By the time you read this, millions of young children will be propelled out of the warm, cosy cocoon
of the school holidays and will have been launched head first back, or for the first time, into their
new school year.
Fresh challenges, academic and social, will have been undertaken, with many more to come over the
approaching ten months until their pencil cases and bags are zipped shut once again for a
well-earned six weeks break.
One of these children will be my daughter, heading into the school system for the very first time this
year. A school system which I voluntarily returned to as a teacher in 2012 (the year she was born –
mental decision), and which I enthusiastically evicted myself from just three years later, for reasons
which I’m sure will become clear in this blog.
It scares me. It scares me that the most precious thing to me in this universe is entering a system so
skewed in its vision of education that it is, at its best, baffling, and at its worst unfair, unjust and
While a teacher, I saw for myself the children who were effectively frozen out of a system which
does not meet their needs. With maths and literacy taking up the majority of a school day and the
arts, sciences and technologies given lower billing in most schools, it is easy to see the children who
will benefit most from a 21st Century education: If you’re ‘academic’, you’ll be alright. However,
should your talents lie in another field (there are enough of them), then unlucky. The school system
does not effectively cater for them.
Albert Einstein once said: “Everybody is a genius.
But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is
stupid.” I can’t put into words how much I agree with this statement.
I think my daughter will be alright this year. She is bright, and will likely do well in the ‘core’ subjects.
I am not looking forward, however, to her interests in some subjects dwindling as the life and fun is
sucked out of them, the endless enthusiasm for words, numbers, history, etc likely replaced by a
desire to absorb the skills and knowledge needed to pass exams, the first of which she will probably
face in Year Two, aged just seven. SEVEN. Sat in exam conditions. It’s criminal. Whatever happened
to being a kid?
Teachers, AMAZING teachers, are what stands between enjoyment of education and school life and
the weight of expectation crushing our children. They, from NQTs (Newly Qualified Teachers) to
Heads, are the vital barrier between the naïve and empowered politicians, with little to no
experience of education, with their preposterous policies, and our children. I have been humbled by
and have been in awe of so many people I have met during my time in schools. They can, however,
do only so much with all expected of them and their students.
‘Data’ is ultimately what matters to most Heads. It is what they, and schools, are judged on, and it is
therefore what teachers are judged on. The end goal is always results or ‘progress’. But it doesn’t
have to be like that. It shouldn’t be like that. Even recently, I have found myself comparing my
daughter to other children at her nursery. Examples of internal monologues being: “Wow, so-and-so
can write their name. Matilda can’t do that yet”; or “Matilda is really ahead with her speech. That
makes me proud”. This has been drummed into me as I’ve been through the school. You are always
ranking yourselves against other children because you are always being ranked according to a
system dreamt up by people without a clue, and, I’d argue, a heart.
Really, there should be one question I, and in my opinion, all parents of young children, should have
at the forefront of their minds: “Is my child happy at school?”. If the answer is yes, then great. That’s
what matters. It is our job as parents, as our children are peppered with targets, aims, objectives,
levels and reports, to always remind them of this: It doesn’t really matter. None of it does. It’s all
bollocks. Try your best, when you can (who can admit to trying their
best all the time?), and that is all we can ever ask. Ultimately, be happy, because you only get one
life and being happy, thoughtful and kind are always the most important things. And if you are all
these things, then life is yours to conquer. Go and conquer it with a smile on your face, and the rest
(like learning!) will come naturally.
The entire education system needs a re-haul, in fact it should be turned on its head, shaken about,
knocked down and completely rebuilt. But no politician, from what I can see, will have the guts to do
that. So let us – you, me, every parent – do our part. Reset our children’s expectations of
themselves, and tell your child’s teacher your thoughts too.
And, while you’re at it, give them a compliment, high-five or a bottle of wine – God knows they deserve it.
Jake Rusby | Rusby Media