Dear Secretary of State,
Congratulations on your appointment as Secretary of State for Education. It’s good to see the MP for my former University town of Loughborough taking on this vital role in Government.
To me it is one of the most important roles in the cabinet – creating an environment where children can flourish, have fun learning about their world and equipping them with the skills for a lifetime.
The start of the summer holidays is a good time to reflect on the state of education in the UK. As a parent of two kids, aged seven and four, I have a sense of the pressures facing teachers and also the impact upon our children.
A debate seems to have begun about getting our children to start their school years earlier. I’ve even read about kids starting their formal education aged two. To me this seems like we’re trying to create a production line of children purely focusing on them as economic units rather than human beings. It’s almost as though we are trying to create widgets rather than well-rounded and socially minded citizens.
Children want to play and play (or informal learning as it’s sometimes known) can be as important to their development (in terms of the basic skills they need for life) as time spent in a class room. We want children to have a childhood rich in memories and a sense of adventure and discovery. They’re natural sponges soaking up a wealth of information and there is a need to make sure that we help on this journey of learning, which will hopefully last a life time.
In many other European countries kids start school at six or seven years old. Yes they have a formalised child care set up for pre-school years but they seem to have very different motives. Germany is always held up as the economic powerhouse of the European Union. And yet children start school much later than in the UK and they seem to be doing ok.
There is a real danger that we are going take the child out of childhood. It is so important to get the pace of learning and the nature of learning right – a tricky balance I know.
The whole issue of parents not being allowed to take their children out of school during term time is another example of micro-management and the meddling in the lives of families. Does it really matter if a five year old misses a few days or even longer to go on holiday or visit family? Having a newly draconian way of making it an offence is a sure fire way to alienate millions of parents in the UK who will always do the right thing by their children.
Children as you know have boundless energy. They are always on the go; moving on to the next thing. However the way that the school day and year is going is draining them of energy. Kids shouldn’t feel pressurised or unhappy at school…after all these are the best days of your life. Piling on the homework or introducing more testing my work for the manufacturing line but not when it comes to human beings.
Let’s, for the sake of children, parents and teachers, have a period of consolidation. Creating a permanent revolution in education isn’t the way forward; it has to be creating an environment where learning is fun, kids are encouraged to enjoy school and parents aren’t left to pick up the pieces.
I wish you well in your new well and hope that you use the summer holidays to reflect on the benefits of the merits of a fallow period of new measures and getting things right.