Monthly Archives: September 2013

Brunel and Wordsworth didn’t do SATS

After a couple of month’s break from blogging about Gove, Truss and their inexplicable madness, I have been inspired today to pick up my laptop and start speaking simple truths again – as I see them.

Life is like a very short visit to the toy shop between birth and death, said Desmond Morris.

Would anyone really take issue with the idea that children should be allowed to be just that – to be children? To discover, play, imagine, wonder, and do? There is pleasure to be had in simply watching our children interact, engage, aspire and transform. They set their own curriculum . They know what they need to learn at an instinctual level; what they unconsciously desire from the adults around them is a tweak here and there, to keep them safe, or hints at what else can be done with the resources and possibilities they have to hand. If life really is as Morris describes, surely we have a duty to permit our children an extended opportunity to savour the toys in the toy shop?

Do not confine your children to your own learning, for they are of a different time – Hebrew proverb.

I’ve made use of this phrase before in the context of writing about current DfE thinking about children’s learning, but I use it again today as it seems yet again relevant. Gove, Truss, in fact, most politicians belong to a certain collective, where ways were paved and educations paid for. It is not like this for most people . But that does not stop those of us who did not experience this kind of schooling succeeding in life. My eminent friend Sue Cowley writes of the Clever Cult and their power over all, while knowing all the time that this isn’t a club we should be encouraging our children to enter. We should not confuse membership of this cult with having been in receipt of a decent education – as Mick Waters as pointed out. A true education is a much larger thing than school attendance. Just because our own educations, however long ago they were, or wherever they were conducted, led one man to achieve something that leads him to feel he has succeeded, does not mean that we have reached the end of what there is to learn about how every child could be schooled, or that we know all there is to know about learning.

This is, in essence, what the Cambridge Primary Review  told us; that there was more for us to know about how children progress, more we could to aid them. But the recommendations of this deeply important research (that our children should play for longer and go to school later) were rejected on the basis that they weren’t what parents wanted. ‘Nonsense’ – says this parent (and quite a few others). Does a lioness say ‘Hey, kids, stop playing rough and tumble with each other, that’s not on today’s lesson plan – you’re supposed to be chasing gazelles’? No, she doesn’t. She sees the wisdom in letting them rough and tumble and helps them extend their game. She allows them to follow their own lines of enquiry, and facilitates their journey to adulthood.

Every action has an equal and opposite reaction

I am no physicist but I understand the physical and metaphorical significance of this well-known phrase. If one man, with an extreme and, some might say, particularly narrow view of what a child’s education should consist of, gains an opportunity to wield power in dictatorial fashion, it is only to be expected that other members of society will attempt to pull on the other end of the rope. As far as I can see, the people on the other end of this rope are intelligent, well-informed, enquiring and compassionate. I’m throwing my lot in with them. If I read Cleanslate, Julie Cigman, 3DEye, the aforementioned Sue Cowley, Ray WilcocksonJune O’Sullivan, and Richard House to name but a few, and their words make sense to me, I am going to join in their calls for change. My molecules are poised to work in opposition to the molecules that spin around the insides of the DfE.

We need a system that aims to prepare pupils to solve hard problems in calculus or be a poet or engineer — a system freed from the grip of those who bleat bogus pop-psychology about ‘self image’, which is an excuse for not teaching poor children how to add up – DfE Spokesperson, September 2013

Brunel and Wordsworth didn’t take a SATs test when the were seven, or even five. Tim Berners-Lee did just fine without needing to decode nonsense phonemes when he was six. Ted Hughes, as an August baby, probably had a gentle introduction to school following the Easter holidays. Julia Donaldson has produced an inspiring body or work , without the necessity of doing mountains of homework while in primary school. James Dyson probably did half days for a while. TS Eliot managed to accomplish quite a lot without compulsory schooling at a younger age than any of his European counterparts.

I think I’ve made my point.

You are not required to complete the work, but nor are you allowed to abstain from it – (another) Hebrew Proverb.

If you’ve read this and you feel equal parts outrage and dogged determination, I have achieved my simple aim. Before you switch your laptop off, go to this page and sign the petition, share it via your social media platforms (use the hashtag #TooMuchTooSoon) and then consider whether you can attend this day of action. I’ll see you there.