Dear Little Ones,
They’re at it again! Messing with your stuff without telling you! It’s not quite so bad as that time when your Mum threw out all your McDonalds toys when you were sleeping (how could she?!). This time they’re trying to change your schools. Again. What a surprise. Some people need to get a hobby. Let’s take a look.
Basically there are three people involved in deciding how you will be educated. You are not one of them until you’re a bit older which is a shame because a school designed by you would be something to behold indeed!
YOUR PARENTS – Most of you are lucky enough to keep the same set of parents for your whole life but for those of you who aren’t somewhere out there is the perfect Mummy and Daddy or some other composition of family that will mean your life is filled with love but you may have to wait a bit to find it. Whatever you do, don’t lose hope because it will find you eventually. That’s probably a more important lesson than anything you’ll learn in school, but not the point of this blog so back to it.
THE GOVERNMENT OF THE DAY – Let’s be very clear that politicians want to genuinely do what’s best for the people who voted for them. It’s sort of a thank-you but it also encourages people to vote for them again. If they do a good job maybe more people will vote for them. And this is their downfall – they can never do anything unpopular with their voters, even if it’s good for them. So instead they do things that will make you like them. On the whole though they are trying to do the right thing – we should remember that.
TEACHERS – These are among my favourite people in the whole wide world. Not content with trying to guide 1 or 2 children through the world like the average Mummy or Daddy, they take on 30 at a time! They tolerate irate parents, governments changing the rules every 20 minutes, your vomit and watching their equally qualified peers earning 4 times more than them but in return they get to experience heartsing when you finally ‘get’ that you carry the one over to the next column. They get to share your wonder of the world and to re-explore all of those strange new lands that you’re discovering for the first time. Working with you little ones is the best job in the world by a mile. I have way more fun now than I ever did looking after the accountants at Tate & Lyle (hello accountants!)
You would think that when these three groups of people came together and said “what’s the best way to educate the children of the UK” that the teachers would be the experts at the table and the parents and politicians would be hanging on their every word. I know that’s what I would be doing. Indeed there are teachers out there, also known as Academics, who have taken it to a whole new level and conducted great big studies to find out what is the best way to educate a single child, a group of children and a whole nation of children. We have the evidence – we know how to do this. There is a university that leads the world in this and it’s in Roehampton, just down the road. Good news – the new Education Secretary is the MP for that area. She has surely gone to the University and discussed this plan with them. She will have realised that all the evidence suggests that if you are to make a real difference to children’s lives, increase their chances of social mobility, actually change their IQ and break patterns of illiteracy and poverty the only way to do it is by intervention in the early years, so that’s where we’ll intervene. There is clear scientific evidence that this works. The cost of intervention past the age of 7 is huge with very little success. Whereas intervention in the early years is cost effective and extremely successful – we have proof. We need to get in there before 7. So that’s what we’re doing ….right?
Don’t be silly!
Let’s bring back Grammar Schools!
WHAT ARE GRAMMAR SCHOOLS?
Grammar Schools are basically schools for the really clever kids. Anybody who wants to go is asked to sit an exam at the age of 11. The kids who get the best results get to go to the school.
WHAT ADVANTAGES ARE THERE TO GRAMMAR SCHOOLS?
Grammar schools do have advantages for the genuinely clever kids who are destined to be the next generation of academics. It’s a place to bring together brilliant minds from a young age. The kids who go to these schools get amazing results, but they would get amazing results whatever school they went to because the school have chosen to work with the cleverest kids who have applied. The real potential of Grammar Schools is that friendships and networks can be formed and that because they have top kids they can attract top speakers and even sponsorship. The science community in particular works in collaboration with top scientific studies including hundreds of scientists across many continents working together to prove or disprove a particular theory to further society. Grammar Schools can start to foster that manner of working because they have enough clever kids in the room to do it. In essence it’s a meeting of academic minds.
SOUNDS FABULOUS – LETS DO IT!
You’re right, it does sound amazing, and every parent in the world wants what’s best for their child. Who wouldn’t want their child to go to a school like that. The problem is that the places are limited and some of the grammar schools don’t set a catchment area, or the catchment area they do set is still huge. Our local grammar school has a catchment area of 30 miles! Imagine doing that journey twice a day at age 11. Some parents mistakenly think that their child is incapable of getting decent results in a different school – that the Grammar School is the only building in the area that holds the fairy dust necessary to get an A* at A-level maths (it isn’t of course – the fairy dust is in your head and the grade you get depends on how hard YOU work).
For other, more dangerous parents, having a child go to the local Grammar School is the same as owning a BMW instead of a Ford Mondeo – it’s a status symbol. I’m sorry if this is a description of your Dad. You’re probably wearing a Ralph Lauren Polo Shirt if this is your Dad. Look down and left – can you see a man on a horse holding a stick. If you can then encourage your mum to log on to Match.com. If she questions you just tell her it will help your A-level results – that should sort you out.
In both cases these parents are so desperate for their children to go to the Grammar School that they will spend money having their child tutored for literally years before the test to give them a better chance of getting in. That means instead of being out playing with their friends, practising their social skills, they have to sit down with a man or lady and do Maths and English questions or whatever questions the test is likely to have on it. That’s great for the test, but what happens when they get there?
DAD 1 “Yes, Tarquin got in to Tiffin boys you know. Had to spend £5000 on tutoring and give them a kidney though. How did Steve get on?”
