Life is busy, and whilst B continues to benefit from home education, M is asserting her independence and heading off to school every morning. I’ll confess to not having missed the school run at all during my three-year absence from formal education, and the 8am dash has gained no appeal! As the frost settles over the final few leaves on the ground, the additional need for hats and gloves threatens to throw my best laid plans into disarray. M is still bouncing into school, and though I have noticed little comments about enjoying lying in at the weekend creep into conversation, I think she is still in a honeymoon phase, delighted to have something to call her own.
I had hoped that seeing my child skip into school would be enough, and many of you will argue that it should be. But after years of researching alternative education models and learning with the girls, not to mention my experience as a class teacher, I am feeling frustrated by the one-size-fits-all approach I see on offer for M. Arguably, she has had an advantageous start academically, with one to one support and plenty of time to explore her interests. That aside, it is clear to us and to her class teacher that M is capable of working well beyond the year 2 curriculum. At a recent parent/teacher meeting we discussed this, having been shown her targets for the next term, which were unambitious and already achieved in some cases. The teacher agreed that the work was not presenting much challenge and said she would speak to the head. This morning the message came back that M must be assessed within the year 2 curriculum. This seems inflexible, especially given the fact that M is in a mixed year 2/3 class. My response to the class teacher was that this system seemed to benefit the teachers, but not necessarily the students. The progress being shown on the grids will satisfy Ofsted, but it is not real progress.She explained that consolidation within her own year group was the answer. Now I know there is truth in this, but perhaps that is also an easier option for the school. It is important for M to be presented with a certain level of challenge in order to be inspired to learn and move forward. When she is in school for over thirty hours each week, I want that time to be stimulating.
I welcome the community events, the concerts, the trips, the visitors. I am pleased she has developed some nice friendships. It’s great that she looks forward to scampi on a Friday. But is this really what education has come down to? Friends tells me that school is just a starting point, that much more learning can take place at home. I agree. M comes home from school and devours number challenges, plays the piano, taps out French phrases on Duolingo, reads books. It’s home ed all over again. She is busy and full of questions all the time and we want to support her learning.
I worry that I am overthinking the issue. M will probably thrive anyway in the long run. She’s clever, sparky, and confident. I can see friends wondering why I don’t give myself a break and be grateful for the childcare. On much reflection, I can only think it is the unfairness of it all that frustrates me so much. When I was training to be a teacher ten years ago, Every Child Mattered. That was the buzz phrase. Now, Every Result Matters, and that is not the same at all.
We have two brilliant friends with three daughters. M and their youngest share a birthday. Their approach to parenting is similar to ours, they are busy and buzzy, sociable and curious. I texted her last week expressing my frustration that M was not being stretched enough, knowing that she had had similar issues with her second daughter. Their response had been to move her to the local private school, where she thrives. Their youngest is also bright, and is doing brilliantly at the local state primary, working mainly a couple of years ahead in a mixed class of KS1 kids. So two points here: state education can meet the needs of more able kids with a little thought and flexibility. But, also, there is a clear disparity between the education on offer for our brighter children, and this is down to the importance placed by the government on testing a narrow curriculum, and a lack of funding to provide extra staff and resources in state schools.
M’s teacher suggested that she might have a project to work on alongside the year 2 curriculum. I welcome project-based learning because I think it ignites individual passions and encourages independent research and creativity. Surely a return to this would offer a more rounded education for our children, whilst nurturing those key skills required for success – the strict learning objectives attached to the curriculum leave little room for imagination and independent, explorative learning.
So tell me, am I missing something? If your kid is bright do you just top up the learning at home? Do you accept that large class sizes, endless targets and depleted funds make meeting individual’s needs impossible? I remember sitting in the park one day when B was still at school, mulling over the prospect of home education. I commented that the school was not meeting her special needs. What special needs?, asked a suspicious mother. I had just meant B’s particular needs, not Special Needs, but it seems it is not fashionable now to recognise individuality. Schools produce children who can be defined by a number, and those who don’t match the boxes on the grid are squeezed in until they fit. Isn’t it time to consider a more fluid approach to education? If social mobility is not to fall completely by the wayside, it is vital that every child, wherever they are educated, is offered a chance to shine.