Saturday, 21 May 2016

How to Raise Nature-Loving Kids in a Media-Loving World

"Our kids are surrounded on a daily basis by media that pushes technology, processed foods, medication and the importance of being faster and better at everything we do. By providing them with the opportunity to slow down and appreciate the natural world around them, we ground our children in the bigger picture and allow them to experience childhood more simply. They will have a lifetime to experience the priorities of adulthood. What’s the rush to start now?"

Read more HERE for six ways that you can raise kids who love nature by 365OUTSIDEMAMA.

On the Wildness of Children

This is a very moving article by Carol Black. Please read it - especially if you were in my workshop this afternoon!

"The revolution will not take place in a classroom.
In wildness is the preservation of the world."

"Inuit author Mini Aodla Freeman recounts how, when she first came South from the Arctic, the thing that surprised her most was the children:

They were not allowed to be normal the way children in my culture are allowed: free to move, free to ask questions, free to think aloud, and most of all, free to make comments so that they will get wiser… To my people, such discipline can prevent a child from growing mentally, killing the child’s sense of interest."

Read the full article HERE.

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Learn Free Conference

I am leading an afternoon workshop on "Mentoring Self-Directed Learners" at this conference on Saturday. If you a home educator - or considering home educating - why not come down and join the conversation? I am sure you will be inspired ....

Tuesday, 10 May 2016

More on SATs in the news today ....

Some of today's education headlines ....

"It's criminal the amount of time given over to SATs material that even the Prime Minister struggles with." (The Telegraph)

"Fresh humiliation as SATs answers published online for second time." (The Guardian)

"SATs test leaked by rogue marker." (The BBC)

And just for fun .... "Can you solve the 'simple' maths exam question confusing adults?" (The Telegraph)

Amidst it all, glimmers of hope - and evidence of brave teachers doing their best to hold back the pressure: "'Smile and eat ice-cream': Teacher shares advice for SATs pupils." (The Telegraph)

School Readiness

Interesting article about school readiness ....
"Parents' smartphones harming children's ability to hold conversation, say teachers." (The Telegraph)

"Almost a third of children starting school are not ready for the classroom, with many lacking social skills, having speech problems or not toilet trained, the survey of senior primary school staff has found."
It is clear, then, that by introducing cursive writing to children in nursery and reception the government has got its priorities straight!

Monday, 9 May 2016

Is missing a day of school damaging to a child's education?

"We all want the best but it seems that we have very differing opinions on what this means in practice. Parents want high standards in enthusiasm for learning, high standards in creativity, high standards in curiosity, high standards in self confidence and self worth. None of these parental high standards are accounted for in the SATs. Many parents feel that these standards have much more worth in real terms for a developing child. Evidence also shows that these standards, so very important to parents, are being undermined by this testing regime."

This is part of a response written by the Let Our Kids Be Kids campaign to comments made by Nicky Morgan at the NAHT conference on April 30th. She said, "That is why the campaign led by some of those who do not think we should set high expectations, who want to ‘keep their children home for a day’ next week, is so damaging. Keeping children home – even for a day – is harmful to their education and I think it undermines how hard you as heads are working. I urge those running these campaigns to reconsider their actions.” You can read more of the campaign response HERE.

I would like to point out in response to Nicky Morgan's assertion that I have kept my eldest son home from school for the past 7 years and I do not think it has been damaging to his education. He is a boy who learns by talking to people, and asking questions. So in a crowded classroom where his teacher had to tell him repeatedly to "Sit down" and "Be quiet" to necessitate teaching the class, his means of learning was essentially shut down, resulting in anxious behaviours which gave me cause for concern.
At home, he has been free to pursue his own interests, to follow lines of curiosity, to learn in a way which suits his own learning style. He has been able to visit places, talk to people, engage with learning in a way I do not think he could have done in school.

In a desire to measure himself against his peers, he expressed a desire to sit the 11+ exam, which he did, without any extra pressure or tutoring. He gained a place at grammar school and went for half a term before deciding he preferred to learn at home.

He spent most of last year taking a car apart and learning all about the parts and the engine, to the point that he has been able to repair our car and a friend's car recently.

