What’s Happening in Schools

I’m 37. It’s 21 years since I left school and started my first job. I suppose my memory of what school, especially secondary school, was like is somewhat eroded and I have the advantage of being able to look back with with somewhat rose-tinted glasses. I’ve not really had too much cause to look back though, until now.

Now I have two teenage girls in secondary school I find myself comparing what they are experiencing to what I believe my experiences were. They’re different. My eldest is in year 9. In the UK this is when the pressure is cranked up on our children. She’ll be making her GCSE option choices soon and is being asked to consider what she is going to do after those exams in a little over 2 years time. She is 14. Fourteen years old.

I make no apology for not endorsing the fact our education system, backed by a government hell-bent on pilling on the pressure, asks children to make such huge decisions so early in their lives. Why? It’s utterly ridiculous in my mind. Our advice to her is to pick subjects she enjoys. There is little point in picking a subject she doesn’t enjoy simply because she thinks it will be an advantage to the career she thinks she might want to possibly enter into at some stage in her life. We want her to be able to enjoy her studies as far as possible in her two year GCSE journey, because she is far more likely to succeed if she’s enjoying it.

Yesterday my eldest girl posted this…


She doesn’t mean she has so many books that her bag is too heavy, it means she’s feeling the pressure. She’s feeling massive pressure. She’s already suffering with stress and anxiety. She’s 14! What stress should a 14 year old girl have? Is this a cry for help?

The UK government’s strategy with education is going break our children. Some will cope, some won’t. Some are academic, some aren’t. Some are great at exams, some aren’t. Our education system fails, on every single level, to recognise this. Sadly, this is also happening in primary education. Things that were taught in year 2 now must be taught in year 1 – with no extra time or resource. SATs in year 6, the pressure that we put 10/11 year olds under for tests that MEAN ABSOLUTELY NOTHING TO THEM.

But, he’s the absolute shocker…..our 13 year old daughter is in year 8 and the system in changing. She will ALSO be making her GCSE options choices soon. Because the powers that be have changed the GCSE course to be 3 years rather than 2. Wow! Some year 8 children will still be 12 when they make these choices. I repeat – we are breaking our children.

The government may argue that the UK is behind in education and results. So how come some other European countries don’t even start compulsory school until higher ages? In the UK (excluding Northern Ireland where it is 4!) that age is 5 – and we start testing them at 5/6 (year 2 SATs). Testing 5 year olds! Yes really! Only Malta and the Netherlands match us in starting school at 5.

The average age across Europe is 6 years old for starting compulsory education. Better. Some countries are even 7 years old such as Sweden, Finland and Denmark. Interestingly in the 2015 PISA results Finland (5th) out performed the UK (15th) in science. In reading and maths the UK lags behind all three of those countries. So where is this logic of starting them younger and throwing more at them actually coming from?

In a different life maybe homeschooling would have been better. We could have found our own path. But school is for so much more than academic achievement. It develops life-long friendships, social skills, conflict resolution skills and offers resources home schooling cannot provide. But that doesn’t mean schooling can’t be different somehow – all we need are leaders that are prepared to think differently and out-of-the-box.

Do I have faith that anything will change before our younger two daughters reach secondary school? Not at all. In fact, if it does change it will be at the detriment of our children.

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