As the government continue to slowly squeeze ‘non essential’ subjects out of the curriculum in the mistaken belief than grades will be improved I breath a sigh of relief that for me realisation of what is going on in the education system did not come too late for my children.
As I left school, more than thirty years ago now, the government introduced the national curriculum in a bid to improve standards. My reintroduction back into the education system did not happen again for another twenty years by which time it was a totally different animal. I watched as my sixteen year old played guinea pig to the constant ‘improvements’ brought in by changing governments.
Fortunately for me I had one child who didn’t ‘fit in’- he didn’t sit comfortably in the round hole that the government had created for him. The teachers tried to accommodate him but the education system was already not flexible enough and after four years of meetings, assessments, and a diagnosis of Aspergers we as a family came to the conclusion that the system was damaging both him and our family and we removed him from school.
That was my ‘Damascus’ moment- from that point on we were on our own and whilst it was scary it was exciting too. I started by buying age appropriate text books- they were all the same. I hadn’t appreciated that every child in every school was supposed to learn the SAME thing. It crossed my mind that we were breeding an exceedingly boring generation? But were we? In actual fact ,for those children who were unable or unwilling to learn those subjects. there grew a lack of interest and motivation, a decline of behaviour in the classrooms and lower grades. As a home educating mother of a special needs child, I began to read up on education to establish what suited him best. Hardly surprisingly it soon became clear that if children were happy and the curriculum was tailored to their individual needs then they were likely to do better than their schooled contemporaries.
Over the years I began to step further and further away from the national curriculum as it became clear that my son was school years ahead of his contemporaries in history, IT and geography (as these were his specialist interests). Literature held little interest to him but his command of the English language and his spelling were excellent (without the need for spelling tests or comprehension assessments). Maths was more difficult as four years of being taught that he was ‘dumb’ at maths had shattered his self esteem so much he refused to attempt it.
I backed off and left him to figure things out for himself when he needed to. I reckoned that he didn’t need to be able to do things at the same time as his peers and that he would do it when he was ready. My gut instinct paid off. Whilst he would still not see the purpose of doing some types of calculations and certainly would refuse to sit down to a GCSE exam today unless he felt there was a purpose to it, he can now see how maths is relevant to every day life. He has a logical brain and has been teaching himself computer programming, is designing a virtual aeroplane cockpit, he can work out the costs of items he wants to buy and the change he should get, he can design symmetrical buildings on Mine craft and bridges on his physics games which stay up and hold weight.
Everything I learned from watching my Autistic son affected the way I view my other two children’s ‘education’ at school. They enjoyed the social aspects of sport and music and school trips but the government was gradually eroding these away too so we looked at ways my children could follow their interests outside school. My son learned the drums, my daughter flute. Explorer scouts and scouts enabled them to do the outdoor pursuits there was little time for at school because the government didn’t place enough importance on them. They canoed, took climbing courses, did expeditions, made rafts, swam, took part in triathlons and they did all these things in the rain, hail and snow at times. They learned to cook, to read timetables, to dance and read books and when my eldest left school last year he secured an apprenticeship at his first interview on the basis of these interests, not on any grades.
As I watch him go off to work each day, one month into his apprenticeship, I see a spring in his step, an eagerness to learn and grow and a maturity to speak him mind when things aren’t right and get them sorted.
This year my daughter has to choose her options for GCSE. We have told her to choose what she enjoys doing- education should be fun; it’s a lifelong thing and won’t stop when she is sixteen. She did mention car mechanics ( I think she was joking) although it would come in handy!