He is constantly tinkering, building, inventing, creating. And now, with the decision to return to a learning establishment for his GCSEs, he has decided to study the Key Stage 3 curriculum independently this term to stand himself in good stead for September.

So how do we measure damage? Damage to self-esteem? Love for learning? Or damage to handwriting fluency? Test performance? Damaging to a child? Or damaging to a school's attendance registers? Ranking? Success?

Most of all, Nicky Morgan, I object to your patronising tone which suggests you know what is best for my child, as though parents cannot possible educate their children as thoroughly as the government can in their schools, as though your expectations for my children are higher than mine, as though school is a better and safer place. Not true. Not true. Not true. Not true.

The fundamental problem with testing

SATs week: The news is full of headlines of the misery inflicted upon our children by the latest government-inflicted lot of tests ....

SATs Week: Teachers' reactions day-by-day (The Guardian)

Primary pupils 'feel test pressure' - survey (BBC)

SATs: Pupils in tears after sitting incredibly difficult reading test (TES)

Social media is buzzing with parents arguing over the questionable necessity of the misery being doled out to their children.
Some say, "I agree with assessment, but ...." or "I agree there must be testing, but ....."
It all seems just to have gone too far, to have tipped even the most pro-assessment parents towards questioning a system they would not usually question, a system most of us have been so entrenched in from our own earliest years, we cannot imagine a life outside it: our schooling.
Let me tell you why I don't actually agree with testing ....

My objection is to do with language you will find entrenched in discussions about education, including in newspaper articles like those on the links above ....
"even able children could not finish the test",
"This wasn't even a less able child,” another teacher commented."
(Both quotes from the TES).
Do you hear the way children are labelled? This is what I fundamentally object to.

Our education system - by what is deemed to be important (English and Maths), and by its methods of assessment - decides whether a child is "able" or "less able", "gifted" or "struggling". To me, this is a denial of a child's uniqueness and identity. You see, the child who is "less able" might be the kindest child in school. A child who struggles to read might be an exceptional musician. Most of us know this is true, and we tell one another we must try to build children up, to tell them the tests don't matter that much, that they are not defining.
But the problem with sitting in a seat in a classroom on a table which daily tells them, "I am less able" - and I don't care whether that table is called "rabbits" or "butterflies" or whatever, in an attempt to sweeten the pill; children know which table they are on - is that a self-concept develops in these most precious, early, vulnerable years, when the self is developing .... a self-concept which says, "I am no good at maths", "I can't spell", "Writing is not for me", and these are beliefs which will stay with us our entire lives.
Maybe we could have been a great mathematician, it just took us a little bit longer, but the damage is done, the self-belief is formed.

It took one year in school for my son to believe he is no good at maths. He still believes that, although it isn't true. Through play and exploring real life concepts, he can now tackle abstract problems at the level of his schooled peers. But the damage is done, the self-belief was formed young, and built strong on the "middle" table on which he sat in Year 1.

I watch my 4 year-old playing on Maths Seeds and enjoying it. He plays at his own pace, for fun. He delights in his success. He is not being measured - or compared. He hasn't been to school. He is free. Maths isn't maths yet; it is just another form of play.

I was the kind of person who sailed through school, and did well. I was on the 'top tables', one of those "more able" children. Maybe it is hardest of all for those like me to understand the problem. You see, my "A grades" and "Excellents" meant that others were "C grades and "Not good enoughs". My success was others' failure. And whilst some might argue, "It's a dog-eat-dog" world, we should all know our place and get used to it, I deem to disagree. Perhaps just as damaging as the belief I am "less able" is the attitude of children on 'top tables' who can think of themselves as being better than others.
I only succeeded because I could play the system, remember what needed to be remembered, do what the test required. I was only good at playing school, so much so I went on to be a teacher!

Some of those "C grades" and "not good enoughs" were resilient enough to come out of school, shake the dust off their feet and find out that they were really good at being entrepreneurs, or electricians, or chefs .... Some of them, whose self-belief survived. They are far more "successful" now than me.
But I know there were others, too, who never quite managed to silence the voice inside which told them from their earliest years that they were "less able", that they would never amount to very much.

