Academic success appears to be the be-all and end-all in life, especially if you listen to our politicians. But could the way there be very different from the route they advocate?
This article was first published by Nadja Flowerdew @ Weaving Rainbows on 25 October 2018. To read more of her articles, make your way over to weaving-rainbows.co.uk.
We live in a high-stakes society where existential angst and fear of failing are rife. Nowhere is this more in evidence than in the field of education. Fuelled by alarmist news about Britain under-performing in international literacy and numeracy comparisons, top politicians urge us to pull up our socks and knuckle down. And the “us” to blame for the frightful situation we’re in is… our children.
In 2015 education was top news. Backed by then education secretary Michael Gove , David Cameron declared war on “mediocrity in schools” as part of his election campaign. And I suppose some would call it progress that the debate has moved on from how best to teach to how to keep schools open – funding rows are now the order of the day.
“Children must work harder, have longer school days and shorter holidays” – Michael Gove, former education secretary, 2013
But the overall thinking of the powers that be towards learning is the same in 2015, as I found out attending my six year-old’s Year 2 info evening recently. “More, sooner, harder” appears to be the mantra driving the non-educators that write the national curriculum and impose it on the real experts, the everyday superheros we call teachers. And it filters through, insidiously, into preschools and nurseries (learning to spell before they’re out of nappies) and families (hushed playground conversations about “painful” homework). A friend once recited to me her 16 year-old’s weekly schedule. It made me dizzy to listen to her list all the extracurricular activities, instrument lessons, volunteering etc that kept this young lady busy well into the evening on most days. And while this sort of lifestyle may be ok for a select few, mental health problems are on the rise amongst children and teenagers, with a significant proportion experiencing burn-out!
So, what’s the solution? Are we to abandon standards, leave it up to our kids how they want to spend the day, cut school hours by half and let them do as they like the rest of the time?