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Friday, 4 April 2014

The solution for over-tested school children?

With all the current press coverage about the government's plans to start testing pre-school children, it takes me back to the reason we started home education in the first place.  I feel fully justified in sporting a slightly smug expression now that, nearly 12 years on, I am very happy we did so.  Could this latest threat to childhood lead to many more people jumping the same way?

Our story in brief

Our eldest daughter was 12 and elder son was 10 back in 2002.  We had three younger ones of 4, 2 and a few months.  Our daughter was always top or thereabouts in school, our son was also pretty well up in the rankings.  However, 2001-2002 saw a big change in their respective school experiences.

I remember that, one week into high school, our daughter told us how the teachers turned from "nice" to "nasty".  One week to integrate and then the testing began.  I recall her revising for test after test after test.  I am not sure how many lessons involved teaching as most seem to be used for testing.  She was still doing well but in the course of the year, she became more and more tired and very disillusioned.

At the same time, our son's class at junior school seemed to go into behavioural meltdown coinciding with the retirement of a senior member of staff who seemed to be the glue holding the class together in the previous year.  I remember tales of fights and furniture being thrown around by a small group of unruly pupils.  I remember the cover teachers walking out and no effective teaching taking place.  In all, his class saw nine different teachers before the arrival of an inspirational male teacher in the final term who pulled things back together but by that time, we had decided to jump ship and home educate.

Waiting in the wings was our next daughter, aged 4, and due to start school in September 2002.  We had put her name down at the infant school the previous year.  She had been attending a wonderful Montessori nursery and we loved the ethos and methods - so child-centred!  However, my husband still recalls the moment as if it was yesterday, that he stood in our house and suddenly realised that we were about to "lose" her to the school system.  It didn't take long before we decided it was to be home education all the way.

Our brush with testing

Currently we are back in exam season when we come up against the hurdles our children need to jump if they want to move smoothly on to higher education.  It is always stressful but it will be OK.  It will not matter what marks they get, I know they can keep their positive outlook.  They have learned there is more than one way to do things and that you don't need to be conventional and, for example, go to sixth form at 16 because that is what everybody else does.  There is such a thing as an early gap year that still satisfies the powers that be regarding the new legislation e.g. full-time work, distance learning courses.

I wonder...

I look at our family now and wonder to what extent they would have been afflicted by the unhappiness that is blighting the lives of too many British children.  Ours are a pretty bright lot though not without their eccentricities and teenage strop-outs but on the whole, they are happy and they realise it too.

I wonder if more parents are likely to vote with their feet if the proposals to test two year olds become reality.  I also wonder how best to help the disadvantaged children in deprived areas who are the ones who would most benefit from intervention of some sort.  Perhaps it is their parents who need the teaching and guidance in how to nurture their children and not the children themselves who need testing. Who wants to be branded a "failure" at the grand old age of two!

You may like to read the following blog posts by other bloggers whose articles particularly touched me before I wrote this post:
Ross Mountney: "Forget testing - start trusting"
Leoarna:  "What I know about British kids"
Michael Rosen: "Why Wilshaw is wrong"

Mr Smile also has something to say on the matter on his Happy blog