As parents we all have “core memories” about our children growing up. When they took their first steps, said their first words, locked themselves in the car, got a raisin stuck up their nostril etc. A lot of my core memories are linked with my children’s education; their first days at school, special assemblies etc. My fridge door is plastered with wonderful pieces of art work and certificates that were proudly waved at me from across the playground as I collected my children from school.
One of my standout memories is waking my four year old son up to go to school about one week into him starting his new primary school. Here is a loose summary of our conversation:
J: “I don’t think I want to go in to school today mummy”
M: “Why not Jimbo?”
J: “I’ve tried it and I don’t really like it”
M: “Why don’t you like it James?”
J: “I just don’t mummy - I don’t think I want to go anymore”
M: “Sorry Jimbo - you have to go to school”
J: “But why?”
M: “ Err- because it’s the law. You need to go to school James so you can get lots of qualifications and get a job when you’re older”
J: “So is that all there is to life mum? School then work?!”
Yes - that’s right - at just four years old my bright, funny, creative little boy had already worked out that the next 14 years were not going to be for him. James had LOVED his nursery - he was even moved up into the older children’s group when he was two as he was so bright and he was using words like “procrastinate” at the age of three. It turns out that at the age of just four James was right – the next 14 years were not going to be an easy ride for him.
Despite his positive start into our education system, through-out James’ time in school I have been constantly called and emailed about his “behaviour.” In primary school it was about heinous crimes such as painting his shoes with a rainbow (instead of the paper in art), jumping in puddles and completely drenching himself to make his friends laugh, having a water fight in the toilets. Oh - and also - his hair was “too long”. James was very proud of his long blonde hair which made him a little bit different to everyone else. I came home from work one evening at 6pm to find James crying and begging me to take him to the barbers (which I couldn’t do as it was shut!) as his teacher had threatened to put it into bunches the next day if he didn’t have it cut. Unsurprisingly the next day James refused to go in to school as he was terrified of being publicly humiliated in front of his friends. (By the way James got a buzz cut in the last week of Year 6 - I think that he was trying to prove a point!)
The transition into Secondary School was pretty awful for James. Before Christmas he had already had his first fixed term exclusion . I particularly remember one meeting to which I had been summoned. The inclusions officer started the meeting by telling me, “Miss Kerbey, I have to tell you James is the top three....” (my heart lifted) “for bad behaviour marks for the whole of his year” (My heart sank again.)
In Year 8 James was finally diagnosed with ADHD, high anxiety and traits of Oppositional Defiant Disorder. I wish I could say that this diagnosis made a difference - but it didn’t really. Some of James’ teachers seemed to think this was just an excuse for his behaviour. A few brilliant teachers “got” James and speaking to them at the dreaded parents’ evenings was like talking about a completely different child. They were the ones who described the funny, bright and creative boy I know. They were the ones that got the best from James.
It seemed futile to keep explaining to the school that detentions weren’t working (I actually started to rely on James having a detention as it meant I could cram an extra half hour in at work!) When James was occasionally put on report his behaviour DID improve. This was because he got feedback from the teacher after each lesson and rewards from me too. When I received yet another call from a teacher to tell me the latest misdemeanor he had committed I asked for James to be put back on report, the reply was, “I’m sorry Ms Kerbey, we don’t put children in Year 10 on report, we expect them to manage their own behaviour by this age!”
James got through secondary school by the skin of his teeth. He did have a huge turnaround in Year 11 and I was so proud of how hard he worked, but his GCSE results just don’t measure up with the little boy using words like “procrastinate” at the age of 3!
Do I blame the schools for the negative experiences that James had to deal with (and so accurately predicted!?) No I honestly don’t. I know from personal experience how frustrating it is to try and teach a group of kids when one is being disruptive. But how can teaching staff be expected to make reasonable adjustments for a kid with ADHD if they haven’t had training on how to do this? Teachers are so bound by the national curriculum, by OFSTED, by SATS, data, budgets etc, they are under enormous pressure. Quite simply, the fun and creativity has been sucked out of teaching. There is too much focus on academic attainment and not enough focus on nurturing our children.
I was chatting to my friend and work colleague Jodie Isitt about our children’s experiences of school during one of our live chats on Facebook the other day. Jodie is a parent of 3 beautiful children, all with autism and other additional needs. She is also an author and the founder of “Autism with Love.” Jodie’s son sounded like a mini version of James. Our live feed went off on a very interesting tangent about our children’s experiences of school, none of them positive. “We should start a petition!” joked Jodie. Except it wasn’t a joke - and the next day Jodie messaged me to say, “Seriously, we should start that petition!” (I haven’t known Jodie long - but boy does this girl have a lot of passion and energy when it comes to doing right by children!)
Our initial step was to launch a survey to ask about other parents about their experiences of school. Over 1000 people responded in less than a week and the results were just shocking. Here are just some of the results from the parent’s survey:
· 89% of parents surveyed said that their children had suffered from anxiety related to school.
· 71% of children were less anxious during lockdown.
· Only 22% of parents surveyed felt that their children had made consistent progress throughout their time in education.
· 75% of parents feel that there should be better alternatives to GCSE’s
The results for our teacher’s survey are still coming in, but sadly they are equally as depressing as the parent survey results. It is no wonder that a survey of 8000 NEU members in 2018 found that a shocking 81% had considered leaving the profession and DfE stats show that one in six teachers who qualified in 2017 had already left.
Our children are anxious and unhappy in school. Our teachers are not enjoying their job and there is a high rate of teachers leaving the profession. We have now SO much evidence that the national curriculum needs a HUGE overhaul and we need to do this now! So, what do we want the new curriculum to include?
Most importantly a NURTURING curriculum that celebrates children’s creativity, inventiveness and uniqueness.
More opportunities for children to learn OUTSIDE of the classroom. Why does learning have to take place in a classroom and at a desk?!
A broader curriculum that places as much importance on the arts, sport etc as maths, English etc.
Mandatory, high quality, on-going training for teachers on autism, dyslexia, anxiety, mental health etc.
An exam system that doesn’t just reward students for being good at exams and includes better alternatives for GCSE’s that are held in equal regard.
Opportunities for children to learn more life skills that prepare them for life after school such as budgeting, banking, independence etc
Within a week of launching the survey we started the National Curriculum Crisis Group and have been inundated by offers to help us. Everyone offering to help has a similar story to tell about their children's experiences of the education system.
We owe it to our children to stop the juggernaut that is the current education system. The system that leaves so many children anxious, stops them from meeting their potential, and tries to squash children down the same path at the same time just because they were born in the same year. Lockdown has taken the juggernaut off its path - now is the time for us to stop it.
If you want to help make a change to your children’s education and future please support us by signing the petition.
You can also join the “National Curriculum Crisis Group” on Facebook. Jodie and I need as much help as we can to get as many signatures as possible on the petition. We also need help from those who can help us create the new NC - the Nurturing Curriculum.
Here is the link to the National Curriculum Crisis group on Facebook. Please do join if you would like to help: