle school but we still took tests and in secondary school everything was geared towards the final exam. Even though there was a happy amount of coursework, I always felt everything was preparation towards getting a good GSCE grade and 6th form place.
From what my teenage niece and nephew tell me, nothing much has changed today. When it came to choosing A-Levels, the students were encouraged to think about their specialism, what they would study at University. Which is absurd because unless you are dead set on being a doctor, or pursuing a particular branch of science, then 16 years of age is far too early to consider this. Speaking to a university professor friend, they spend the first weeks and months trying to ‘undo’ what a formal education has created because many of them do not know how to form an opinion or express an original idea.
Of course truly bespoke system would require smaller classes, more teachers, one in this economic climate won’t support and I doubt the world is moving in that direction. Parents can make a difference at home. We can encourage the free thought, free play, opinion forming future adults. In fact, I think it’s vital to challenge the formal approach to academics and recognise our child’s potential – just like my parents did with my sister. We work and operate in the real world, where the maths we need the most is to calculate our monthly household budget or the loan repayment on a new car.
Parents need more support to do this and not from schools. I think schools do all they can to involve parents in their child’s learning with limited resources. What central government needs to realise, is schemes such as flexible working for both parents, rights for part-time workers, boosts to local economy and employment markets (so that people don’t have to travel so far for a good job or career) and a living wage, takes the pressure of the parents to be ALL work and spend valuable time as a family.
Like many parents, I could do with taking my own advice. When I noticed Boo, nearly 3 years old, not recognising simple numbers between 1 and 10 the alarm bells rang. I immediately compared her to Lulu at the same age, recalling how impressed the nursery staff were at her ability to identify ‘zero’. The superb, most likely poorly paid, under-appreciated nursery key worker said to me after I lamented at comparing the two, “we all compare, you shouldn’t worry. Boo is developing as expected, in fact she’s ahead of where she should be in some areas.” We went through the Early Years portfolio the nursery staff keep – for every child – they had encapsulated the personality of my child almost perfectly. I let out a sigh of relief and promised to never panic again.
Image courtesy of artur84 / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
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