|My School Play|
I started the equivalent of Year 1 in 1980, times were different then a bear had just gone missing on a remote Scottish Island whilst filming a Kleenex advert, CND were setting up their first camp at Greenham Common and Thatcher had been battling striking steel workers all summer. In a North London Suburb five year old me was putting on my school uniform which consisted of a skirt, tie (which had to be properly tied) a skirt and a blue hand-knitted jumper. I didn’t want to go to school, I was happy at home but I knew that there was no choice in the matter, no point in making too much of a fuss.
On my first day I was allocated a desk, I sat there and did my work. Occasionally we sat on the mat and listened to classical music. I clearly remember hearing Peter and the Wolf and talking about what the different bits of music represented in the story. It wasn’t too long before I was reading and writing at a good level for my age and I discovered books which would keep me amused during high points and low points in my life.
I can’t speak for my mum, but I think her role was to guide and support me. to make sure I was well fed and appropriately dressed and to help me deal with the inevitable crisis that result from fall outs with friends and so forth. It was my parents job to go into the school once a year to watch our Christmas performance and make a costume for that. They were also expected to attend parents evening and if they so wished the annual school fete which was not so much about money raising and more about show-casing different things which the children had learnt at school- gymnastic displays, a dressing up parade and such like.
I know I went to a very good primary school, everyone knew it was good. The teaching team were committed and the children were all given a very good level of education as a certain standard was expected of us. If we failed to reach expectations, extra support was provided by the teachers. No homework was set. There were no league tables, it was clear and obvious which were the good schools and which weren’t.
Fast forward to 2013, my own son is in Year 1. He wears a polo shirt and sweatshirt. Each day he is given homework to complete, which at six is a battle. I am expected to attend the school once a week to read a book with him in the classroom, an experience which I dread because I have to balance the other children and I cant hear a word I’m saying. This has got so bad that he has no requested I don’t attend this. Once a term we are expected to attend an assembly where the class show off their work. When I say ‘expected’ these things are not compulsory, its just that everyone else does them and of course your child feels neglected if you don’t do them.
I suspect its all for the benefit of Ofsted; parental involvement and all a good thing. Of course the majority of Government ministers probably send their kids to public school; but the plebs should be involved on a daily basis in their children’s education. The rich can send the nanny. I presume that because a different standard of education in a public school parental involvement is not such a high priority.
On what I would consider a regular basis I am expected to provide some sort of costume for the children for some fund-raising day or the other. I recall my primary school having complete sets of dressing up for different occasions. I am also asked to provide items for the school fete, help run a stall and (given I have more than one child at the school) buy more raffle tickets that someone gets on income support a week. I spend our holiday time and weekends educating the children in the basics of literacy and maths alongside the other topics which I think will make them well rounded individuals.
I think its fair to say that my experience of the UK state education in 2013 has effectively ruined my life. I am not a social person, I cant think of anything worse that being involved in all these things. The stress and aggravation I feel at having to step into the school and read to them or sit at watch a load of kids whilst juggling another couple of kids gives me endless sleepless nights. Continually trying to find money we don’t have and provide/ remember costumes etc is also a worry I could do without on a regular basis. There is also the parental guilt of simply no enjoying or wanting any of the fuss.
In 2013 we have computers, we have the Internet, life is not so hard. I thought I would enjoy my children’s primary school years, that we could share interests and read books with them without there being a constant struggle and battle of having to enforce homework and make sure they were organised for whatever special ‘week’ it is. I’m really starting to think that education has gone backwards.
What was wrong with sitting at a desk in school learning your spelling and handwriting? What was wrong with learning your maths by rote? What was wrong with a bit of discipline? What was wrong with expecting the school to educate your child and for your input into the daily business of learning the basics and being physically present in the school to be minimal? How can this all be considered an improvement? Why is all this parental involvement in the school considered appropriate? I for one am not even all that happy about my children having dealings with other parents at this age who I dont know well and who have not been given what I consider appropriate training. I find it very un-nerving when adults who I dont know come up to them with familiarity when we are out and about. Where did it all go so wrong?