One week at school, age 4 and home work set!!!!   6 comments

My granddaughter Scarlett stated school this week, she was very excited to be going to ‘big school’.

She is one of the older children in the year group, having a December birthday – but she is still 4 and in the reception class, where I know she should be following the Early Years Foundation Stage curriculum. (EYFS)

Scarlett has been to part time nursery and so is used to activities and experiences to support her development towards the goals within the Early Years Foundation Stage (that most children will meet by the time they finish the reception year).

My personal view that the EYFS Goals are not appropriate will be put aside for this blog because what has happened to Scarlett is far more worrying than even those blessed numeracy and literacy goals.

Scarlett’s first day at school was brilliant – she loved it. The school had arranged for just the children who were new to the school to attend on the Monday. This meant that those children who previously attended the schools nursery did not go on Monday – and this meant there were around 18 children present – including Scarlett. Some of her friends from her old nursery also attended and as I say Scarlett love it.

Tuesday was a different matter – all the children attended and it was chaos with children crying, mothers crying and fathers fretting. There were not enough staff to handle the distressed children, never mind the upset and concerned parents.

My daughter left Scarlett at school and phoned me in tears, saying ‘Mum it was brutal, I did not want to leave her’. Scarlett is my daughters second child and she is used to both school and nursery drop off, and this was the first time she had been in tears. I calmed her and suggested she phoned the school – which she did. School agreed that it had not been acceptable at drop off time and that they would ensure there were extra staff the next day. My daughter was slightly reassured but still worried as Scarlet has a number of issues including  sensory issues and has already had support for this and there is a concern that like her older brother she may be on the autistic spectrum (although being a girl it had been assumed this was less likely – but those who keep up to date with such things know that  just this week there has been news items about girls and autism). Anyway as my daughter was concerned staff offered to go to the reception class to take a photo to send to my daughter.

And they did send a photo to her  but it was the wrong child! My daughter did inform them and did delete the photo from her phone in front of them – but it is worrying that such a mistake can happen.

Over the next three days there were further concerns

Scarlett was ‘left behind’ when the class went into the hall – it seems she had gone to the toilet but no one had counted the children out of the class or into the hall and so no one noticed that Scarlett was missing.

Scarlett managed to get ‘lost’ within the school as she had tried to find a quiet place, and again no one noticed.

Scarlett’s new shoes were rubbing her feet – so much that her feet bled – she told her teacher but no one told her mum.

And on Friday Scarlett was found by another parent on her own in the playground having been let out before an adult had arrived to collect her. At the end of school the gates are open and any child could wander out of the school to try and find their parent or try to get home. As it was Scarlett was being picked up by her old nursery as they provide before and after school care, and the nursery staff are well known to the school – so no reason why Scarlett should have been let out before nursery staff got there.

As a grandmother – all these things have caused me to worry about Scarlett’s safeguarding while at school.

However, as hinted at in the title and first part of this blog – there was worse to come and in my opinion also a safeguarding issues in the wider sense of the word – that to her well being and mental health – and indeed her academic success in the long term.

After just FIVE days at school and still FOUR, Scarlett had homework set!!!

First a reading book – not a picture book that many schools do send home with children to share with their parents, the idea of course being to look at the pictures, describe what they can see – and if they want to ‘tell a story’ based on the picture – but without any right or wrong to the description or the story.

However Scarlett’s first book home from school had words in it – admittedly just one sentence per page – but this one sentence means there is a right and a wrong  focus to how a child describes the picture.

BUT even this was not the thing that had me wanting to scream  in anger and frustration, and quite frankly made me feeling like jumping on a train and rushing to London to camp on the doorstep of the DfE until someone listened to me and stopped this utter nonsense and harmful practice.

You see – Scarlett had a list of SPELLINGS to learn!!!!!!

Like most of her peers, Scarlett does not yet know her letter sounds and has not started any phonics system at school (not that I think she should be doing so yet)

She is interested in letters – at least the ones in her name – but that is it  – a good healthy interest which in my opinion is right for her age.

However, I can’t help feeling that Scarlett’s interest is about to get ‘squished’ because she HAS to learn these spellings and HAS to be able to spell all the words required by October – no ifs or buts – because the letter that was sent to parents said this was a ‘NO EXCUSE’ policy – spellings must be learnt by all children

WHAT ON EARTH IS HAPPENING ?

