This is a slight guilt trip. I have read through my past blogs and thought, ‘Come on! You love this job, so why the frown?’
It is easy to moan right now. Really easy. I have many blogs swimming around my head which could dive in to the dark blue of my dissatisfaction. This years schools budgets being the latest ‘hot potato’. But I don’t want to go there. I really don’t.
I love my job. It is an honour. I like the small things. Walking down the corridor and being spoken to like I really matter, speaking to children over dinner who are barely old enough to walk who make me smile, not just in the moment – but late in to the night. I like the drama of childhood, the hope, the potential… Working in schools is a privilege and it is a shame that I feel like I need to tattoo this across my back in a raw and painful way. It is the great shame of our society that we believe that in the conquest for bigger and better standards we have cut the child out of the equation. Adults, politically accountable adults, clearly know what is best.
A governor asked me an important question this week about the well-being of Year 6 children. I said the usual thing. The thing that explains the reality of what we have been face to face with for over 18 years? Year 6 girls and boys well-being is NOT as important as the quest for bigger and better organisational outcomes. Even when we care at a local level (and we really care), the reality is… Results matter more than children in far too many, important sets of eyes… It’s like medicine. It may taste bad but we know what is best.
I have a list as long as my arm of Year 6 tales of testing woes.
Two girls caught stealing revision books from WH Smiths, children who became insomniacs a month before the tests, tears (oceans of tears), eating disorders (girls and boys), truancy, fear (the type that leaves you palpitating and clammy), friendships broken, behaviour breakdowns, chairs thrown, punches taken and punches given, angry words, “Don’t care!”, “It’s your problem!”, parental removal from school, long and (during the SATs week) short term… When pushed in to the corner fighting back or taking the punches is about the best defence we have.
My last school got outstanding. It got it for many reasons. One of them, a rather big reason, was Year 6 results… I remember a wonderful governor two years later asking, “When is enough, enough?”. I am lucky to hear that echoed this week as well. When are we going to stand up for children? Ask them what they think about the stresses of year 6 SATs tests? Do a national survey. Just for a moment listen to them like they matter. Listen to the parents of Year 6 children. The parents who comfort those children in the evening when they feel doubt and fear. Listen to the teachers. Ask one simple question. Do SATs add anything to our ability, as a country, to compete, improve and develop educationally and productively? What would go so very wrong if we trusted schools, trusted year 6 teachers, trusted children to do the very best they can? Imagine a country in which we trusted the people who were closest to children daily to do the best we can do for them. Imagine if we developed enough trust NOT to quantify this in a way that devalued the broad and varied abilities of children? That threw schools in to the bear pit to slug it out. Imagine if we developed an accountability system that truly understood what it was that made a Great school?
I believe I can be part of a school that develops truly inspirational young minds. In fact I am already part of a school that does this. I believe that those minds need to be resilient to the stresses and strains of life. I believe in testing.. But SATs are now a national joke. A sick joke we play upon children each and every year. Read the national child statistics on mental health issues and how children feel… The reading is grim:
- 1 in 10 children and young people aged 5 – 16 suffer from a diagnosable mental health disorder – that is around three children in every class (1).
- Between 1 in every 12 and 1 in 15 children and young people deliberately self-harm (2).
- There has been a big increase in the number of young people being admitted to hospital because of self harm. Over the last ten years this figure has increased by 68% (3).
- More than half of all adults with mental health problems were diagnosed in childhood. Less than half were treated appropriately at the time (4).
- Nearly 80,000 children and young people suffer from severe depression (5).
- Over 8,000 children aged under 10 years old suffer from severe depression (6).
- 72% of children in care have behavioural or emotional problems – these are some of the most vulnerable people in our society (7).
- 95% of imprisoned young offenders have a mental health disorder. Many of them are struggling with more than one disorder (8).
- The number of young people aged 15-16 with depression nearly doubled between the 1980s and the 2000s (9).
- The proportion of young people aged 15-16 with a conduct disorder more than doubled between 1974 and 1999 (10)
I am not saying that SATs is the main cause of this… But I am saying a society that puts measures in place that are not about learning but about accounting in such narrow ways and ignores the well-being of its children has got something very wrong.