My two school-age BUBs enjoy school. They skip there and they skip back. They go to a great school where they get taken on fantastic school trips, have regular dance and sport sessions, visits from exotic animals, musicians, people with disabilities talking about the clever ways they adapt. There was a temporary planetarium in their school hall a few terms ago. They are the luckiest children in the world in terms of being safe and cared for by their wonderful teachers in a great environment.
I’m taking my children out of this fantastic school on Tuesday 3rd May as part of the Let Our Kids be Kids campaign, in protest against the externally imposed Key Stage 1 SATs and the government’s decision to turn all schools into academies.
I can’t sit back and watch as their enthusiasm and curiosity is stifled by a curriculum that puts emphasis on advanced (for a six or seven year old? In parts, for me, a degree-educated journalist) arithmetic, grammar and comprehension. Every week the homework is tedious preparation for these tests and saps the life force out of my August-born six-year-old who is expected to sit a week of tests in May. Since he started Year 2, he has expressed increasing frustration with the work load, the focus on eyes-down, learning by numbers.
None of this is the teachers’ fault. The teachers are wonderful.
At the start of Year 2 I used to pass my six-year-old’s classroom window on the way back from dropping my four-year-old into his classroom. Immediately, as soon as their coats were hung up, they were sitting down on the carpet with their pens, trying to complete the sums displayed on the board at the front. Hunched over, doing mental arithmetic, when moments before we’d been jumping over pine cones and talking about what’s for lunch. I realise the morning is the best time to get these little minds working, but before everyone has even had a chance to sit down? No song, no welcome, no chance to say hello to everybody first? The teachers must feel there is no time, that there is so much to get through.
BUB.1 is struggling to keep up, probably because he is the youngest but maybe also because he’s quite easily distracted, but in the most part he shrugs it off. He’s fascinated by birds, engines, dinosaurs, skeletons, the Ice Age and he’s kind. His school report tells of a lack of concentration. BUB.2 already worries when he can’t get thing right or doesn’t know the answer. He is fascinated by animals, football, and he’s hilariously funny. His school report tells of a lack of confidence.
I’m doing this for both of them. I’m doing it because this open letter to Education Secretary Nicky Morgan is exactly how I feel.
I have no idea what BUB.3 will be like yet. But I know that I don’t want her to be squeezed through a learning sausage factory and to be told in her school report that at four years old she is anything other than herself.
Since following the campaign and talking to people about it, I have heard about children crying before school, feigning stomach ache, undressing themselves before they leave the house, because they don’t want to go. This is disastrous for them and for their families.
I don’t put any pressure on my child about SATs testing. The school has emailed us example test papers for all the subjects. I’ve printed them off, looked at them and filed them under “Let’s not worry about that”. I, along with most of the parents I speak to, ignore the emails that show us what a child’s handwriting is supposed to look like at this age. My son’s looks like he sneezed out a decomposing spider. He tries hard.
The data is for the Government. It has no bearing on my son. The other day I broached the subject of the May tests with BUB.1 and he started talking animatedly about the Easter bunny. Relief flooded me.
I don’t care about these tests. I just want them to stop so the teachers can focus on being teachers with the freedom to teach in an inspirational and child-friendly way and the kids can be kids and continue to love learning about things that matter at seven and eleven years old.
If you feel the same, there are things you can do to help the campaign:
And, if you can, join us in taking our children out of school on 3rd May to show our support for teachers and our rejection of externally imposed SAT exams. If you can’t, please share the campaign and show your support.