Every day I am pretty sure I do at least one thing wrong. Most days I do more. I used to think I was alone, until I talked to other parents who were honest. Here is a place for more parents to feel less alone, and more "good enough".

Monday, 18 April 2016

Parents - The Silent Partners in Education?

I don't actually know where to start writing. My mind is so busy, that I can't even make sense of it myself. So really, this is just going to be a complete ramble. I apologise in advance. I wrote this poem over my 'thinkative' morning coffee:

People put labels on who I am. Make presumptions. Who is the real me? I don't even know, I make new decisions all of the time. Form new opinions, worry about new things, and always, always, I am learning.

I have three children. I am their parent. According to the law, parents are responsible for their children's education.

Section 7 of The Education Act 1996 states:
"The parent of every child of compulsory school age shall cause him to receive efficient full-time education suitable—
(1) to his age, ability and aptitude, and
(2) to any special educational needs he may have,
either by regular attendance at school or otherwise."

What is important, is that this law recognises that it is the parent/s who are best placed to make the decision as to what is best for their child. The 'or otherwise' bit is also important, as that is what allows for home education, flexi-schooling and any 'otherwise' education provisions.
It is the parents duty, and the parents that are entrusted with having knowledge of what is suitable for their children's age, ability, aptitude and any additional needs they have, therefore the government must listen to our requirements for our children's education. Teachers also have knowledge of many children they have taught and currently teach. Most government ministers are not experts on children or education; even if they are parents they know their own children, not ours.

Right now, I feel very much like my parenting is a 'silent partner' in my child's education. I have these rights, but it is difficult for me to use them. If I dislike the way the education system is going. I don't really have any re-course to alter it. Even if many parents, and many teachers, feel the same. We sign petitions, in vast numbers, but nothing happens. Right now, we are at a tipping point. A point which once gone past, can not be reversed. If we privatise our children's education via academies, we can't just 'un-privatise' them if it doesn't work. The way academies work, with a business manager at the top of the rung, being paid more and having the final say, above the heads who are actually responsible for the children's welfare, teaching and learning, is not the way I personally think education should be run. I don't think we should value a number-cruncher more than an educator. I don't think that a number-cruncher and business manager should be able to veto something that an experienced head knows would be best for their pupils. I'm certain there are good academies, and good free schools, it would be wrong to say there aren't. The distinct difference between having them around, and enforcing them on every single school regardless of area, intake, size, the actual best interests of the children, is massive. I saw a Conservative MP's response to a parent asking about academies. I directly quote: "It seems that the Labour Party and their left-wing cheerleaders at 38 degrees have forgotten that it was, in fact, the last Labour Government which introduced academies." Ok, so our country is being run by people who resort to "He started it sir" upon being questioned. The parent who had contacted this MP had not actually indicated their party choice. I do not indicate my party choice, I am not a member of any political party at present. This is not about what party started it. As my mother would say "I don't care who started it - I'm ending it!" Just because one party started something, does not mean another party can choose to enforce it onto every single school, and then when people complain, blame the original party for starting it rather than actually engage in a proper discussion about it. Life doesn't work like that in the real world. The fact of the matter is, that the government should not have the mandate to completely alter the way state education is run, without fully and properly taking into account the views of the people who are legally responsible for ensuring that education is provided. That also includes providing parents with the true facts and figures, or lack thereof. Respecting parents and valuing their opinions and thoughts, taking the time to fully consult with teachers and experts in education, not just following through with an idealistic plan regardless of any opposition or consequences.

I have had people questioning me over my objections to SATs. Questioning my parenting. "I don't pressure my children, maybe you should be careful how you talk to your child?" Which is quite laughable to anybody who actually knows me and my (very fluid) parenting style. My child knows it's a test because it says test on it. And because it's set out like a test paper that she has seen in tv shows. She will most definitely figure out it's a test when she asks for help during it and her teacher is unable to give her any help or feedback. She doesn't actually mind doing the test. But she's a bit fed up of the fact that she doesn't do as much Science as she used to do. Or as much Art. Or as much PE. She lives for the afternoons at school, the mornings are 'just boring learning and tests'. Not a great way to motivate and fire her up to learn the essentials skills of English and Maths, or enjoy investigating them further. Just tonight she has told me that she has tummy ache every day at school. A few weeks ago she told me that she had a nightmare that all of her friends got every answer in a test correct, but it still wasn't good enough. And believe me, we do NOT put any pressure on this child at home. We have told her that the SATs are just to check what she knows, so that the teacher knows what she still needs to teach her. In reality of course, I'm pretty certain her teacher has a fairly solid idea already of what she knows and what she still needs to learn. I'm pretty certain that she's doing great from my knowledge of my own child. I don't really care about whether she's 'meeting age-related expectations', especially seeing as this year her age-related expectation is what was last year expected at the end of Year 3. So a whole 1 year + 1 half term older than she is now. On a new KS1 curriculum that she has only been taught the second year of. And that has changed a fair few times just since this January. So forgive me if I don't really see the point of testing her on it. It's not the actual test I mind. It's the blatant disregard for the teacher's knowledge of my child. The time wasted teaching her all the new additions to the tests, when she could have been learning far far more without picking up on the obvious stress her teacher is under. The fact that the results are going to be completely inaccurate because the information has been crammed in and rote-learned in a really short space of time, and actually bears little relevance to her life or even adult life. And don't even get me started on the KS2 SATs - try asking the secondary schools how accurate and useful the 'results' they provide is.