WHERE DOES IT SAY IN THE EYFS THAT CHILDREN STILL UNDER COMPULSORY  SCHOOL AGE HAVE TO LEARN SPELLINGS – AND AT HOME?

WHY IS THERE A ONE SIZE FITS ALL POLICY ON THIS?

WHERE IS THE UNIQUE CHILD IN ALL OF THIS?

WHERE IS THE PLAY BASED CURRICULUM?

Readers may guess by the capitals that I am cross – very cross.

This goes against all the research about how young children learn, and against the evidence that children who are introduced to formal academic learning at a later age (6 or 7) do much better in the long term – and become confident readers for pleasure as well as for studying.

Whereas those who are pushed into formal academic learning earlier – and indeed Too Much, Too Soon do less well and some ‘switch off completely’ and never become competent, confident readers.

You only have to look at the number of children who need extra support in school with reading and writing – and the number of young people leaving school without GCSE, to know that the policy of earlier academic learning is just not working.

Children need to start school later, they need to play more until they are 6 as a minimum and ideally 7.

So my granddaughter Scarlett and my other granddaughter Selena who starts school this week, and all their peers are being set up to fail, set up not to reach their personal potential (however that might  look), set up to be yet more children who are the ‘guinea pigs’ of a government that is not prepared to listen to those who understand child development, or to take heed of the realms and realms of research about such things, and long term data about school leavers in this country and other countries.

Scarlett and Selena  – Granny is sorry – I have been trying to get the government to listen, I really have (and so have many of Granny’s friends and colleagues) – but so far I (we) have failed, I have failed you all, I have not made a enough difference to stop this nonsense of homework, spellings for 4 yr olds.

You should be playing, you should be outside climbing, running. digging in sand and pouring water, growing things, using your imagination and having fun.

I promise I will keep on trying – but I have a horrid feeling it will be too late for many of your peers – and maybe even for you.

The Government has a lot to answer for – and if only they would listen, they would find out that actually they could achieve their aim of a ‘good education for all’ just by letting children start academic learning later and by playing for longer.

Update One                                                                                                                                                     Scarlett had a terrible night waking up upset, and in the morning stated she was frighten about getting lost at school. My daughter did not send her to school, but phone the school to arrange an urgent meeting with the school head – which to be fair to the school was arranged for first thing this morning. My daughter had spoken to several other parents and the nursery staff, and knew many others were concerned about safeguarding of these very young children at the school- and about the homework, particularly the spellings.

Update Two                                                                                                                                               My daughter and her husband brought Scarlett and her sister, to my house first thing this morning so I could look after them while they attended the meeting with the school head.

The children have now been collected from me, and my daughter has reported a very positive meet with the Head Teacher, who she said was very apologetic and listened not only to my daughter’s concerns but also to suggestions as a way forward. The Head was grateful that at this stage my daughter wanted to resolve the issues for Scarlett and support all the children in reception to have more positive experiences at school.

So;

Another TA will be employed in the class – to help woth all the children

Scarlett will be told who her ‘special person’ is so she knows who to seek support from

Reception staff will be spoken to and they may make some staff changes

Scarlett will be provided with a safe place in the classroom for when she needs it and a box of sensory / twiddle toys to help her self regulate. Staff will be available to help her co regulate if needed.

A safe place will be establish in the playground where Scarlett and other children can go to – and where staff will keep an eye open for for children needing support

Routines around drop off and collection will be reviewed and changes made

AND my daughter has been invited back to school this afternoon so she can see for herself the changes made.

As too the homework and those spellings?                                                                                  The Head said that maybe it was a mistake sending that letter to reception children, and that it was a badly worded letter. She has promised to send out another letter saying that any homework is voluntary, and the children do not need to learn spellings – but that most would know these words by the end of the reception year

My Thoughts?                                                                                                                                                     The schools response has been quick and positive, I hope Scarlett and her peers now have a much better experience at school. I am pleased that my daughter listened to my advice and had the strength to follow through and meet with the school head.

I could of course say a lot more about the curriculum provided, but as this is a ‘soapbox’ issue for me – I won’t harp on now (those interested can read previous blogs), the immediate issues have hopefully been dealt with – which for Scarlett and her peers was the most important thing to address.

I hope this blog and the updates will give other parents and grandparents encouragement to speak to schools if they have any concerns – and to use the internet through social media and blogs, to raise awareness of these issues and to support people to come together and speak with one voice, so that changes can be brought about.

