Well Mr Gove has ruffled a few feathers with his plans on reforming the British educational system. This will affect anyone with a child at school so BritMums asked a parent and a teacher to give their points of view. Helen Wills from Actually Mummy leads the discussion and Nikki Thomas from Stressy Mummy adds her point of view with her teacher’s hat on. We have included a Linky at the bottom so YOU can let us know your thoughts too
The parent’s point of view: Helen Wills
My 6-year-old learned to pair socks today. You should have seen the look on his face when finally, his actions contradicted self-belief and those socks did his bidding. It was a magic moment.
Michael Gove wants to reform the British educational system. And so he should. That’s his job. He wants the state school to be more like fee-paying schools. And why not? If people are paying for the best education, then to strive for that kind of schooling for all British children seems like not a bad aim. Here are some of the things he wants for our state schools:
- More testing, and less reliance on coursework
- Stronger discipline, including in-school “community service” for regular rule-breakers
- Changes to the curriculum, to reflect a more classical education
- A 10-hour school day.
Now, I’m prepared to court controversy here and say that I’m not averse to testing. I know it’s stressful, but there are advantages, and learning to manage brief periods of stress is a fact of working life. Nor am I against better discipline and more meaningful punishment. None of this worries me. In fact I might go so far as to applaud Gove for his aims. I know! But what quite literally terrifies me is the prospect of my child spending 83% of his day in school, returning only for meals and sleep.
What longer school hours mean
I have met Michael Gove. He has laudable goals for the longer school hours he proposes: homework clubs for those who don’t have a good study environment at home; extra-curricular activities for children whose parents can’t afford them, or don’t have time to take them; affordable childcare for parents who need to work full-time. But underneath his great values, and compelling speech-making talent, lurks an astonishing naivety:
- When an average child struggles with a topic, schools already don’t have enough resources to solve it. My son’s writing is terrible. His school told me this over and over. I was spending 10 minutes a day working on it with him. It stayed terrible. I went into school and asked what they could do for him specifically, given that he is with them for 6 hours a day. Nothing much, as it turned out. I now spend half an hour, every day, working on his writing and it is getting better. Who will do that when he is not home with me? When will I help my son learn to write?
- Gove says that most youth offending happens between the hours of 3pm and 6pm. Will keeping these kids in school during those hours stop them offending? Of course not. A decent moral education, roots in the community and respect for it are more likely to affect this statistic. When will children spend time in their community?
- What happens if school is an unhappy place for my child? All children experience friendship issues, a difficult subject, or simple clashes with a particular teacher. Home is a respite. It is where they can relax and regenerate, feel loved and supported, get advice from someone they trust. When will I support my child’s school life?
- Different families have different values, and that is as it should be. That is what makes a rich society. We are a multicultural nation, and children need to feel part of their family’s culture and relationships. When will I teach my child about his family?
- Food in school is poor. All this “healthy school meals” propaganda is rubbish. What’s healthy about cake and ice-cream with every meal? When will I get 5-a-day into my child?
Yes, there are families who can’t manage all of this. I know that there are bad parents, poor families, parents who work endless hours so that they can strive to achieve this for their children, and still can’t make it happen. Those are the families who need the government’s help. But Gove’s particular brand of educational communism panders to the lowest common denominator; solve the problems of the those at the bottom of the pile whilst punishing those at the top.
So I have these questions about longer school hours:
- When will my child learn to swim? Lessons in school are terrible, so he learns after school. Will you pay for the best swimming teachers and the smallest groups so he isn’t frightened to get into the water?
- When will my daughter develop the confidence outside of her classroom, in the real world, to perform in a real theatre?
- When will my son learn to cook his favourite meal, using his maths to work out timings and temperatures?
- When will he learn how to be bored?
- When will my child get a daily dose of peace and quiet, to wind down and rest?
- When will she see friends not in her school, and learn about who she is, as an individual?
- When will she learn how to stack a dishwasher, iron a shirt, contribute to family life?
And what about me?
- When will I grow and learn through my children?
- When will I show them how to argue, to forgive, to love?
- When will I teach them that they are loved for who they are, and not just for what they achieve?
- When will I teach them to budget, to shop, to make good food choices?
- When will I show them the world?
Don’t take away my child, Mr. Gove. For who will teach him to pair his socks?
