Thursday, 5 May 2016

Let Kids Be Kids

#Let Kids Be Kids

I've read a lot of blog posts this week about the Let Kids Be Kids campaign, a parent-led protest against the newly intensified SATs (Standard Attainment Tests) for primary school children. 45,000 signed a petition calling for KS1 (year 2) SATs to be scrapped, and thousands of children stayed away from school on Tuesday as a sign of their dissatisfaction with the current system.

It all made me so glad to live in Wales.

The Welsh Assembly isn't perfect, not by a long stretch, but I am so thankful to have that buffer between my life and the strange obsession with 1950s style schooling they have over the border. Because the Westminster government really has pushed hard at so many things which seem largely pointless and irrelevant. Formal exams, banning slang on school premises, the intricacies of English grammar, Latin.

Wales, of course, has long held a different approach to education. It didn't take us long to ditch grammar schools - labeling 11 year olds failures does nothing to improve aspiration - and there are no academies or free schools, meaning the usual route for parents seeking exclusivity is now Welsh medium education! We don't even have a 'proper' school league table; instead schools are classified green, yellow, amber or red.

Daisy doll in school uniform

In recent years, we've gone further, deepening the divide between English and Welsh schooling. KS2 SATs were dropped from 2005, and the KS3 version followed not long after. Continuous teacher assessment was brought in instead because, well, unless you're very lucky you don't just turn up to work once a year after a few weeks worth of cramming. Recently there has been the introduction of end of year 'national tests', to provide benchmark data rather than to rank schools, but the level of seriousness they're treated with has really been a matter for individual schools.

KS1 have had their entire curriculum replaced by the so-called Foundation Phase, a Welsh take on the successful 'learning through play' model favoured by the Finns

It doesn't appear to have done them any harm.

The new national curriculum, slated to be fully implemented by 2021, is chucking out key stages and learning to the exam. In its place are four key aims. By the end of their compulsory education, children in Wales will be:

  • Ambitious, capable learners ready to learn throughout their lives.
  • Enterprising, creative contributors, ready to play a full part in life and work.
  • Ethical, informed citizens of Wales and the world.
  • Healthy, confident individuals, ready to lead fulfilling lives as valued members of society.

It makes sense. We're not living in the days of Gradgrind and his facts - nor should we aspire to. If I want to know something specific, I'll whip out my smartphone and look it up on Google.

What is important is that I have the skills to access information, and to make sense of it. I need to be literate and numerate, and have a good level of digital competency. It's no surprise that these three things form the foundation of the new curriculum. I also need to have a broad understanding of the world, of what is happening today, and how the past has lead to it. I need to be able to communicate my findings, and make myself understood, skills which the new focus on the expressive arts will foster, alongside the LNF (Literacy and Numeracy Framework).

Most important of all, I need the critical thinking skills to separate the wheat from the chaff.

The truth from the BS.

This, to my mind, is what has been missing from education for far too long, and what the English system still seems to be overlooking. The English education debate is constantly looking to China, to the unquestioning obedience and deference to authority that has characterised Chinese youth, and enabled them to push their students to academic greatness. But China is changing. Young people in China are increasingly unwilling to accept something just because they are told it is true, just like our own children.

Marianna will never have to rely on an outdated textbook (i.e. any textbook), or blindly accept anything she is told. The internet has put the world at her fingertips. She can access the news from any country she chooses, and speak to someone on the other side of the globe as easily as she can her next door neighbour. She doesn't need to be frightened of other cultures, or globalisation. She will be an active part of it.

Life has changed so much over the last 50 years, and so have the skills we need to make the most of it. It's only right that our education system should reflect that.

Daisy doll with exam papers




If you've made it this far - remember that today is election day! Go out and vote for your Welsh Assembly representative, and your Police and Crime Commissioner. Unless you've already returned your postal vote. In which case, well done. :)


Edit - results are mostly in. Welsh Labour and Plaid Cymru, the parties behind this progress, make up around 2/3 of the Assembly. The Welsh Conservatives, and their undying dream of reinstating grammar schools, lost seats, while UKIP, a party which prides itself on having policies on nothing beyond not liking foreigners, has won seven seats on the regional list for the first time. Horrific, but the voice of reactionism doesn't look like it's going to drown out that of forward thinking any time soon!



36 comments:

  1. I'll admit reading this makes me a little envious - it's exactly the sort of system that all common sense and academic research supports so why on earth we're holding up Chinese cramming as an aspiration I do not know! I can only hope that this side of the border we made enough fuss this year that someone somewhere might take notice! That or Wales is going to start becoming very popular!!

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    1. It's still got a way to go here, but I think it's moving on the right track now - looking to Scandinavia and exploring what they're doing which encourages children's well being generally, not just their academic ability. x

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  2. The system in the UK scares the hell out of me. As the mother of a 5 month old it makes me seriously consider home schooling when her time comes... #effitfriday

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    1. I've got a few friends in the States who home school, but I don't know if it's really something for me. I'd have to see how she got on in mainstream schooling first, I think. x

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  3. We're not at the SATs stage yet and to be honest I'm dreading BB leaving reception and going into year one... #effitfriday

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    1. I've got a couple of years yet, but it's already flying past!

