School, Do I Have To?
All parents have had the usual comment from friends and family, ‘Soon be at school’. You think, ‘Shut up, he’s only 2 days old’. Well, the boy is now 3 and September 2016 is fast approaching and he will indeed be at school. I’ll be honest as always, I’m not looking forward to it one single bit.
Now I know not many parents do look forward to their little treasures toddling off into school on their first day with their little uniform on that always looks slightly too big… They’ll grow into it right?! However my worries aren’t the usual, will he fit in, will he miss me and so on, , my worries are that the education system in my eyes is failing massively and I don’t want my little geeza missing out on any opportunities to be the best he can be.
We used to carve into stone, then we discovered paper, now we have an array of devices that provide instant communication. We used to ride horses, then we had cars with a single gear, now we have cars running on electricity with built in sat nav and apps! We used to have to take out a library card for access to information, we now have the friggin’ internet! Ask me anything right now and I’ll have an answer in 10 seconds. So my concern is, how much further forward has education come?
In my opinion the mainstream education available to the majority of us is still in the dark ages. I by no means have the answers on what needs to be changed (Maybe I should just ask Google), all I’m saying is that something needs to change. The main concerns I have I’ll sum up for you now. . .
When you start your new job as an adult, does your new boss hand you a book and say “Read that and get on with it”, no they don’t. You generally shadow a more experienced member of staff, have a full induction, people show you things. So why at school do you get handed books to read and answer sheets to fill in. I know it’s not all bad and kids are shown some things but nowhere near enough. Basically our children in the main are being told ‘read this and take these tests and then we’ll judge you all based on the same generic scoring system’. Is that right?
I’ll answer that, NO IT’S NOT. In 2016, a world in which we’re told everyone in a humanity sense is equal but also everyone should express their individuality without fear of judgement, why do we continue to put every individual child through the same education system that then uses the same tests to judge them all via a grade. So Child One gets an A in English and D in Technology, Child Two gets the opposite. So that must mean that Child One is rubbish at Tech and Child Two is rubbish at English and that’s that. Or does it in fact mean that Child One is naturally better at academic learning whereas Child Two is more of a practical based learner. If this could be spotted earlier and the education system altered to adjust to individual needs maybe they could both have achieved a higher grade than a D.
I’m contradictory of myself when it comes to grades but I’ll tell you why. I don’t want to be judged as a person who got A’s at school or a person who got D’s. I want to judged on whether I’m a good person. Am I kind, considerate, can I hold a decent conversation etc. School are driven solely on grades. Which school is the best, the one where most kids get the best grades. Do schools do enough to build good people? I don’t think so. My thoughts on grades would change if I knew all areas in terms of learning types were being covered. But until they are then testing all children in the same way after receiving one generic version of education isn’t right. Having said that I know we need some form of testing to make sure people are learning. Like I said I don’t have all the answers but I’m not paid to!
Our girls are prime examples of this already at 10 and 12. One of them is academically brilliant. If she reads it or hears it, she knows it! It’s as simple as that. Thus she excels at school, top marks all round. The other, if she see’s it or is talked through doing it practically, she know’s it. Average marks at school. Is this because one is smarter than the other. I know them and I don’t believe it is at all. It’s merely down to how schools judge them. If schools were more practical based learning I will guarantee you that the results would be reversed. I know there has to be some form of scoring to make sure children are learning but we need to make sure we’re teaching for all learning types. I believe we live in a brainwashed society where people are judged based on their level of intelligence that is in fact a warped view of the reality. One of my children can read a paper and answer any related question, yet she can’t quite get to grips with using the toaster or kettle. The other would get bored of reading the paper therefore be unable to answer your questions however would be sat there with a cup of tea and slice of toast. Who’s ‘Brainier’? One of them despite having lots of friends can come across a little moody and unapproachable at times, the other will literally suffocate you with cuddles. Who are society to judge and tell either one of them that they are better than the other, more intelligent than the other? They are individuals but have throughout primary school been offered one single version of education. One size fits all.
Parenting is absolutely vital. I’ve heard parents blame schools because their child has turned out a certain way etc. The fact is, although schools are indeed in much need of improvements, it is firstly and most importantly our jobs as parents to make sure we’re as involved as we can be with their schooling. Some parents think we shove them through the school gates and then it’s the teachers jobs to make them good intelligent people and that’s it. WRONG!
