So I sat briefly in front of the breakfast news yesterday morning. There were several stories about educational issues, and they all got me thinking.
1) Teenagers who fail to achieve at least a C grade in English and Maths GCSE will have to continue studying the subjects up to the age of 18. (Read about it here.) I can see how this might look like a good idea - after all, everybody needs sound basic literacy and numerical skills, right? Well, firstly I question how it is that, having spent 12 years in full-time schooling, such a significant number of our young people are still not achieving the skills perceived as the basic leaving requirements. When we celebrate school successes, as our local newspaper has done this week, record-breaking results, 70-80% of pupils gaining 5 A-C grades at GCSE, the appalling figure hidden therein, that 20-30% of pupils do NOT achieve these basic results, is ignored. Behind the glowing smiles of the system's successes, do we care about those the system fails? If the system has failed them after 12 years, why prolong the misery? If they have failed to achieve the desirable C grade in GCSE, why keep them continually in the environment which tells them they are failures? Skills minister, Matthew Hancock, said on the programme that when you study something, you usually take an exam in it. What nonsense! We can learn and study many things for our own enjoyment and understanding without everything having to be about an exam. Maybe that is part of the very problem, always making the exam, the test, the measuring, the objective. It seems to me that, with a little imagination and creativity, we could surely come up with a better way to help these young adults move on into work and a more edifying future, a means which would nurture and celebrate the gifts and skills at which they excel. My husband taught pupils in bottom maths sets in our high schools who had their own entrepreneurial businesses and were designing apps and websites professionally whilst still at school. These youngsters are not without skills and, rather than perpetuating their failure, we should look harder at how the system has failed them and change it!
2) There was an interview with Kate Watson (here) who was bullied at school and through social media to the point that she attempted to take her own life. This is a topical subject at the moment, following the suicide of teenager Hannah Smith. The figures for young people affected by bullying are simply shocking. And I wonder why it is that so many people ask - when they hear about home education - about the children's socialisation, as though the social skills acquired at school are exemplary. On the contrary, I think the 'survival skills' children have to acquire through schooling are clearly a cause for concern. The messages which those bullied like Kate receive are such lies ... "You are worth nothing. No-one cares. You might as well kill yourself" ... Evil lies which devalue personhood. Kate said, "I can't stay off school any longer. People are getting annoyed with me at home. I can't go into school because they'll get me." Attempted suicide seemed to her the only option. Did she know, did her parents know, that she didn't have to go to school? That there are alternatives? Clearly not.
3) There was another feature in the news about parents being fined for taking their children out of school for holidays during term-time. The more children you have, the higher your fines will be! But it might still be worth it to benefit from the cheaper holiday prices out of peak season. What do you think? I think this is an infringement of parental civil liberties and I resent it. I do not think it is any of the governement's business to dictate when I can take my family on holiday. A friend of mine was discouraged by her son's school from taking him out just before the summer holidays to visit family abroad. She was livid when most of his time in school in those final days was spent watching DVDs. But heaven forbid our children should "miss education"! What about the value of travel, the learning to be gleaned in the great outdoors, the value of family relationships nurtured during time away together? No, none of this matters so much as the numeracy and literacy hour ... or watching Shrek with their class!