If like me you are concerned about the whole Too Much, Too Soon for our youngest children, please do consider coming together with others to speak up. There are many organisations that are campaigning against formal academic learning for the under 7’s and particularly those under CSA. To get our message to reach government ears we need the combined voice of parents, grandparents, teachers, early years professionals – and in fact anyone who is concern about children’s and young people’s well being and futures

Posted September 11, 2016 by psw260259 in My thoughts on current childcare issues

6 responses to “One week at school, age 4 and home work set!!!!

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  1. Penny, your rage is justified! So sorry your grand daughter has had such a crushing first week in the ‘sausage factory’. I have seen and heard similar so many times. As a pre-school manager sending known, loved, playful and inquisitive, wonderful children on to school was a yearly exercise in despair management. Into the one size fits all world of spellings and tests they went, in their one look for everyone uniforms. The teachers so consumed with the need to get them up to scratch that the records of all their play and our offerings of all we knew about them always politely but firmly put to one side. And that was before the Conservatives made the whole experience even more test-oriented. I just do not know what more we can do!

    • Thank you Catherine
      In my opinion it is getting worse, much worse.
      I am hearing from lots of parents and grandparents that my granddaughters experience is not unique. However, I am also hearing that some schools offer much more appropriate environments and experiences.

      So there is hope but in my opinion it is just not good enough if even one school puts children through this – and I know that it will have a negative impact on well being, mental health and academic progress.

  2. Penny as your granddaughter is not 5 yet I would try to persuade your daughter not to get caught up in what the school are saying. She has every right to say I will not do this homework with my child. I’m sure you have untold amounts of research to back up what you are saying. Is it an academy she is attending?

    • This is just what I have told heard – both when she was relaying ths information, and last night when I spoke to Scarlett on the phone. Scarlett was crying but through her tears I managed to work out that Scarlett is worried about getting lost at school. No child should be scared of getting lost and should be able to rely on adults to keep them safe and to help them manage their own risks.

      As to the homework – it remains undone but my daughter is feeling the pressure and does not want Scarlett to be left behind, and so has order some play based items to try and help Scarlett (but even though play based – it is not really play as adult led) – how dreadful that any parent is made to feel like this.

  3. Penny ,I feel for you and your grandchildren. Our small village school took in 17 reception children who have all had a very positive start, all coming out with the ‘no words’ picture book in their very empty book bags and big smiles on their faces at the end of the first week.
    My granddaughter has had a very positive reception year and has been able to read every day and change her book, at her own pace as with all her peer group. They have all achieved great targets but are all at different levels.
    This term, year 1, they will all have a homework book which will come home on a Wednesday and need to be returned to school on the Monday giving plenty of time to talk about and do the set piece of work which will relate to the topic. All involve finding something in your house , 4 things that are square , number of Windows, are 2 that I remember and maybe drawing one of them. All achievable without hours of research.
    First homework to get help covering your book so you will recognise it, a task we all have proficiency in. Maddy has used stencils and cut out my little pony pics and we covered it in sticky backed plastic but she has loved doing it. BUT this is only once a week and she is now 5. And she is a girl. Most of the boys in her year are nowhere near as ready as her but they have much better ball skills than she has and need to have more sport time so they can then spend a little time concentrating
    .
    My first minded child is visiting from Canada. His children go to a French school in Ottawa where they have no formal education until 7. By which time his,now .8 year old can knit ,crochet,sew, make bread, and has learned masses of poems and passages amongst a whole heap of life skills. Why do we feel it is so essential to be literate when we struggle to comprehend day to day tasks? Oh, Adia is also bilingual as her family are English, but both speak French as well.
    I do hope your school experience improved considerably but I can’t see you sitting back and saying nothing. Incidentally our reception children often go and find a cushion in the corner and fall asleep in the afternoon, especially the younger ones.
    As for your playground issues, you must say something, and as for being left in the Loo!! I spend my time counting the children from one space to another. I wish you well in this enormous task x

    • Thank you Ruth for passing on encouraging news about the school in your area and your granddaughters experience.

      You are right – I will be doing something. Writing this blog means I know have it confirmed that it is not just my granddaughter school doing these things – but that it is not consistently like this. Why are these things also a postcode lottery? Why are our children’s not all good and all based on the same educational principles – that of learning through play.

      Those children who live in other countries are indeed lucky if they start school at 6 or 7 and as your example given, shows develop lots of life skills which then supports their academic learning.

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