The Teacher’s point of view: Nikki Thomas
People often ask me why I decided to become a teacher. More often than not, before I have had the chance to reply with my idealistic response about wanting to make a difference to children’s lives and impart my love of languages onto the next generation, they have answered their own question with a smile and a comment about the long holidays and short working days. I have learnt to smile through gritted teeth and nod as I have also learnt that it is not worth trying to persuade people otherwise.
The truth about teaching is that it is not an easy option at all. Pressure is on the increase from all sides. Whether you love the job or not, there is no getting away from the fact that paper work is on the up, the goal posts are constantly changing and the actual working hours are getting longer. When I say actual, I am talking about the hours spent at the chalk face plus the additional hours spent on paperwork, marking, planning and preparation, parents’ evenings and consultations, meetings, extracurricular activities and the list goes on.
The point is that although teachers are perceived to have more free time than people who work in other industries, it really isn’t the case. Most teachers that I know, work from 8 until 4 or 5 in school during term time and still take work home with them to do in the evenings. Of course, there is no denying that the holidays are a bonus, especially if you have family, but again there will be days and evenings spent working. I have no doubt that if teachers could provide proof of the hours that they work on average over the course of one academic year; the number of average weekly hours spent working would be the same as, if not higher than workers in other fields.
Then along came Mr Gove with his exciting new ideas for our education system. There have been murmurs amongst education circles for a while now that change was imminent and that the much needed holidays were going to be a thing of the past. Last week, proposals put forward by former Tory advisor Paul Kirby proposed longer school days and shorter holidays as “a real game changer in education” claiming that “the role schools play in our national and family life is far too important to leave to teachers.”
The resulting backlash from his comments was inevitable. Many teachers are already feeling the stress of the day to day job, without the prospect of even longer working hours. Many teachers will tell you that the last lesson of the school day can be difficult with any group of pupils as they all start to feel weary at the end of a busy day. Morning lessons are always better when pupils are brighter and more willing to listen and learn. In that case, how effective will those lessons be between 4 and 6 in the afternoon?
Another issue of concern is that a number of schools are struggling to fill teaching vacancies, some of those in core subject areas because there aren’t enough teachers to go around. Surely if this is the case, we should be working hard to encourage people into the profession rather than putting them off with the promise of increased workload and less time off. A friend of mine who works in the finance sector was considering changing careers as he has always liked the idea of teaching. The change, he hoped, would make him happier and allow him more quality time with his family. Recent events have put him off; he would have to take a pay cut to change and would lose a large annual bonus and he sadly admitted that the thought of longer working hours and less money outweighed the prospect of a new and more rewarding career.
There are two sides to every story though. These “proposals” are just that at the moment. There has been no talk of how these longer hours would be divided up. If a longer school day was introduced, surely some of that time would need to be spent on extra-curricular activities and sport; would some time would be allowed for pupils to do homework in school as they would have less time at home to do it? Would there be a system where teaching staff would be given more free time during the teaching day to enable them to do more of their planning and preparation in school, rather than having to take it home? Longer hours would mean that a more enriching curriculum could be delivered with more time being spent on topics that are currently rushed due to time pressures.
Of course there are positives to a longer day. For working parents, it could solve the headache of finding child care and reduce the cost of child care both after school and during the holidays. This is a point that was highlighted by Paul Kirby. As a working parent myself, I can see the benefits, but as teachers we like to see ourselves teaching and inspiring the next generation rather than as a free childcare service. As a parent and a teacher, I see the huge benefits to the clubs, activities and even jobs in the case of my teenager that occur outside of school. These all help educate my children in different ways to school and to see the experiences they have and the confidence and skills they gain all make them worthwhile. Sadly, a longer school day would rule a lot of these activities out and I think that would be a real shame.
As teachers, we don’t necessarily have all of the answers and I am not saying that we have the right to determine the future of education. But surely we have a right to our opinion? As a teacher, being married to one and knowing many others, I know that teachers work very hard and do an excellent job. I keep thinking about Paul Kirby’s comment; “the role schools play in our national and family life is far too important to leave to teachers.” It saddens and frustrates me as without teachers, there would be no schools and no education and without the hard work and commitment of so many talented teachers our national and family life would not be the same.