18 months ago, our eldest was in year 6 and the time came to start thinking about high school. My wife in particular had serious worries about secondary school. Year groups of 250+, school capacities well in advance of 1500 students. It’s all too easy to get lost in all of it and either not fulfill your potential or simply not enjoy the experience at all. I’m well aware of the character building aspect that school brings. It’s important, crucial in fact, however being involved in all the hussle and bussle of general high school doesn’t guarantee you will become a confident strong willed character. You can of course experience bullying and become very introvert. Major worries for any parent. So we went to visit the school that was natural choice for the primary school she attended. Of course it was slightly more advanced than schools were when my wife and I attended high school, but only in terms of computers looked better and this particular school had a salon built in for anyone looking down that route. Hardly the aspiring innovations I’d have hoped after leaving school 13 years ago. It was very much the same as 99% of the schools in our area.
We then started looking for another option. We came across XP School in Doncaster. We read everything there was to read and the idea of this school and their philosophies matched what we’d hoped to find for our child. XP is a projects based learning school and their mantra is ‘Preparing our children to be successful in the modern world’. A key word that stood out to me was ‘Modern’. No I didn’t immediately join all other sheep when Facebook became a thing. I generally don’t allow myself to be taken in by media nonsense telling me what’s the latest craze and why I need it. I make my own decisions, some things are new and innovative and I like them. Some things I like older versions of or something I’ve found better for me. But, one thing that you cannot ignore is that the world is moving and it’s moving at a fierce pace. There’s one thing being a sheep and following others, there’s another thing being smart and staying with modern aspects of life that benefit you. For example, social media. I wouldn’t be writing blogs and having it immediately critiqued by your good selves if it weren’t for social media. I don’t have Twitter and Instagram because I think I’m cool. I have them firstly because it’s a fantastic way to keep in touch instantly with family and friends who we don’t always have time to see on a regular basis due to LIFE. Secondly, I really enjoy getting my thoughts and feelings out there for others to see and remark on, I love hearing what others think too. Communication is paramount. Anyway, XP mentioned ‘Modern’ and I liked it. We attended the parents open evening and were immediately taken in by the futuristic style of learning and little touches here and there they had to ensure character building was as important as academic learning.
Only 50 students per year group, which means there’s a lot more time and opportunity for all students to have their learning adapted to suit them. No worries about getting lost in a year group of 250+. In the very first week of year 7, the students are taken to Wales on an expedition. They are put into crews and commence team building activities. Immediately our daughter made new friends for life and thoroughly enjoyed this trip. She usually hates anything active but having been gently encouraged she couldn’t have had a better time. On another note, it turns out the school is based on a learning style already in full flow over in America. They don’t have a uniform, the reasoning being that they want to trust the students to dress in the correct manner dependent on what they’re scheduled to do that day. Some days they may be presenting to parents or visitors so are expected to dress more business like, as you would in the adult world. This also gets parents involved, we now have a responsibility to help her make good decisions on what’s suitable attire for certain situations. Rather than constant Maths and Science lessons filled with reading and writing sat in a classroom, and if we’re honest a little sleeping involved too, they are taken often on outdoor projects. Maybe they will learn to develop a building on a derelict piece of land. Whilst doing so they will be looking practically at the Maths and Science involved. The classroom stuff you’d find in general schools still happens for the majority of the time, but the mere fact there are only 50 students per year group means it’s far easier for them to be taken out and about learning in a different ways than just classroom based repetitive boring nonsense.
Having got our eldest into XP, this means siblings are automatically accepted. So September 2016 our next one will be there. Now she is the one that learns in a more practical manner so we now have the best of both worlds. The academic side is covered as well as the practical. The main thing for us too is that the school do take character building seriously. They want to make good people, not just make people remember as much nonsense as they can to put down in their exams then release them into the adult world having then forgotten half of the rubbish they never needed to know anyway! They may actually remember what an isosceles triangle is but have no idea how to manage a budget or pay a bill.
As mentioned earlier, parenting in regards to education goes beyond the school run. We are 100% responsible for making these types of decisions and finding out what our choices are. I heard a little story that sums up why adapting to individual’s learning needs is vital.
A young boy arrived at school and was very shy. He didn’t have any friends and wasn’t confident enough to start interacting with other children. In class he liked to just get his head down, do his work and couldn’t wait to get home. The school then went on an trip that involved canoeing and rock climbing. This boy happened to go canoeing and rock climbing with his Grandad during school holidays so was more advanced than the other children. Upon the other kids seeing how much he already knew and how good he was at these activities they immediately took to him and wanted to befriend him. He helped the others and interacted with everyone. He now has tonnes of friends, has found confidence to speak to people he doesn’t know at school to make new friends and is generally having a great experience at school.
Now in an average school still rolling out the stone age curriculum that is 99% classroom based, would this kid have ever got the opportunity, or what would the chances be that he was given the opportunity to show his skill set that changed his entire schooling experience. He, like many others do would have gone through the motions of high school, hoping to get through the day without having to talk to anyone and finally given a grade for him to be judged on and sent on his way. That’s the difference.