If we cannot see the diversity of children's talents and celebrate their individuality - and I know this is a difficult task in the education of the masses - we will continue to have a flawed system which defines people in a way which damages their mental health and their humanity, whether they are "able" or not! This is the fundamental problem with testing which, for all the debate in the news this week, is not really being addressed.

Monday, 2 May 2016

Why Finland has the best schools

Unlike in the United States, where many schools are slashing recess, schoolchildren in Finland have a mandatory 15-minute outdoor free-play break every hour of every day. Fresh air, nature and regular physical activity breaks are considered engines of learning. According to one Finnish maxim, "There is no bad weather. Only inadequate clothing."

Read more HERE.

The School Boycott - May 3rd

Why are we boycotting school? Because of the pressure on our young children.

"Why shouldn’t parents make themselves heard too? We’re the ones whose children are being affected. We’re also the ones compliantly subjecting them to it. We’re also the ones paying for a significant proportion of the education system that we’re against. We’re the largest contingent in the entire education system, and yet we’ve felt powerless to do anything. We will not be subordinated, like conjunctions!" writes Steve Rose in today's Guardian.

Read the full article HERE.

Let Our Kids Be Kids

I have been so encouraged this week to learn about the planned strike for May 3rd - parents defending education, often with the support of teachers and headteachers, by keeping their children home from school this Tuesday 3rd May in protest over government testing. Over six years ago, I made the decision to remove my children from formal schooling and educate them at home. One of the reasons behind this decision was the pressure on schools to perform for league tables rating their success, a success which was not necessarily demonstrative of how much value they were adding to children's lives at all. This pressure was felt by head teachers, and fed down into staff rooms, putting teachers under immense pressure and slowly draining any joy from the profession. It was also felt by children. Attending a Year 3 parents' evening, not long after my eldest son had taken his KS2 SATs, I was struck by how much of the talk about his progress was communicated with reference to how his achievement would affect his SATs scores three years later in Year 6! Ridiculous. Coupled with this, my son lost his love of learning, the light had gone out in his eyes, his head dropped, he lost confidence. I was concerned.

The thing is, I get tired of listening to parents and teachers moaning. I didn't want to spend years moaning about a system I felt powerless to change. I still don't think many parents are aware that our children's education is actually our responsibility. I certainly wasn't; but The Education Act 1996 states:

"Duty of parents to secure education of children of compulsory school age.
The parent of every child of compulsory school age shall cause him to receive efficient full-time education suitable—
(a)to his age, ability and aptitude, and
(b)to any special educational needs he may have,
either by regular attendance at school or otherwise."

It is this last sentence which is critical, "Either by regular attendance at school - or otherwise." Taking my children out of school was a proactive choice, a protest really, at a system I did not believe in. More and more parents are choosing to educate their children otherwise than at school in protest at a system we have lost confidence in. And this grassroots movement actually does have the potential to affect change. It challenges the norm, and pushes our understanding of what learning is right out of the schooling box.

So, great! Power to the parents! Protest on Tuesday, and remember that education is your responsibility. Take a risk and enjoy it. Do not be afraid to take responsibility for your children's learning back for yourself. And if you don't like what is happening in schools, don't moan about it: Refuse to participate by taking your children out of the broken system.

When schools and headteachers are uncertain about how to mark a child's absence on the register, whether to 'authorise' absence or not, we should all be aware of an option listed there, which is "Educated off-site." Explain absence in those terms, and with confidence. On Tuesday, as children up and down the country participate in many activities planned for their "strike", they will be being educated off-site, not least in the importance of protest to a thriving democracy. Hopefully they - and their parents - will also learn just how much fun "education otherwise" can be!

More information about the planned strike can be found here:

It has been reported by the BBC here:

This is what SATs do to Children

"This is what SATs do to children. This is how they ruin not only the life of the child, but the whole family too as they struggle to support the child and their stress related moods. SATs have taken a year away from my son's life at a time when he should be carefree and happy."

Read more HERE.

Please remember parents everywhere: Your child's education is your responsibility under law. You can choose to delegate that responsibility to school - or not.