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Because schools are broken

The UK government has just announced a plan to teach children compulsory ‘mental health lessons’ in all schools from September 2018. Whilst I think it’s brilliant that mental health is in the media a lot at present and is finally gaining recognition, this whole thing leaves a bitter taste in my mouth. Especially when I read quotes such as, “teaching children to build mental resilience”. I feel it is all just treating the symptom, instead of asking themselves why mental health issues are on the rise in pupils and staff, and why a growing number of families have chosen elective home education in the UK. A 97% increase in numbers since 2012.

Alongside the new mental health lesson plans the Department of Education is also planning to bring in new assessments for reception children, and are trying to pass a bill to standardise home education (they hate not having us under their control). Instead of pretending to care about mental health whilst sneaking in more assessments, and worrying about the home educating parent’s capabilities in providing a suitable education for their own children by trying to pass a bill to standardise home education. Perhaps they should spend their time asking themselves why there is an increase in families choosing to educate their children otherwise than at school.

A Northumberland Councillor Deirdre Campbell was quoted in an article in the Northumberland Gazette saying; “The numbers [of home educators] are quite shocking. I know there are specific reasons, but I don’t understand why any parent would not want their children to be in school because of all the advantages that has.” Reading that really riled me up. Are the people in charge, making important decisions in our lives, really that blind and ignorant to think that our schools, in the state they are in at present, are providing the best education for our future generation? I think that, Councillor Deirdre Campbell, is way more shocking than parents who care deeply enough about their children’s futures to make the necessary sacrifices to home educate!

You see the decision to home educate isn’t one people take lightly. Firstly, you are going against a mainstream idea that is so deeply ingrained in our culture that you are constantly battling against people’s questioning and narrow-minded opinions. Someone has to be at home with the children which often means living on one wage, or two part-time wages. Couple this with no free school meals, buying your own equipment, paying for activities and trips, and extortionate exam fees; home educating can soon seriously dent a families budget.

Educating your children at home is a complete lifestyle choice. Even though I am passionate about it, I understand that society needs schools. Some children thrive at school, others simply have terrible home situations meaning that school is their sanctuary. But for the government to suggest that ALL children would be better off at school, ALL children need to be tested and made to fit into the narrow box of academic standards, I feel they are stepping into very dangerous territory.
To go against the collective of home educators in the UK is a serious infringement on our freedom of choice, and meddles in our rights to privacy and family life.

They are slowly breeding a culture of fear. Fear of being reprimanded for choosing a lifestyle that is different to the one prescribed for us from birth. It is this freedom of choice that terrifies the institution. They are scared of losing control, they are scared that people might find a better way.
If you have to ask an institution for permission to raise your children the way you choose, you are not living in freedom. When they start to take away our choices we no are no longer living in a fair and democratic society.

Instead of wasting resources on a bill to meddle in peoples lives. Perhaps the government and local authorities would be better served spending their time and our taxpayer’s money on improving schools. Currently, the UK education system is not fit for purpose. They are failing the children, and they are failing the staff who sacrifice their time and mental well being to educate our next generation in an increasingly stressful and pressurised system. Schools are pressure cookers that are very close to bursting.

Why would I want to send my children to school?

Currently, UK schools are ranked as some of the lowest in the developed world, I’m afraid we don’t even make the top 20 for English and maths. We have even dropped rankings in the last 3 years. I thought the shiny new rigorous curriculum was supposed to fix things.

Teachers suffering from mental health problems are at an all-time high. In a recent YouGov survey of education professionals, 79% said they experienced psychological, physical or behavioural symptoms because of work. More than three quarters, 77%, said that poor teacher mental health was having a detrimental effect on pupils’ progress. Almost one in five (19%) said they had experienced panic attacks. Over half (56%) had suffered from insomnia and difficulties sleeping and over a third (41%) had experienced difficulty concentrating. Last year alone, 35,000 teachers left their jobs for reasons other than retirement [1]. Why would I feel comfortable leaving my children in the care of stressed-out adults when they can be at home surrounded by positive influences. Friends and families who care about them. How much longer do our dear leaders wish to continue to bury their heads in the sand?

Tell me again why school is better?

