Coalition government annual school report, 2011. Part One.

Battle-fatigued is the phrase Special Educational Needs blogger Guerilla Mum Ellen Powers uses (she is currently sadly missing in action from her SEN blog). Come back Ellen – we need you. As I approach the end of term and contemplate a parents evening with my daughter’s soon-to-be Year 2 teacher – battle fatigued is how I feel too. There are some good things about our school. Our current headmistress who has been in post for a year – is one of them. But right now my over-riding feeling is – is there really any point going to a parent’s evening at all? It seems to me that despite the lip service paid the coalition government doesn’t really want parents to be involved in their children’s education – or in any discussion about what schools should look like.

According to this government parents can be tolerated as long as they confine themselves to the fund-raising clause in the PTA constitution and never mind about discussions on how their children are to be educated. We don’t need a discussion about it, we know what we are doing thank you very much. The problem is, they really, really don’t.

Still, I suppose that is what this blog is for, isn’t it? At least  I hope it is. I mean to change something for the better. (I hope.)

The battle-fatigued bit comes from looking back at many of the past years events. In our family we kicked off last year’s school summer holidays in style (sarcasm). A warning letter from the school governors floated through our letterbox – which accused me of  two incidents of ‘inappropriate behaviour’ at the school and threatened to ban me (and by implication my daughter) from the school grounds should another such ‘incident’ occur. From experience I know that ‘disciplinary’ letters such as this (solicitors or redundancy notices for example) – by accident or design – are timed to land on the recipient’s mat on a Friday (thus spoiling the recipient’s weekend) or just before the holidays. But knowing that didn’t help much at the time and I was left to worry about this letter for six weeks. I just couldn’t work out what the ‘inappropriate’ behaviour had been and neither could my Other Half (who had been there at the time).

So, when the holidays were over in the very first week of the new term of school – I made use of my rights as a parent to examine my daughter’s file. I found a letter in it which had never been sent, and therefore never received(we had not had an opportunity to respond to it). The letter was signed by a previous head and accused me of ‘inappropriate’ behaviour at my daughter’s parent’s evening in reception year, said that someone had expressed concern about the welfare of my child on that evening. If I hadn’t requested to look at the file, I would never have found that letter. I eventually gained a written apology from the school. The letter should never have been written.

I had thought back to what had actually happened that very first parent’s evening at school. My daughter was four. I remembered it quite clearly and my husband was there too. It was around the time our parental exemption to the early years foundation stage was rejected. It had been a horrible, horrible process – and I had become aware of the magnitude of the damage that English government policy was doing to children – I had just watched Fergus Andersen’s video “Too Much too Soon”. On the way to the school in the local nursery I’d seen a poster to collect money for the troops in Afghanistan and both things just set me off – it was all, well to use a word differently – just inappropriate. The worst thing was, I felt there was nothing, nothing I could do about any of it. And there was such an urgency to it. So much happens in the early years and it is over so quickly.

In fact I hardly spoke at all at that parents evening. The reason was that I spent most of it in floods of tears and couldn’t get a word out. I remember quite quietly through the tears saying three words ‘leave her alone’ (meaning my daughter – meaning leave her to be, play, without the constant measuring and target-setting – meaning leave all the children alone) and that was pretty much all I said. My daughter (being four) cried too – (we are very close and she started because I was crying probably). I remember carrying her out – we were both in tears. The previous head (who no doubt was no friend of mine due to the fact that we were the only parents in England to apply for a parental exemption for our child to the EYFS targets) – there must have been a complaint about this and someone had written a letter about it which was never sent. A complaint.  Despite seeing a parent and child in tears at the school, no-one offered us any assistance at the time and there was no phone call the next day to even check we were okay. And someone was concerned about my child’s welfare? Nothing was said about what had happened afterwards at school and at the time no assistance or discussion was offered at all. I put it down to embarrassment at the time.

There were other dimensions to this too and I believe the other reason why I had been so upset is that on some subliminal level I knew that something else was wrong. Several months later I discovered that my daughter had been bullied at school on many occasions in reception year – (see previous posts) – she was bullied in Year One too. Incident number two of alleged inappropriate behaviour it turned out  had been me practising an anti-bullying technique with my daughter at the school gate: (“stop don’t do that” – in a loud voice). It has been a long, long road. But there are no more tears now.

No more tears – not least because last summer holidays both myself and my daughter signed up to a black belt martial arts programme. We’ve both been training for a year now. There are a lot of stereotypes around about martial arts. Good martial arts schools come with a code of conduct that is way beyond any disciplinary code children might learn in school, as far as I’m concerned. Still not sure I’ll ever measure up to it, but it is something to strive for. I’ve had a rude awakening realising some of the behaviour that some children get way with in (and out of) school, that’s for sure.

No more tears, because the growing movement of people who really care about young children’s education (and want to discuss the content and direction of it)  is getting stronger by the minute. Part Two of the Coalition Government Annual School Report follows as soon as I can.

For a (very cross) headmistress’s view on the things the coalition government is getting wrong, read this week’s TES article by Kenny Frederick head of a school in east London : “How to stop a bulldozer and not be crushed”.

Kenny writes: “Combine the pensions debacle with the frequent pronouncements from the education secretary about how much harder GCSEs should be, then add on the warnings that the new Ofsted framework will ‘raise the bar’ once again, the fact that secondary school floor targets are being raised to 50 per cent and the 200 plus “failing” primary schools are going to be taken over by academies and you can see what is making my blood boil…”

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2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Angela on July 12, 2011 at 5:47 pm

    Good luck with it all . I totally agree about this….. ‘According to this government parents can be tolerated as long as they confine themselves to the fund-raising clause in the PTA constitution and never mind about discussions on how their children are to be educated. We don’t need a discussion about it, we know what we are doing thank you very much’ (quote from you).
    I know what you mean . In fact PTA committees could so easily be harnessed for useful involvement /views/expertise in other school matters (ie education and wellbeing of our children!!!) but the Board of Governors don’t always show any interest in the PTA committee – as you say they could be an invaluable way /medium of engaging with parents at the school (PTA people tend to know what’s going on and they are as representative of parents as anyone else) but everyone just wants them to keep quiet and just keep on fund-raising. So much less complicated.

    The irony is that the stuff bought from fund raising initiative may not be to all parents’ tastes either – for example spending a lot on computers for Key stages 1 and 2, when really as a parent you believe they should be reading, writing, doing calculations, having fun and conversing at school – not doing screen based stuff at that early age.

    Reply

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