Our Education system is just not working in many ways – for my grandsons or for many other children   3 comments

……. Continuing the story of Ben and Josh (but also the story of many other children)

Back in 2012 I wrote a blog about my twin grandsons Ben and Josh who at the time had just celebrated their 3rd birthday with a party at a soft play centre which you can read here if you want to. Blog about twins 3rd birthday party

However here is a quick overview to put this blog into context, Ben and Josh were born 9 weeks early at the end of August 2009, they spent a lot of time in hospital eventually being allowed home  around their due date, and even then they needed medication and support, and lots of check ups, especially Josh who  needed more intervention. They made good progress when benchmarked against their due date, but were slightly behind those born full term on the day they were born, as you would expect.

Ben and Josh went to nursery part time and became good friends with William who by coincidence was born around about the same time as Ben and Josh’s due date, so developmentally the 3 boys –Ben, Josh and William were well matched. This is what I observed at the twins 3rd birthday, 3 little  boys all having a great time, and all developmentally more or less equal. It was a discussion with William’s mummy that brought it home to me that Ben and Josh would be disadvantaged by the school admissions policy as they would be required to start school in September 2013 whereas William would be required to start in  September 2014, even though they all should have been born in the same month and were developmentally all at the same stage.

Although at the time I said I would continue to observe the three boys at future parties, the opportunity did not present itself, and I did not attend the twins 4th or 5th birthday parties.

I also decided out of respect to Ben and Josh and the school they went to in September 13, that although I was kept very informed and involved about Ben and Josh’s schooling, I would not blog about it.

However I now have permission to continue the story…..

Great care was taken over the decision about which school Ben and Josh should go to, there were two state primary schools that were considered, the smaller of the two was selected because of the play based reception year, the forest school and of course the smaller size of the school.

Even so my daughter and son in law were concerned about Ben and Josh starting school a week after their 4th birthday (and especially considering their early birth) that they did ask if they could delay the boys starting school for a year. They were told that yes they could delay starting school, but that the boys would have to go straight into Year One the following year.

What a decision for worried parents to have to make. My daughter did discuss this with me, but in the end decided that it would be better for the boys to experience reception and ‘get used’ to school, rather than having to make the leap from part time nursery to full time Year One.

My personal thought is why is this the case, if the boys had been born on or near their due date –or even 6 weeks early (instead of 9 weeks) they would not have been allowed to start school in 2013.

It would have been against the admission policy.

Surely it should be against the admissions policy to make children like Ben and Josh start school based on their date of birth not their due date?

In my opinion summerborn children are at a disadvantage because they often start AND finish the reception year while still 4.

Premature summerborns have a double disadvantage.

However, the ill thought out admissions policy means parents have to make these difficult decisions, and not being educational experts have to go with their ‘gut instinct’ based on their good knowledge of their children, but weak knowledge about schools and education.

And so in September 2013,  Ben and Josh started school, while their friend William stayed at nursery.

I should make it clear that Ben and Josh enjoyed their reception year, they did cope socially with their peers and made friends. They enjoyed the mainly play based curriculum and being able to choose which activities they took part in, with Ben choosing to do more table based activities than Josh.

However although well behaved at school, it was a different story at home, (especially after Christmas when more formal activities were introduced, and dare I suggest it, staff started preparing for the end foundation stage profiles and needing to know what each child could and could not do), with the boys being tired, and rather grumpy, and throwing some spectacular tantrums. Nice chatty family mealtimes were replaced by fraught occasions with the boys clearly needing a quick ‘sugar rush’ after school and the resulting demands for high sugar foods and more tantrums when told they could have fruit but nothing else until tea was ready. As a result the fun filled bedtime routines of bath and story, became yet more battles, with my daughter saying she hates admitting it but she started to get bath, story and bed into a shorter and shorter time frame, because she did not want herself or the boys to experience such fraught occasions (or to have these memories as their main ones to recall in the future) .My daughter said that many of the boys peers parents also reported similar behaviour at home, which suggests that the children (without being able to name it) were stressed, just by being in school and starting to move towards more structured activities and assessments (all be it observational based) about what they could and could not do, and those like Ben and Josh who were not developmentally as mature as their oldest peers, it became more difficult for them to ‘keep up’.

Time marched on, and it was time for reports and parents evenings. Ben and Josh had not done very well in the assessments for end Foundation Stage profile, words like failing, not achieving, not as hoped,  were used. Shocking words for parents to hear, about their children, and no parent should hear these words, they should be told how well their child is doing, and how the school is supporting the child in areas of weakness. I am not blaming the school, particularly, although they could have used better words to describe the boys attainment levels. I blame the whole system of having to benchmark such young children’s progress. Benchmarking is not about individual children, it is about league tables, and government criteria. Shameful, and completely not needed for children of this age, nor are all the assessments carried out on children under 5 in pre schools, nurseries and childminder settings.

