Over the last few weeks, I have read several articles about teachers and head teachers leaving their chosen profession due to the importance being placed on schools to achieve national levels and targets.
A few weeks ago, I was on Radio 5 live with Nigel Utton, a head who had tendered his resignation that week due to the pressure he felt to hit targets rather than to teach children as individuals. He raised concern at how children with SEN were being treated by some schools who were not happy to take these children as they would affect the schools’ levels. Last week, Nigel spoke at a conference and CYPNow wrote a very informative piece About it.
Over the weekend, I read another article by a Secret Teacher in The Guardian. This article hit home far too hard for me. The teacher talked about parents being encouraged to take their children with SEN elsewhere – something that all LAs prefer to think doesn’t happen (because no school is going to admit they do that to their LA, are they?) but also something that every parent of a child with SEN will know happens far too regularly. However, one comment in the article reflected a conversation I recently had with two of my children.
“Aside from this stress, the paperwork and target chasing meant I did not have the time to value the children in my class. They would arrive in the morning desperate to tell me their news. My response was always, "Tell me later, you need to get on with your early work now" The Guardian
Two of my children attend mainstream schools which have converted (or are converting) into Academies due to their previous poor Ofsted ratings. As a mum, I have had to balance the Ofsted rating against whether I believed my child’s needs were being met.
To be honest, I have never given much consideration to Ofsted ratings when looking at schools as it is common knowledge that Ofsted inspections are announced, schools have time to prepare and let’s be frank, interpretation of good/poor/bad practice is often subjective, to say the least. To find out what a school is really like, I speak to other parents and ask their views. I know Ofsted has its Parent View now but I am fairly sure not all comments make the cut. The law of libel and slander makes this difficult, whereas a one on one chat between two mums over coffee is a lot more open and informative.
On both occasions, I decided that despite any concerns I had with the management of the school, their Academy status or even their sponsors, the actual staff involved in working directly with my children were the ones I had to have the relationship with and respect for. Thankfully I was lucky as their knowledge, their individualised approach and their genuine passion shines through time and time again where my children are concerned. These are the people I turn to, as we parents often have to, when I have concerns about my child’s social and emotional development.
As any of you mums (and Dads) out there will know, if your child has to go to a special school or a Unit/Resource provision, these are very rarely the local school. My son travels 15 miles each day to his school and my daughter travels almost dive miles a day to her school. As my other son also attends a special school, we have SEN transport for all three children.
This means that their after-school social life is not with other children in their school, nor is it really a “mainstream” social life; again you will know this when you have a child with SEN in the family. So, when we do have a fun experience, I have always believed this is something that my children should be allowed to share with their peers to a) make them feel part of the group, b) give an insight to their class mates into how “similar” their idea of fun is to their peers and c) it helps our children to develop their emotional and social skills.
So when we had once spent a fun weekend, I asked, “What part will you be sharing with your teacher when you do your weekend news”? Imagine my surprise when the response was, “Oh we don’t do that anymore, our teacher doesn’t have time”.
The teacher doesn’t have time to engage with their pupils? The teacher doesn’t have time to find out about them as individuals in order to ensure their education is delivered in a way that will work?
The emotional and social development of a child plays such an important role in their education, why is it being given the lowest priority, or in some cases just totally neglected?
My child may have all the academic achievements in the world, but if they don’t also possess the confidence and the social skills needed to actually progress in the real world then what use are those achievements?
The amount of homework that comes home with my children is astounding, so even if I had the opportunities to work on their emotional and social development at home, these opportunities would be time-limited. Add to that the frustration when the homework isn't differentiated, or not explained, or due to the fact that the way things are now taught bear no comparison to the way we were taught a subject, then an evening of anxiety, anger and stress all just adds negatively to family life.
Surely, we need to focus on teaching the children, not just the curriculum. For our children, the emotional and the social is of more relevance than any SATs score.
So what happens now? With so many of the good staff leaving, so many parents being encouraged to look elsewhere and so many opportunities for profit-making companies to get involved – I seems to me to be a recipe for disaster.
Add in to the mix the fact that levels and targets appear to have become more important than the actual children and we do have to wonder what is the future for our education system?
Who will benefit from the apparent chaos it is currently in? I am fairly sure it won't be our children.