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  4. I wish we lived in Wales. Sounds so much more sensible and forward thinking, the way they've done things education wise. It's crazy here. I don't get the comparing us do China thing either?? Why are we comparing ourselves to them? #effitfriday

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    1. Whenever they talk about China's academic success I kind of think, well, yeah, the Chinese way would be great for a government - a population of people who do as they're told and are too afraid to complain! lol x

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  5. I totally agree. Teaching to exam isn't really useful. You might get good grades, but what do they really mean? Sure, you can repeat information parrot fashion but how much of it do you really understand? Children need to be taught research skills, active learning and how to establish if information is true or false. That would set them up so much better for life. #effitfriday
    Debbie

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    1. Exactly. It's improved a lot since, but I remember having big problems joining the dots between subjects because everything was so compartmentalised. This is maths, this is history, this is whatever, and never shall they meet. It's the broad strokes schools really need to get right to give people that grounding. x

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  6. Is there room for a little one? I'm coming over! Wales is just across the bridge from me, the housing is cheaper and the mountains beautiful. What's not to love? There's an influx of immigrants coming in from England....#effitfriday

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  7. I live in the U.S. and this is one of the many reasons I homeschool. I don't want my children labeled. I want them to be kids, and to learn how to think creatively! Thanks so much for sharing this awesome post! Hope you have a wonderful weekend :)

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    1. Thank you! That's the big thing for me, I don't want my daughter to be told how to think. She needs to be given the skills to discover things for herself, and make her own mind up about them. x

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  8. I really enjoyed this intelligent and informative post. I didn't know about the Welsh system, lucky you! It makes me so sad to think that my 2 year old will be sitting exams in just a few years. Sad and angry. It's ridiculous. You are so right in saying that our little ones shouldn't be told how to think, this rigid system will not work. Hopefully we can get the best out of them in home life. #KCACOLS

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    1. Thank you! :) I really think the education reforms happening here are the right way forward - though I know there are plenty of people who think they're too wishy washy, and we should have more competition and testing. I just feel that very few people actually enjoy that highly pressured style of learning, which has a big knock on effect when it comes to adult learning, and learning for enjoyment's sake. x

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  9. My 11 year old has is next week and he his dreading them #KCACOLS

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    1. Aw, I bet - I hope they go well for him. x

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  10. I know nothing about the education system but I do feel strongly that we should encourage and enable self-esteem in children and they should not be put through pointless and competitive tests where they end up feeling failures. The most important gift my parents can give me is my self-esteem as through this, I will blossom and fulfil my true potential #KCACOLS

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    1. It really is the most important thing - if you have a child who decides to give up on learning before they've even really started, how can we expect them to achieve their full potential? x

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  11. Sounds like you in Wales have got it all together. Although, in Canada we only have public/catholic schools that are paid for through taxes. I can't imagine having to pay for our children's schooling before college!
    #KCACOLS
    Tori
    www.themamanurse.com

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    1. There are a few private schools not too far away, but I'm not a big fan of private education (even if I could afford it!!) x

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  12. So interesting for me to read these posts, since both my husband and I are teachers - and teachers who have serious issues with the US educational system! In a way, it's good to hear that other countries are struggling with these same issues, because maybe if more of us are involved with finding a solution (or even an improvement), it will happen!

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    1. It's weird because I feel like I know a lot about the US system, but reading more posts from parents about US schools I've realised that I really don't - just the system as shown in movies and TV shows. I know what you mean about more people facing the same issue. You can't just pick something up from another country and implement it wholesale, but you can try and analyse what they are doing right, and how it can work back home. x

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  13. The Welsh education system sounds so much more simple that the English one with a focus on teaching rather than results. We are a long way off school stage for our little one, but I am sure that it will come round really quicky. Claire x #KCACOLS

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    1. I can't believe how close Marianna is already - the playgroup she'll go to is attached to our local primary, as well as the nursery, so I'm going to be at the school gates within a year!! x

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  14. It is such a stressful time for children. My daughter is in year 6 and doing SATS this week. She has not been too stressed, but I know some are. I think they should stop this testing and go back to how it was when I was younger.
    #KCACOLS

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    1. I've nothing against tests, per se, it's just the way they're built up into this huge be all and end all event when, really, SATs don't prove much. x

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  15. I must say the Welsh system does seem to have it right. I am in the let kids be kids camp and think there is too much pressure with exams and performance at a young age. I'm all up for achieving your potential but as someone who was in education until the age of 22 I would certianly say there is plenty of time to do this and it does not need to start so young. Thank you so much for linking at #KCACOLS. I hope you can come back next Sunday

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    1. Totally. I think even the new national tests are pretty pointless, and some schools have had kids in tears over them. Teachers are with them for hours everyday, they don't need a single exam to tell them how well kids are doing. x

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  16. From reading this it would appear the the Welsh system has it right and that your children will get an education that is fit for purpose. I only with England would listen and think about how the rigid schooling and testing here is affecting our kids #KCACOLS

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    1. It really is going in the right direction here, I think - it's just a shame that England is so dismissive of the reforms. x

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  17. The Welsh system sounds must better than over here - great post #KCACOLS

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  18. The education system terrifies me, at the moment we are following an international system where they start school at 3 which is worrying enough. But to imagine bringing in tests where my boys might think they aren't good enough. I'm not happy about that in the slightest, it doesn't bear thinking about .

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    1. It's so demoralising for young children, and can put them off learning for life. x

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