“As a mummy……”

I once worked in a school where a number of parents would start all our conversations about their children with the words “As a mummy….” (i.e. you don’t really have a clue because you are not a mummy)  The sentence would continue with (in general) a litany of reasons why they didn’t think I was doing my job properly:

“Why do you only read once a week individually with my child?”

“Why don’t you do PE more often?”

“I think you need to watch my child during break-time because I think they are being bullied.  If you could do this everyday in the morning and at lunchtime I would appreciate it.

“Why can’t you sort out the behaviour of the child that is disrupting my own child’s education?” 

My internal answers would read as follows:

“Because I have to fit phonics, maths, guided reading, snack time, blah blah blah into my day and I have thirty children in my class”

“ditto”

“ditto”

“Um, no. Because I want to go to the staffroom, have a cup of tea and a biscuit and moan about the delusional parents I encounter on a daily basis”

My actual answers were probably:

“I will try and fit in more reading (internal scream)”

“I will try and fit in a longer PE session (but when the **** will I manage it when I have to fit in maths and literacy every day as well as everything else)”

“Of course I will look into that (I will do it a couple of times to cover my back)”

“We are dealing with it as a school (hahahahahahaha along with all the assessment, planning etc etc we have to do)”

etc etc etc etc

Teaching is a hard job.  It is a relentless, tiring existence.  It is also the best thing I have ever done and I miss being a ‘proper’ full-time teacher more than I ever thought I would.  It is AMAZING watching children flourish and grow and it is an absolute honour to be allowed to parent these children between the hours of 8.30-3pm.  However, would I feel the same way if I was working from 8.30 until 6pm for 45 weeks of the year?  I’m honestly not sure but I don’t really want to have to find out. 

The government proposals for an extended school day are, as we have seen, a controversial one and I can, to a degree, see why some people think it will be a positive step.  However, I strongly believe that it will not be right for all children and I think that we would disadvantage as many as we advantage.

I have taught in a range of schools since qualifying as a teacher and have always taught either FS2 or Year 1.  My teaching practices and NQT year both took place in inner city schools in London where the majority of my classes spoke English as a second (or even third) language.  A large proportion of these children came from the large social housing estates located near the schools and a considerable number of these children received very little support at home.  By this I mean both academically and extra-curricularly.  The progress a lot of these children made was entirely down to the amazing staff at school; their parents did not read with them or help them with the minimal homework we set nor did they support the extra programmes that were put in place to support their move into Year 2 (and forthcoming SATs)  In this particular case a lot of these children would have benefited from extra time at school to work on homework, play sports and music and generally do the kind of activities a lot of other children take for granted.  These were children who were living in high rise estates with no real outside space (often in much smaller flats than actually accommodated their families) and who despite living in central London had not seen the River Thames or been on a bus or tube train before we took them on school trips to some of the amazing (and free) places London has to offer.  I left this school feeling that I had really made a difference to their education and hoping that they could continue to blossom as they moved through the primary system.

My next two schools were both in more affluent areas and the difference in parenting could not have been more obvious.  At the first school (a very small, idyllically located village school in Hampshire) I learnt to deal with a different kind of problem parent.  These parents wanted to know why “Edward is only on Stage 3 of Oxford Reading Tree when his friend Johnny is on Stage 5 and I know he isn’t a better reader”.  These parents filled after school time with swimming and French and piano and horse riding and ballet and tennis and wondered why their children were so tired that they struggled to get up in the morning to come to school and then couldn’t concentrate past 12pm.  In a strange way some of these children would also have benefitted from longer school days as they might have actually had a bit of down-time and had some release from the achievement obsessed parents they had been blessed with. 

After two years there I moved to another village school in Wiltshire.  I hate to use the word ‘normal’ but I would describe this school as filled with ‘normal’ families who generally filled after school time with a sensible amount of activity and who therefore had happy, well-balanced children.  The children in my class used to tell me about their swimming lessons and the football and rugby they played but would also tell me about their play dates and how “we got home and had a movie night”.  These children DO NOT need to be at school for ten hours a day and would actually be disadvantaged by doing so as they receive everything they need in a combination of a normal school day and a loving, thoughtful, constructive and fun family environment.

I think that Michael Gove needs to be very careful with his plans for the education system or he (and therefore the Conservative Government) will risk alienating entire swathes of the population.  I can see the benefits for SOME children spending longer at school but I don’t think it should be used as a way for working mothers to receive more free child care and I don’t think that it should be a blanket decision.  It should be the result of a holistic approach to individual children’s needs (just like all our lesson plans are supposed to be!) and should take into account personal circumstances as well as academic achievement.  Without this we run the risk of producing a generation of automatons who will not be able to independently manage their learning or time once they grow up.  I remember vividly which peers of mine struggled with the independent learning required of us at our local sixth form college –  it wasn’t those of us who had been to the local all-comers state school; it was those who had been through selective state schools where the results were amazing but where people were spoon-fed everything they needed. 

We only have to look at the education systems in other countries to see that whilst we send our children to formal school at the earliest we don’t do particularly well in league tables against them.  I have British Army friends based in Germany who choose to send their children to local German schools rather than to the MOD run British schools.  This is for a number of reasons; because the German schools do not start ‘formal’ education until the equivalent of Year 2 and instead encourage play based learning, because it allows their children to learn a second language in a natural environment and because the shorter school day allows children to pursue other interests outside of their academic learning.  Infant children generally finish school at lunchtime and most go home at this point (there is very cheap childcare available in the afternoons if required).  We have to acknowledge that more German mothers do not work and that therefore this shorter working day is less of an issue than it is for many British women but from what I have seen it does seem that it is a more natural, child led environment with more outside play (whatever the weather!) and a smaller emphasis on reading and writing until the children are actually ready. 

I can see both sides to the proposal of a longer school day but it worries me that my little boy might start school in a few years and enter an environment that places too much emphasis on academic achievement and not enough on social skills and being a child.  It will be interesting to see how this pans out over the next months and years but I for one will not be willing to work the hours that are being suggested.  As other bloggers have pointed out, teachers already work these hours (and longer) planning activities for the children in their care.  We have to be careful not to place more of a burden on them and as a result stop them having the time to plan creative, engaging lessons that suit all types of learning.  If this happens, I can see a return to the era of the worksheet as getting to the photocopier will be the only planning time they are left with……

PS Starting sentences with “As a Mummy” still makes me want to scream even now that I am a mummy so if I ever hear myself saying it to any young teachers I come across in the future I promise to apologise……

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