I had a very proud teacher mum moment yesterday – Big Brother did his very first piece of independent writing (beyond the odd birthday card or labelled drawing) – a recipe to follow for Pancake Day! It was our last evening as a foursome for a few weeks as Daddy is away for work, so we enjoyed making and eating our pancakes together, under the helpful guidance of Big Brother’s instructions. (With Prosecco for the grownups, because Tuesday… )
A year ago, when our summer-born big one was just three years old and we were waiting to hear about school places, I was full of fear and uncertainty about whether my baby (because at three he definitely still seemed that way) was ready for school. Would he cope? Was I happy with how he would be cared for, how he would learn, how he would need to grow in independence in order to survive? Could he just stay at home with me? Could we make that work? Was home education a better choice for us? Or deferral of his school start, part time schooling, or perhaps another option that I’d not yet considered? SO. MANY. QUESTIONS.
I’ve been a teacher for twelve years. I trained as an early years specialist and have worked across the primary age range. I love working with children, sharing their learning, helping them to grow and develop. I don’t love a lot of what is happening in education in our country. I am not a fan of our education minister, or many of his predecessors. I believe that teachers should have more autonomy, headteachers should have more freedom, parents should have more choice and children should have more play. I know that schools are struggling, teachers are leaving the profession and ultimately pupils and staff are suffering as a result of budget cuts, bureaucratic pressure and unrealistic expectations, not to mention a complete lack of understanding of child development and educational pedagogy from the top down. But I have faith in my son’s teachers and in his resilience, and I know that for us, for our family and our baby, we made the right choice in sending him to school. When he comes home bursting with excitement and enthusiasm and eager to share his learning, it confirms the decision we made a year ago when we clicked “accept” on that school offer.
School may not be the right choice for your child, or for your family. You may opt to home educate, apply for a deferred place or investigate part-time schooling. You may choose to look into private schooling if you can afford it, or choose a school well out of your catchment area because it’s a better fit for you. There is no one size fits all, and none of these options will be perfect for every child.
Schools aren’t perfect, by any means. I get frustrated with the focus on attendance, the use of reward systems, and the fact that in Year 2 they really don’t need to know what a suffix is to be able to write me an amazing adventure story. But I can tell you that every single teacher wants the absolute best for the children in their care. And our children are strong and resilient. They can cope with budget cuts and stressed out management and having to ration glue sticks and whiteboard pens because the teacher can’t have any more until next term. They don’t mind if the classroom looks a bit scruffy and the playground needs a lick of paint. They will get on with it and, for the most part, will thrive in a supportive learning environment, as generations have before them, even if those at the top are really not getting it right.*
If you are the parent of a newborn or a toddler, making decisions about your child’s schooling may feel like a long way off yet. But trust me, it goes by in a flash. So hold those babes, cuddle them, keep them close, meet their needs, foster their independence and take it all in. Because before you know it, they’re planning their fifth birthday party and writing you pancake recipes. And at some point before that fifth birthday, you’ll be making a decision about your child’s education, just like we did 12 months ago, and just as many families across the UK will be doing this week as school places are announced. Do your research, ask questions, seek clarity, and be confident in the decisions that you make on behalf of your family. You’ve got this. (And so do they.)
* Don’t get me wrong, if we suddenly, magically, get an education secretary who knows what they’re talking about, I’d be expecting some major changes, and I’d welcome them with open arms! There are teachers right now who are fighting for change, and change will eventually come.