Sometimes, my daughter is so brave that she astounds me. Recently, she smashed her nose on the floor of the school playground. She lacerated it right down to the bone, and broke part of the cartilage. When her teacher saw her, she herself was in shock. My daughter cried for a few minutes, and then she stopped. When I got to school, she wasn't crying. She was sat with her teachers, who were desperately trying to keep her from falling asleep and trying to stop her seeing the amount of blood. They told her everything was going to be ok, and she believed them. The paramedics came, and she talked to them and myself in the ambulance. She got to the hospital, and she let the doctors look at her nose, and pull it about. She didn't ask for any pain relief. When they asked if it hurt she said "just a little bit". She talked to the surgeon who was going to operate on it, and said she was looking forward to having a free sleep. The surgeon came to see me whilst she was in recovery to say that he had put real stitches in, that would need taking out, because he believed she would be able to cope with having them taken out. He said that usually they don't put them in children her age, but having met her that he would, and it would make the scar heal better. She did this on Thursday morning and was operated on Thursday night. She was back in school on Monday morning, with black stitches right across her nose. When she went back to have them taken out, it took an hour. The nurse kept apologising to her, but she sat as still as a statue for the whole time, letting the nurse pick and pull at the stitches. When she looked in the mirror afterwards, I could tell she was upset that the scar was there. She hadn't quite realised the long-term scale of the injury. That night we had angry tears in bed, and then it was done. Now, she watches her favourite film, 'Soul Surfer', and she says that if somebody can do that with just one arm, then what does a scar on her nose matter? The paramedics, the A+E staff, the surgeon - all of them commented on how resilient she was, and how they get many adults, let alone children, who cope worse with the level of injury she had.

Despite this resilience, sometimes my daughter is too worried to go to school. She is too worried to leave the house. She imagines all sorts of things happening to her. She gets tummy ache and she sits curled up in a ball on her bed, refusing to move. And yet when something does happen, she is amazing at dealing with it. On these 'scared of the world' days, we usually get her out of the house,we give her the tools to feel better, and she tries, she really tries, to break through the wall of whatever is holding her back, and she keeps going forward.

She is amazingly brave every day just for getting dressed and leaving the house. And somebody, somewhere, thinks they can define her as 'below age related expectations' just because she doesn't fit their mould. The SATs don't measure reality. They don't measure my daughter. They are not a fit for purpose measurement of a child's ability and aptitude. They are not age appropriate. They take up far too much time in preparing, sitting, and marking. They don't take into account the fact that a 6/7 year old child is not designed to sit quietly for 45 minutes and answer questions on a paper with no feedback or interaction. They don't take into account that not all children progress in a nice straight line. They certainly don't take into account that many children put pressure upon THEMSELVES even if other people don't, and that they are very finely tuned to picking up any change in mood of any relevant adult in their life, i.e. their teacher.

I am not asking everybody to agree with me. I am not asking everybody to even understand. I just would like everybody to really think. To really think about how children learn, and that what we are teaching them is important. Think about what life is actually about, and what skills they may need when they grow up. Understand that not all children are the same, and that many children fight many demons every single day. Think about the skills and experience teachers have, and how disrespectful it is to presume a nationally applied 'one size fits all' test is better at assessing our children than a teacher who is with them almost every single school day. Think about how much and how well you know your child, and how disrespectful it is that unless you are able to home educate or afford private education, you have no say in how your child's education is run, yet you have the responsibility for it, enshrined in law.

Last but not least, no, I am not using my child as a weapon. I have not told her that she is missing school because the SATs are bad, or the schools is bad, or the government is bad. I have told her that we are having a picnic, and fun together, to show our support to teachers and to try and make sure people remember that children are supposed to learn through play. If she doesn't want to miss school that day because they are doing something she really wants to do, then I will not keep her off. I will send her and attend the picnic myself. I am not trying to upset my child - I am simply trying to make my voice heard. Petitions don't work, talking to councillors and MP's doesn't work. Some parents have said that teachers who are worried about attendance affecting their Ofsted results, are planning trips for this day to try and prevent the protest from happening. To me, this is a perfect example of children being used as a weapon, but not by the parents. And again, a concern, that a) people are scared of an inspecting body so much that they will use a child as a weapon, and b) that parents are unable to have a voice, because we are so scared and feel so guilty about affecting the school's attendance or being fined.

Be confident in your knowledge of your own child's best interests and also remember that the law was written with the knowledge that parents are the ones who know their children and have the right to choose how to educate them. This just seems to have been forgotten somewhere along the way.