It must be the socialisation thing that everyone always bleats on about whenever the words home education are mentioned! In the UK on average there are 16000 children and young people absent from school due to bullying. Over half of all LGBT young people have experienced homophobic bullying. 45% of children and young people will experience bullying at school [2]. Despite what some people say being bullied is not a rite of passage, and in no way is it character building. All human beings are worthy and deserve to be treated with respect. My children choose their friends, who span a wide age range. You wouldn’t stand for bullying in the workplace as an adult, yet it seems so readily accepted as part of school life.

I understand the big trigger in this bill is the government’s critical desire to monitor the academic progress of home educated children. But for myself, and many other parents, the main reason we have chosen to live a life without school is to get as far away as possible from standardised tests and assessments. We want our children to be defined by more than the boxes they tick. We want them to be free to progress at their own pace and to not feel pressurised into learning things too soon. We never want them to be told or made to feel like they are just not quite good enough.

There are some shocking statistics about anxiety and depression surrounding the new SATS for primary aged children. A survey of 1,200 teachers found that cases of stress, anxiety and panic attacks have increased in more than three-quarters (78%) of primary schools over the past two years. In addition school leaders reported an increase in fear of academic failure (76%) and depression (55%) among their pupils in the period since 2014 [4]. These figures shocked me to the core. These are our children, dear leaders, you are royally screwing up our next generation.

And if primary school doesn’t mess up their mental wellbeing then let’s take a look at the figures for secondary education. Whilst researching this post I came across a report aptly named ‘Exam Factories’. I found this quote particularly poignant:

“It is crucial that it is recognised that the current system of measuring pupils’ attainment and using this to judge schools and teachers is deeply damaging to children and young people, and does not foster the skills and talents that are needed in higher education or in employment, or the attributes that will be valued in future citizens. An urgent review of current accountability measures should take place, with a view to substantially changing them.”

I don’t really need to go on, but I will. Because someone needs to speak up for the benefit of our future.

Last year in May alone Childline delivered more than 3000 counselling sessions due to exam stress [5]. Self-harm in teenagers has risen by 68% in the last 3 years [6]. And if that isn’t jaw-dropping enough for you, the suicide rates for children in the UK aged between 10 and 14 is at it’s highest in 14 years [7].

I think I’ve thrown enough facts and figures in the mix to satisfy the people who need hard evidence that schools just aren’t working (and to be quite honest I’m sick of researching them because it hurts my heart!).

So aside from all of the shocking facts, and the exams, and the bullying and the ridiculous times tables tests at age 8 and spelling tests for 6 year olds. What is the actual aim of school? To prepare children for their working lives.

Let’s take a little look into the future. Because from what I can see we are in a rapidly advancing world. This Dickensian system of sitting behind a desk all day, mainly focusing on maths and literacy whilst cutting funding for sports, arts and technology. How does this archaic system propose to produce creative, imaginative, passionate, driven workers? Because all I can see is a generation of children being taught to pass exams to enable their schools to look good on a league table, and little else.

No thanks, not for us! I would rather my children not know their times tables, but be competent in real skills. Passionate about learning new things, and immersing themselves in different cultures. Learning in the real world. Not trapped behind a desk in a dank, artificially lit classroom, being lectured by a teacher who is too stressed to inspire passion.

When the government can provide schools that do not damage the mental health of our youngsters. When they can offer all children a tailored, superior education. When they are staffed by people who are happy to be there and deeply care about my children. Then maybe I will listen to their recommendations.

But I doubt I will ever listen because I am sure of my choices. I will continue to fight for the freedom of childhood. I will continue to show my children the world. I will continue to show them that no one can ever make you feel like you’re just not good enough.

Yes, home education isn’t for everyone, but it is for us.

I dedicate this post for the children who need to be at school, who don’t have that choice. Let’s fight to make schools better for them.

But more importantly let’s fight for the right, as parents, to choose what is best for OUR children.

“Because to take away a man’s freedom of choice, even his freedom to make the wrong choice, is to manipulate him as though he were a puppet and not a person.” ― Madeleine L’Engle

Sources:
[1] YouGov: All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 1250 education professionals. Fieldwork was undertaken between 9th-23rd June 2017. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of the UK teaching population by phase and region.
[2] Bentley, H. et al (2017) How safe are our children? The most comprehensive overview of child protection in the UK 2017
[3] The Key, a national school support service
[4] Association of Teachers and Lecturers
[5] NSPCC
[6] British Medical Journal
[7] Data from the Office for National Statistics

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