I write this post not as an education expert, teacher or politician. I have no professional experience in schools and haven’t studied the education systems of other countries around the world. But I am a parent, and that has to count for something, right?
In just over seven months my daughter will begin her school career. I already have qualms about my only-just-four year old starting full time education at such a tender age, but that’s for another post. I also have fears about the increasing use of data and statistics to measure children’s attainment, with much emphasis being placed on league tables and numbers that don’t show the whole picture. But I digress. What I’m really worried about, beyond any of that stuff, is the fact my daughter may end up in an education system on the cusp of being perfectly ruined.
I have read numerous articles today about a former Conservative advisor who thinks he has the ideal Election promise for 2015. In his blog post on the subject Paul Kirby boasts that his idea is a guaranteed vote winner. Apparently, it is so dripping with brilliance that the Party to take it on will also win the General Election in 2020.
His idea? “From September 2016, all state funded schools will, by law, provide 45 hours of education per week for 45 weeks of the year”.
That’s right. Kirby wants kids to be in school from 9am to 6pm – or 8.30am until 5.30pm – for 45 weeks of the year. He wants longer days and shorter holidays. His argument is a long one, but the main thrust of it (the one he uses to open with, anyway) hinges on the economy. In short, longer school days will equal cheaper childcare meaning more parents will work full time. Kirby says this plan will, “Capture the imagination of women voters, especially those aged 30-45”.
Well, hang on a minute Paul. With that one sentence you’ve captured something, but it’s not my imagination.
The thought of my daughter sitting in lessons between 9am and 6pm, for five days a week terrifies me. I can already see it: the rushed tea in the evening, no time to see her parents before bed, later bedtime, exhaustion the following day… and that’s just the week. Imagine the weekends. Saturdays would be a write-off, as she’d be tired, still catching up from the week before. And Sundays would, inevitably, turn to preparing for another long week ahead. She’d have to power on through for far longer, because there wouldn’t be the regular holidays. So life would, basically, consist of school, school and more school.
Where’s the time to play, Paul?
Yes I know this grand plan allows for “creating a lot of space in the day for play, creativity, relaxation, exploration and exercise”. Supposedly. But all of that would have to take place at school, wouldn’t it? Where’s the time for play at home? Trips to the park with friends? Sunny afternoons in the garden after school? Of course these activities may not contribute to my daughter’s academic learning and they may not give her that extra grade which would lead to another point on a league table, but they’d make her happy. Content. Free to grow and, well, be a child and enjoy her childhood. Playing – outside of the confines of school – it’s what kids are naturally good at, you know?
I know it’s tricky for parents to juggle school hours with work. I have many friends who have children at school and already do battle with organising holiday childcare and pre and post-school pick-up. But school is not about offering free childcare. Schools aren’t there to make it easier for companies to demand their workers put in the hours. As convenient as longer compulsory school hours may be to the heads of these companies, if we really want to address the issue of getting more women into work, why don’t we look at creating more options for flexible working?
Then there’s the issue of the teachers. I want my child to be taught by enthusiastic, valued professionals who feel appreciated in their job and motivated to inspire their students. It’s no secret that a happy workforce does a better job. I can’t help but think that sentences like “[this plan] gives teachers the same sort of working week and annual holidays as other hard working professionals” suggests something I’ve been suspicious of for a while: that many politicians and political advisers a) don’t appreciate what a tough job teaching actually is, and b) think all teachers are lazy. Way to motivate your work-force and make them feel all warm and valued.
I happen to be married to a teacher. I was raised by teachers. I know how hard they work. My husband, like my parents before him, leaves the house at 7am Monday to Friday. He doesn’t get home until 6pm. When he’s home, he has half an hour for something to eat (he doesn’t have time to eat at school) and then he regularly works anything between four to six hours in the evening. He also works much of Sunday. So it’s not like he’s work shy.
But I said I wasn’t writing this from the point of view of a teacher, so let’s not allow my husband’s job to bias me against this brilliant Paul Kirby plan.
Instead, I’m going to imagine my daughter is taught by an equally hard working teacher. My daughter’s teacher is keen for her students to do well, feels the pressure to push up levels of attainment, wants to stay true to her original reasons for going into the profession in the first place – to inspire children and make a difference to young lives.
But my daughter’s teacher is exhausted. She’s teaching (albeit in a more “relaxed” environment with less “stressful” lessons) all day. She doesn’t get home until gone 7pm and then she has to plan another full day of classes, with the time until her next holiday stretching out before her like an acre of forever.
I can’t help but imagine my daughter’s teacher isn’t going to feel motivated, valued and enthusiastic. I think she’ll feel knackered. That’s not what I want for the person who is going to be with my child for nine hours every day, playing such a huge part in shaping her future.
It’s not what I want for the journey into education that my daughter is about to embark on. I want her to love school as much as I did. I want her to enjoy it without being exhausted. I want her to have time away from school to play and grow and learn skills that can’t be picked up in a classroom or a playing field.
I want my daughter to have time to enjoy her childhood, not be robbed of it, which is what this Grand Plan would inevitably do.