I observed with disbelief ‘The Great SATS Revolt’ here in the UK on 4th May 2016. This was chiefly a rebellion on the testing of our younger kids at the early and later stages of learning and there were these crazy scenes where many school children were seen protesting in a park for a boycott against the tests and refusing to attend school that very same day in order to skip them – so now perhaps we could ask, “When did learning for kids cease to be such fun?” I sometimes work with both children and adults and can also write about this with confidence too as I do know an extremely hard-working primary school teacher and am very familiar with her woes. Do also notice that I did refer to our children as kids earlier because this is highly significant and a central point to my article.
Our kids are now regularly being tested rigorously yet still fail to reach the standards of other more successful nations by way of comparison. Instead of helping our teachers to grow confidently and raising their standards organically, our education system is severely hampered by both arduous and sometimes ill-conceived new initiatives and regularly treated as a political football by all parties for the sake of gaining some political capital, with the usual series of sometimes quite ‘surreal’ soundbites being launched prior to the next party conference – unlike Norway where the education minister is expressly prohibited from interfering with the day-to-day school operation and politics remains largely outside of the arena. Getting a new education secretary often reminds me of the ‘Grand Old Duke of York’ nursery rhyme and I can envision many in education reluctantly sighing – “Oh no, here we go again!” And just to prove my case in point by way of an update since this article was written, today (09/05) came the announcement that all schools will no longer be ‘forced’ to become a self-governing Academy by law – a retraction of a recent and much-heralded flagship policy that had previously left many aghast!
Then there is also this new artificial and undesirable ‘side-effect’ from the SATS. A totally ridiculous situation where parents will either claim to be ‘living’ inside the catchment area of an identified good school within a highly-questionable league table, else move heaven and earth to buy a property within one and in so doing driving up the price of available properties, just to make sure that their child will ultimately benefit; but then quite ludicrously still not be able to secure a place for a younger sibling, sometimes resulting with a school run in opposite directions and both children having to be there at the same time. You really could not make any of this up even if you were struggling to write a script for some scene in an imaginary play.
My professional interests are both teaching and consulting and believe that perhaps the real professionals do not seem to understand this at all from a child’s perspective – so let me spell it out – Learning Must Mostly Be About FUN! Somewhere along the line we forget how to be more like children and become reserved and blinkered and close our minds to all kinds of possibilities. Even the great Albert Einstein told us that imagination is more important than knowledge. I can remember teaching my young son at age nine the importance of the theory of relativity, not the formula itself just the importance of it and how it underpins so many scientific concepts. At no time did I press upon him the equation, as no doubt the ‘profs’ would have done, and left it for him to decide if he is so inclined – no my task was to put a spark out there and hope that it might then fire his own imagination. I am sometimes the ‘biggest’ kid of them all and that is why I now say with conviction it is quite easy to forget how to have FUN!
I sat in bewilderment, (no pun intended), watching on TV the opposing spokespersons in the debate trade blow after blow on what is ‘best for our kids’, but alas heard only one sensible parent say, “Where is the fun?” – “We don’t need no education! Hey teacher, leave them kids alone!” This was the chorus of a group of kids at a park in Brighton who were quite vociferous in their response to the SATS, so it seems we have not learned that much since the release of the famous Pink Floyd song, ‘Another Brick In The Wall’. There is no greater tragedy than that of having a pupil leave school and not being able to do even the very basics in literacy and numeracy – but the way we are doing so may not be the best way to do it at all.
This heaping of pressure on the children at an early age and the anxieties of the parents also being detected, along with being notified of having been a failure too is quite simply plain stupid, (for once I could find no fancy words to say this any other way). When you have a child who is free from undue pressure something truly wonderful happens – they sing, they laugh and smile freely, and skip lightly all the way to their destination. Now pitch this against a child who is not so happy and you will see something no-one would really ever wish to see again. Without trying to appear too controversial, you really do have to question what they are doing to our children because there are now fewer happy children as a result of this debacle.
When we refer to our children as kids, there is some hope that it helps to remind us never to forget how to relate to them when it comes to learning. For those who need to be reminded how to do this I recommend that you again watch the late Robin Williams in ‘Mrs Doubtfire’ or Dame Julie Andrews in the ‘Sound of Music’, two films that shows how both you and the kids can learn and do FUN!