DAD2 “Steve got in too because he’s clever and now he has to tolerate your child slowing the class down because he’s not really clever enough to be there.”
And of course it’s only the middle classes who can afford to pay for the tutoring, which despite the Grammar Schools saying you shouldn’t do EVERYBODY DOES and so the places go to the middle class kids with the occasional kid from the council estate making the grade because they have genuinely made the grade. In reality that kid from the council estate has wiped the floor with the middle class opposition and will probably continue to do so for their entire school career because they are also cool, good looking and an amazing human.
The current government want to make more grammar school places available and then guarantee a chunk of those places to poor kids but the side effect of doing so is that they are creating a massive number of Grammar School places for middle class kids which means by default that the working class kids left over will end up all together in the other schools. With funding for schools really tight parents are now contributing so schools with rich parents will be able to offer more for the kids in the school. Our local Grammar School asks for a £30 monthly donation. It’s voluntary and £30 is a suggested amount (you can go higher as well as lower or not at all), but it sets a horrible precedent that Grammar Schools could become a semi-private option for the middle classes with poorer families not wanting to apply because they can’t afford the donation and they’re not quite ready to give away their pride.
There were other announcements about universities opening schools and Private Schools offering more scholarships or opening free schools. Then the politicians from within their own party turned on one another before the opposition could get going, let alone the teachers have a say!
But nothing about investing in evidence based early years education which is proven to stay with you throughout your entire academic career.
WHAT SHOULD WE BE DOING?
Crikey don’t ask me – I’m a parent! I personally think we should ask the teachers. I work in the Early Years sector so I’m very well read in terms of the evidence in the field and I’m of course a complete convert but most parents are novices. They think nursery is just you lot mucking about in sand until the reading books come home!
I don’t think we should be asking politicians either. Every time we have a new government we have a brand new change in policy. The teachers have to learn a new curricula faster than Madonna’s dancers need to learn new routines! Technically the political party in power hasn’t changed and yet this new education policy is not on the manifesto upon which they were elected. That’s like Madonna asking her dancers to learn a whole load of new dance routines whilst they’re in the middle of a world tour! It’s just getting crazy now – how much lycra do these teachers need?!?!?
If it were me in charge of the world I would divorce education from politics and form an education trust whose role was to assess all of the latest evidence from around the world and use it to create the best state school system possible where all the schools are equally good so kids can just go to their local school. I would mix up the postcode selection a bit so that each school had the whole mix of kids from the area, posh to poor all in one room. After all, school is about preparing kids for real life. We can’t expect children to grow up to be wonderfully tolerant if the first lesson in life we’ve taught them is that they can’t come in because they’re not the right religion, race or class. The beautiful thing about kids is that they don’t see the differences between themselves when they’re little, and when they form a friendship their parents also interact creating community cohesion and unlikely friendships. If you’d told me 10 years ago I’d be good friends with an Iraqi muslim woman I’d have laughed you out of town, and yet the school gate has given me just that.
I wouldn’t get rid of the private sector though. I don’t see it as the enemy like many people do. If a family values education highly enough to want to pay for it then I think they should have that option. There are many private schools out there doing a great job, producing kids who are down to earth, polite and with their heads screwed on. It’s only a few Privates schools which are producing deluded crazy loons and in reality it’s more likely the family than the school. I believe each should be judged on their individual merit.
I don’t know if this new school system will happen but whether it does or not it’s likely that many of you will have to sit exams and tests at a very tender age. You may pass and of course that’s fabulous and you should crack out the diet coke (only one glass else you’ll be weeing all the way home). But you may also fail, and it will feel like the end of the world. In that moment when your parents tell you that you didn’t get in to the school you were hoping for or you didn’t get the grade you wanted your heart will drop and you may feel like you’ve let your parents down, or maybe even yourself.
If your parents love you, really love you, then failing a test like this won’t matter to them. They will take you in their arms and tell you that it’s all OK. And it will be, because you’ll still get to where you want to be in life – you’ll just find another way. You see little ones, life is a bit like a stream of running water. The water is running along just fine but all of a sudden there’s a rock in the way. The water tries to run round the rock one way but it gets blocked and can’t make it, so the water just runs out and round the other side. And life is the same – life goes on. It’s OK to fail. Indeed lots of grown-ups will tell you that their greatest lessons in life have come from their greatest failures. I know mine have. What’s not OK is to stop trying and to stop working hard. If you try your best and you work hard then you may fail at first, but you will eventually succeed beyond your wildest expectations and the pride and happiness of success vastly outweighs the heavy heart of failure.
Lots of love
This blog is one of a series in the ‘Dear Little Ones’ Series. Others include
If you enjoyed this blog then like us on Facebook by clicking HERE. A blog is published every Monday morning.
SARAH CANTRILL is a woman on a mission to inspire every young child to become a reader for pleasure. She is the Artistic Director & Founder of STORY STORKS, a social enterprise that delivers interactive story workshops to early years children and their grown ups, that help kids to fall in love with stories and develop their early language skills meaning that they have an easier time of learning to read when the time is right. Infact 85% of the kids who come through STORY STORKS are right where they should be or ahead in terms of progression through the reading book scheme once they get to school and the ones who are behind are trying hard because they know that it’s worth it – that to read is to unlock a whole world of fun and adventure and learning and imagination and they might take a bit longer to get there but they’re determined that get there they will.