I am not saying that teachers and early years practitioners should not assess the children, – of course they should, but it should be holistic not focussed on specific outcomes, such as the Early Learning goals; it should take into account things like premature birth, or family trauma or ill health (in fact anything that might impact on a child’s well being); it should consider things children can’t do rather than choosing not to do at that moment in time, and things that cause concern – when taken all the areas which might impact on development into account. It is generally agreed that children all develop as individuals following their interests, even the EYFS says this –so why at end of the early years foundation stage (and indeed before) do children have to fit into nice neat boxes of achievement, with concern shown if the child does not fit one or more of the boxes. Why are children in same year group, who can be 12 months or more apart in age be expected to reach the same levels of attainment? Why should all children regardless of age in years and months, and in life experiences and opportunities, all be expected to fit the boxes set by Government – which in my opinion are very narrow and do not value individual non academic strengths – at 5, 7, 11, 16 and 18 (and various points in between)?

Why do the government insist that test / assessments / exams HAVE to be taken at a certain point in time? It is only the ‘rules’ created by Government that makes this a requirement.

And in any case young people can take GCSE’s ‘early’, and once out of statutory education they can take exams and assessment at any age – so just what is the issue? (Of course I do know the issue – a self set requirement to gather data)

However I am digressing a little, because really Ben and Josh should not have been assessed because this assessment took place in June 14 when by birth date they were 4 years and 10months old, but if factored in their prematurity they were only 4 years 8 months old, so not compulsory school age at all. And children such as their friend William whose birth date matched the boys due date, were still in nursery and not subject to this assessment, William’s parents had a report from nursery that showed how well he was doing, how reassuring that must have been for his parents. If Ben and Josh had been born nearer to their due date, they would have also still been in nursery and been assessed as doing well. (Which without a doubt they were – it was only because they were in school, that they were assessed as not doing well)

My daughter was understandably upset, and worried about the twins, she mentioned to the boys class teacher about the possibility of them repeating reception but did not push the issue as it clearly was not the ‘done thing’ in the school.

My daughter asked me for advice-should she get them a private tutor over the holidays? Should she consider private school? What could she do to help her boys ‘catch up’?

I gave advice based on good early years practice of following the boys interests, things like keep score when playing football, lots of stories, cooking activities, helping mum and dad, doing things as a family such as trips out –all things it has to be said that my daughter was already doing.

As I said to her, the boys didn’t need to ‘catch up’ because they were still FOUR.

I did consider writing a blog at this stage, but as the boys were staying at the school and going into Year One, I thought they really didn’t need Granny blogging and telling the world about them and their school –so I kept quiet.

I saw the boys over the summer holidays 2014, and in my professional opinion and my Granny opinion, they were doing well, in fact very well.

Roll onto September 2014 and the boys started in Year One, while their friend William started reception in the same school., and the only difference of course being William was born near his due date and the twins were born 9 weeks early.

At the boys first parents evening of the year, my daughter was slightly reassured because she was told, ‘taking into consideration their age, the boys are doing quite well’. However, a bit further into the year and it was suggested the boys needed some ‘booster’ sessions to help them meet the targets.

Meanwhile Ben and Josh had started to notice that they were not doing as well as the oldest in the class. They started saying they were ‘stupid’ ; that their handwriting was ‘rubbish’, they disengaged with doing things at home that their parents tried to support them with. They started to ask ‘why’ questions about school and their friends doing things better.

So my daughter and son in law decided they needed to speak to the head of the school about the possibility of the boys repeating year one.

An appointment was made, and my daughter and her mother in law attended the meeting (my son in law was at work, but his mother had personal experience having held the boys aunt back a year, and so was a good person to go with my daughter)

I live too far away to attend school meetings, but with support from my colleague Michelle from the summerborn campaign, I provided a lot of useful information and facts, which supported the research that my daughter had done.

Armed with all this information my daughter and her mother in law, attended the meeting with the head of the school.

I have no intention of reporting the things said in the meeting, but it is suffice to say that the boys were not given the opportunity to repeat year one at that that school. However what I will comment on is the head teachers complete disregard for my daughters concerns, and the unprofessional way she spoke to my daughter and her mother in law. Both were shocked. They were also shocked at the heads attitude that the boys could ‘muddle along’, that she made no suggestions about how the boys could be supported in Year Two. And she did not consider being born 9 weeks early at the end of August as an issue. She said research showed that summerborns did  as well as autumn borns –which is surprising as the DfE’s own research states that month of birth does make a difference.