Hey, if you went through ‘normal’ school like most people my age ,29, did and you liked it and now your child is having a great time at the same school you went to then I’m happy for you, I really am. But the message I want to get across is, not everyone has confidence, academic ability and is built for the one way of learning we’re led to believe is the only correct way. There are far too many kids nowadays missing out, there always has been because we haven’t been shown the other options. I’ve mentioned before that parenting isn’t just about feeding and clothing the kids, you are building a person. Decisions such as ours, sending them to XP, could potentially be life changing for both of them and hopefully for the boy when he’s old enough too. Only time will tell but I can tell you the facts of our decision so far are that our 12-year-old has changed massively since August and we’re only in March now. Her confidence has grown 10-fold, she actually enjoys going to school and we never have to be on top of her about homework etc, it’s always done. So early signs suggest we made a terrific decision (Pat on the back to me and the Wife).
Back to the boy, he starts school in September and there is no option of an XP type school at primary level. I think that’s OK though. Primary school for the first few years especially is very much play based anyway. Learning the fundamentals, reading and writing is done well by primary schools I’ve been involved with in the past. My only worry at this stage of education is the brainwashing that begins early. Now I’m not saying there should be a free-for-all mentality, but I would like to see more of teaching children even from an early age, ‘How’ to think, not ‘What’ to think. It’s a great phrase I’ve picked up from somewhere and it’s stuck with me. How to think, not what to think, it’s brilliant. I don’t have all the answers, I probably don’t have any but there is a repetitive vibe about our education system. We must all abide by rules set by authoritative figures AND we will tell you who those figures are. “Why do we do X” said the child. “Because we just do” replied the teacher. Not all teachers obviously but children’s constant obsession with the question ‘Why?’ should be embraced. All to often you hear parents saying, “Because I said so”, I don’t think we teach our children enough early enough. Who say’s we should be teaching X, Y or Z at 5 years old and L, M and N at 10 years old? What if my boy gets to grips with the X, Y, Z, L, M, N, O, P and Q at 4? Will this be noticed? Will the current way of teaching allow for this and adapt their teaching style to suit a more advanced mind? Or, will he be held back while others catch up meaning he wastes a whole school year or two halting his advancement? I’d say the latter is what would happen. I’m also using my boy as the example because he’s sat right next me now asking what I’m doing and why! He may be the flip reversal and might be behind at school for the level Mr E or whoever says he should be at, at any particular age. What happens then? Extra attention whilst the other 29, 30 kids run riot in the classroom? Our eldest was advanced for her age, according to the current system. She was seen to be at a year 6 level of reading whilst only being in year 4. What happened I hear you say. They sent her off to a year 6 classroom with a more advanced book at reading time. Imagine that, year 4 kid having to go and sit with the year 6’s of whom she knew none of them at reading time. How does this help? Could she not be given advanced content in her own classroom? Or maybe the year 4 teacher wasn’t advanced enough to handle the year 6 books?? More needs to be done to see the signs of children on either level and adapt teaching to suit. I will say that I don’t aim this at all teachers, or even teachers in general, it’s the system! There are some fantastic teachers who are nothing short of inspirational and some do think outside the small box their given to work in. They can’t change it all by themselves though!
Now I’m a parent with a big gob. I don’t go around shouting and making an idiot of myself, I mean if I have some constructive criticism or an issue with anything, I will mention it. I will do it in the correct manner of course. So steps I’ve taken already along with my wife in view of getting myself in a position to not only keep my eye on things but to do my bit in regards improving the education my children get are as follows: We are currently involved with with a group of parents at the XP School that run a fundraising group where all monies raised go directly into the school for the students. By being the Vice Chair-Person of the group it allows me to do my bit directly for all the students in a financial aspect, but also I’m in the loop at school, involved with the on-goings from a closer point that the average parent. As the school is relatively new there isn’t currently a parent council, but plans are at an advanced stage to begin one and I plan on being heavily involved so I then definitely have a voice within school. My plans for when the boy starts at primary school is to immediately get involved with their parent council that I know already exists and also seek out what other opportunities there are to get involved within school.
I suppose reading this it could come across as a little controlling maybe, however I’m merely trying to do what I believe is best and putting myself in the best possible positions to make decisions that will inevitably land on my lap. Is this controlling or good parenting? This is me trying to convince myself it’s good parenting, I believe it is, controlling might be if I was steaming into classrooms demanding to take charge of my child’s day. I did contemplate home-schooling for a period of time. I still have it side-lined as an option but maybe that would be too controlling? I like to asses all possibilities then make a decision.
My previous posts aren’t usually this long but I see this as a sign as to how passionate I am about this particular subject. I’d love to hear your thoughts, feelings and experiences with education. Do any of you home-school? Are any of you teachers?
Let me know, thanks for reading…