Kids march for more school

Whatever is wrong with modern children? I just cannot imagine myself at primary school protesting at getting an extra half-day off school. We would have cheered.

Of course parents are likely to be upset. Having to find some way to look after their offspring on a Friday afternoon when in most families both parents will be at work. It must be bad enough having to make arrangements for the school holidays without this extra burden,

While I was teaching we did get the occasional day where school closed and we were sent home early, and I think we were generally rather pleased, particularly if it was a day when we were down to teach 3G last period. Though I suppose we might have got a little concerned if it were happening on a regular basis, and particularly for some of the classes who were nearing their GCSE or A level exams – and I think there were some times when these exam classes remained for lessons when others left early.

But now of course we have exams at every level, the dreaded SATs, starting in the May of Year 2, when children are only 7. Some schools add to the training in terror by making them take ‘optional SATs’ at the end of every year there isn’t a real SAT test (the next one comes for 11 year olds in Year 6.)

And teachers, particularly head teachers, are of course concerned about the results, as they place their school in the league tables. So concerned that although they only take place for a short period the SATs have come to dominate the whole year’s work in most of our schools. Schools that want to be seen as successful have had to change their whole ethos to “teach for the tests.” It shouldn’t be so.

It was of course a fiction that children were not tested before the SATs. At secondary level children came to us with the results of properly standarised tests from the NFER, tests that were adminstered with none of the anguish and stress of the SATs, which were used to diagnose a pupil’s needs and not to judge schools and which were considerably more useful and reliable, and were not the tail wagging the dog of the school.

As parents, we sent our children to the local schools. The primary school they both went to was a happy school and well run. It tried to continue that way when the SATs came in (fortunately after our children had gone on to the local secondary) but the results of the first year were miserable compared to the other local schools that had drilled their children for the exams from the start, and they were forced to change.

This protest, though I think driven by exam pressures, was not about getting rid of the exams but about funding. Schools have suffered under austerity, and those in the more difficult areas have suffered more than those with wealthier parents, though even those have problems. Parents associations which used to raise funds for extras are now having to do so for essentials, and parents in many schools are now asked for ‘voluntary contributions’ to our free education system. Though with various reforms by both New Labour and Tories we hardly have a system, more a mess.

This protest, like so many schools, was also funded by voluntary contributions, crowdfunding led by Labour MP Jess Phillips who also led the children along Whitehall to Downing St.

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