There have been many letters on the Internet this week addressed to Nicky Morgan, but this is one that particularly struck a chord with me. The #letkidsbekids strike took place on Tuesday of this week and the momentum behind it is still growing. The more people who speak up and stand up for our children the more impact letters like this will have. Childhood, as I have said on many an occasion, is a time where there should never be stress and pressure. And certainly not just so schools can prove they are doing a good job.
Please read and share this letter everywhere…
Dear Nicky Morgan, Secretary of State for Education
On May 3rd 2016, my daughter Mo was not at school, because we were supporting the ‘Let Kids Be Kids’ SATS boycott. By not sending Mo into school, I was doing the only remaining thing I could do to voice my disagreement about over-intensive testing, too early and too often, in primary schools. I have read with growing alarm much commentary written by teachers, headteachers and parents alike which expressed concern that the curriculum is narrowing to the detriment of the children’s education in order that we can perform these tests.
I’m very much in support of Mo’s school, and I know that the vast majority of letters the Department for Education will receive as part of this protest will be saying the same things: that the schools we removed our children from are professionally run, warm, creative places; that they are full of helpful, genuine committed staff; that the children are well looked after; that the children are encouraged and respected and prioritised. This letter is no different. My daughter loves her school. She loves the diverse, creative ways in which she is taught (even though I know your plans are to remove the OFSTED judgment on teaching method and focus entirely on ‘results’). The teachers are experienced, imaginative people who battle increasingly draconian working conditions, who always manage to show kindness and interest in her as an individual, regardless of their workload. Teachers already know how my daughter is doing – they would not be doing their jobs adequately if they didn’t. To enforce these tests suggests a total lack of respect for their ability to perform the job we know they can do. Teachers already have to tolerate disrespectful levels of scrutiny into their jobs by people who know little about education, and who refuse to meaningfully engage with their expert opinions. As a parent I have fully supported the industrial actions of the teachers unions in the past and taken my daughter on their marches to demonstrate that support. The tests aren’t for parents, they’re not for the teachers, they’re certainly not for the children who take them. So who are they for?
The last thing I wanted to do is add to the burden of criticism that the school already faces from the department for education and its inspectors, and I sincerely regret that by taking her out for the day, the school’s attendance figures will be affected. But you’re wrong that taking a child out of school ‘even for one day’ will damage their education. It might affect ‘results’, as you measure them, but that’s not what education is. My little girl, who is six, spent the day reading. She was so immersed in a world of dragons that when she finished the book she set about drawing a picture of her favourite scene. That’s a result. She cycled for an hour, and when she eventually wobbled and fell off she laughed herself silly in a heap. That’s a result. We discovered that today was International Firefighters Day, so we made a card for the local fire station. They thought that was a result, and so did we. She learnt how delicate carrot seedlings are, and how to carefully transplant them when they’re big enough. That’s also a result. None of these will count for a single ‘raw mark’ in the tests you’re making her sit, though, will they?
But listen. If the teachers themselves are being largely ignored, something’s gone really wrong. I understand that the NUT has just voted to ballot for a boycott of all primary school tests, and I’ll be behind them if they go ahead. As parents we have very little influence over the curriculum, and that’s usually a good thing: most of us aren’t teachers. But our voices are being more and more muffled: especially if the Government goes ahead with replacing parent governors, a crucial link between the home and school life of our kids, with businesspeople. So it falls to us to act in whatever small way we can.
Someone needs to stand up for our young children if what we’re hearing over and again from parents and teachers (albeit off-the-record) is that testing makes the children stressed, makes the children feel like failures even if they’re doing well (because the goalposts keep changing), and is largely useless as a method of bringing about better ‘results’. It’s time to return to the essence of education: putting the needs of our children first. Not the needs of a government intent on proving the efficacy of its agenda over the agenda of the previous government, which is essentially what all of this comes down to.