The result of this meeting with the head is that the boys have now left this school, and after Easter will be starting a new school,a school where every child is supported, and where the head fully understands about premature children and summerborns, and gifted children. In fact my daughter now knows about other children moved from the boys old school who are now thriving at the school the boys will be attending after Easter.

As the boys Granny, I hope they settle quickly and thrive in their new school.

As a campaigner, I am outraged that the boys have had to move school because of a heads attitude, and an admission policy that is not fair or workable or standardised across the country.

And meanwhile their friend William is still enjoying reception year –as I said in my 2012 blog about the boys 3rd birthday  It is just not right’

Not just not right for my grandsons, but for other premature children, and other summerborns

I hinted at the beginning of this blog that our education system is not working in more than one way – consider what my story about Ben and Josh would be like if I was writing it after baseline testing at the beginning of reception comes in(for children aged 4)  – most likely the boys would have ‘failed’ within weeks of starting school.

Which is why I am so pleased that the NUT is demanding baseline testing is not implemented and plan to hold a ballot to boycott the tests.

Whilst remembering that all children are individual, and so it is not factually correct to say ‘all’, I will say ‘many’ because I know it is ‘many’ children that re ‘failed by this countries education policy

Many summerborns are already disadvantaged by our education system

Many premature children are disadvantaged by our education system

Many autumn born children are disadvantaged by our education system

Many gifted children are disadvantaged by our education system

Many children with SEND are disadvantaged by our education system

BUT

If baseline testing  comes in all these very young children  (4 year olds) will be benchmarked against national criteria, that will deem some to be ‘failures’, will benefit none of children taking the test, regardless of when they were born; and will not even be of any national educational benefit, not even to government

When will those who are responsible for our education policy stop interfering and stop making a mess of things?

When will children like my grandsons Ben and Josh stop being just a number, and start being an individual child with individual needs?

I am not blaming teachers, most are excellent, certainly Ben and Josh’s teachers were very good; but I do blame the system and those who are not prepared to stand up to those who know very little about children and education, but who carry on passing policies that impact on children in this country.

Ben and Josh are individual’s…… so are all the other children in this country.

It is time the children’s needs. were put first

It is time parents, early years practitioners, teachers, researchers and educational experts were listened to

Our education system need a complete overhaul; we need to stop this needless assessment; this drive to one size fits all narrow vision of success; this view that children can skip childhood and be programmed like robots at an ever increasing speed and from an earlier and earlier age.

Education does not need to be like this; it needs to be fit for purpose; it needs to meet the needs of the children of this country; it needs to acknowledge and use the expertise and professionalism of early years practitioners and teachers; it needs to ensure that children and young people develop the skills to be creative in their thinking and their actions, and adaptable to cope  with whatever the world is like when they are adults; and to flourish in all aspects of their  lives, including their own well being, of health and happiness.

My grandsons Ben and Josh are just two little boys, in fact they are just two of my 10 grandchildren, just two of the children in their new school, just two of the children in this country – and each and every child deserves to be treated as an individual, and to have access to an education system that allows them to reach their full potential not just to fit into boxes designed for an ‘average’ child that does not exist.

It is time we stopped failing the children of this county –not just Ben and Josh – all of them

Posted April 13, 2015 by psw260259

3 responses to “Our Education system is just not working in many ways – for my grandsons or for many other children

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  1. Such a heart breaking story! Children born in the summer should have the automatic right to choose which year they start. My daughter is August born too and will also not be 5 at any point in reception if I’m unable to delay her start. I’m glad they’ve moved on and have the chance to shine!

    Samantha McCormick
  2. Great blog. Hope your grandsons are doing well now. My August born son is in reception and deemed “behind”. He is not “behind” but a normal 4 year old boy. His teachers are lovely but the school is gunning for outstanding at Ofsted and I worry the pressure will filter down and really start to affect his self esteem. I wish I had pushed harder for delay but our LEA is very difficult even for those children with “real” SENs. I hope the people in charge of the education of this country start to put children first instead of blindly following some outdated ideologies about testing.

  3. The schools around here probably Hate me but I make it very clear to the parents of my childminded children that the children do not have to be in school everyday until the term after they are 5. If they are ill, tired or just need space keep them home!! Several parents have done this and their children have coped better with school for the rest. Our first 3 children went to school but because of the changes to the school system our last child has been home educated – he hasn’t got the hundreds of GCSE’s school expects to impose on them but he has done things time in school would have encroached on. Best of all he knows he can do things instead of being labelled as a failure with his severe dyslexia.

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