Parents Defending Education Campaign
On Saturday 22nd April I had the great pleasure of attending the Parents Defending Education meeting, held to help organise parents who want to oppose the draconian changes in state education outlined in the education White Paper. Parents Defending education initially want to start with these five points:
No forced academies, no privatisation of our schools
No more “high stakes” testing, take the pressure off students and teachers.
No more cuts, do not impose austerity on our children.
Ensure a good place for every child.
Defend parents’ democratic rights in school and at the local government level.
Parents across the country, in every school, village and town are encouraged to meet, discuss and organise to protect our children from dreadful changes rapidly changing the fabric of our society.
Parents Defending Education back the Let Our Kids be Kids mass protest to excessive testing of our children. On Tuesday 3rd May families are encouraged to keep their children home from school in protest to the testing. Please see their Facebook page for Let Our Kids be Kids. If you can’t participate directly in the protest, sign and share the petitions and get in touch with Parents Defending Education parentsdefendingeducation at gmail dot com. Also, click on the image below and listen to Michael Rosen’s 10 minute chat about myriad of problems the academy system poses for children, teachers, parents and society.
As a little bit of background, I am not merely London Baby and Kids Mum, I am also a teacher. When I moved to the UK from Chicago 13 years ago, I was a day to day supply teacher in various state schools in and around London. I saw lots of primary schools and noticed that all of them were amazingly well-staffed. I would come home from work each night and tell my husband about the teaching assistants, learning support assistants, the SEN (special education needs) provisions, the reasonable numbers of children in each classroom and the beautiful resources. This was so much different from working in Chicago Public Schools, everything was in place for students and teachers to succeed. There were guided reading books, maths manipulatives, phonics games, many schools had interactive whiteboards. As I became more familiar with the National Curriculum, I came to know that these were the best practices I had learned about in my graduate coursework. The state primary schools I saw all embodied the best resources and the best practices. After my own children were born, we happily sent them off to state schools and for my eldest, and her cohort, they thrived.
Then there was a regime change and our government began to incentivise schools to become academies by offering big pots of money. Soon these schools began playing around with the National Curriculum, pushing children into doing work that was inappropriate for their individual abilities, testing children, and removing the experienced-based learning from the education to make time for tests. I learned first-hand what affect this can have on a little boy.
Almost two years ago, I collected my son from his day in Reception. It was a beautiful warm, sunny day; his older sister was going off with a friend and it was going to just be the two of us. To make it even more special, I had packed some digestive biscuits into a plastic container to give to him as a treat. He was a bit quiet and subdued on his way home, as he generally was after school in those days, I tried my best to perk him up and enjoy this one on one time together. He asked for another biscuit and when I handed him the container, he fumbled with it and the biscuits tipped out and landed on the pavement. My son immediately started crying uncontrollably; he threw the container on the ground, sat down in the middle of the pavement, sobbing, saying: “Mommy, I hate school. I can’t do the work. It is so tricky. It is way too tricky. It is too hard. I just can’t do it”. At the tender age of five, my son was defeated.
There is nothing wrong with my son, he is clever and extremely capable. At four years of age he was not learning to read fast enough, though we practiced every evening, to write independently (this is completely normal). The school wanted him to learn his number bonds to ten, to memorise ten spelling words each week; they wanted him to practice this every evening after school instead of playing and unwinding after being defeated all day in school. There are lots of kids who can do this, but my son was not one of them and we experienced the wrath of this pressure in our home. My son slowly devolved into an incredibly anxious boy, exhibiting worrying behaviours.
My son was not the only reception child experiencing this level of defeat; friends from across London where sharing the exact same stories. Kids pushed into doing work that is sometimes too hard, sometimes too boring, sometimes meaningless work to pass exams.
My kids, my friends’ kids … we are extremely privileged; our houses are warm, we have enough to eat, we all are able to fit work around our kids, to be somewhat “hands-on” with their education. Now imagine the impact this curriculum will have on families who are not as privileged. How would a child experiencing emotional or financial insecurity at home produce their best with this kind of learning? What are the options for a family with a kid, like mine, who is breaking down mentally from an abusive education environment? What kinds of outcomes are we going to have as a society from these kinds of schools? What will happen when are schools are no longer inclusive of all children (the SEN issue is huge)? What will it mean for democracy when our children’s education has no government oversight?
For these reasons, and many more, I encourage you to participate in any way you can to block the implementation of the forced academy plan. If you are able to even get a few other concerned parents together, you will get help and guidance from Parents Defending Education in the coming weeks. Mums need to unite and fight for our schools, we need to turn back the education White Paper, keep our local education authorities and turn our school back into the best practice learning environments that I saw back in 2003.