What would your kids change about their education?

The primary school years are a voyage of discovery. Would your children change its path?

What would your kids change about their education?

Asking an older child about the best thing about their day at school is the equivalent of asking other adults about the weather, isn't it?

Their answers are usually either a shrug and a 'dunno', a sarcastic 'hometime' or a sneery 'nuffink'.  They are, after all, teenagers. And it's pretty sad. It's a stark contrast to my own primary-school age son and his friends,  who are all still at the age where learning is a pleasure, not a chore, where the world is viewed with wonder and questioning, where school is there to be enjoyed, teachers adored, and info like 'We're all made up of atoms, Mummy, did you know that?' are to be gleaned.

A rose tinted view?

I wonder what happens in those precious few years to turn education from a wondrous path of discovery, to some kind of punishment for being a teenager? Or am I just looking back at my own love of primary school – and my own child's current experiences – through rose-tinted glasses?  I genuinely recall my primary years as a true voyage of discovery. I can remember all the exciting trips we went on and all projects we did (making collages of Henry VIII's wives, making and decorating a Victorian town house, making flapper dresses for a cut-out 1920s doll called Hilary!)  but I cannot remember anything about my secondary education apart from being in the lowest set for maths, and generally, not liking anything very much.  Much the same as my nephews and nieces, really.

But as a parent, I would hate for my son to lose interest in education once out of primary school, as I'm sure most parents would.  So it is interesting to ponder just what kids themselves would change about their education. What would your children change, given the chance?

Seventeen-year-old Emily (pictured) answered this very question  when Teach First – an organsiation devoted to addressing the problem of education disadvantage – launched their  'What Would you Change?' competition.

Her thoughtful and persuasive entry beautifully encapsulated youngsters' desire to learn, but also their frustration with a system that seems to often work against them, rather than with them.  Emily's essay centred around her thoughts on SATs, which she says can go on to  shape a child's experience of secondary education, writing:

'The problems the Government is trying to solve through SATs are not going away with these unnecessary tests. If they were then a horrific 35% of 11 year olds would not be starting Secondary School without the basic reading, writing and arithmetic skills. Therefore, there is an obvious problem to which SATs do not appear to be the answer.'

Emily brands the tests 'futile' and detrimental to  'imaginative, energetic and excited learners getting the stimulation and enjoyment they need and want.'

She also discussed how teachers must inspire children and bring out the best in them, imploring them to take  'what the children already have and inspiring them to use this inbuilt knowledge to the best of their ability so they can flourish as individuals'.

She summed up her piece by recognising that whilst it was 'unrealistic to expect a perfect education system'  it was not at all 'unreasonable to expect a fair one.'

Listening to their stand

Emily's words brought a lump to my throat: as a parent, I often think we are guilty for handing over responsibility for our children's education, and very rarely questioning it.  We start out  reveling in our younger children's aptitude for learning to read, first writing their own name, and parrot-like reciting one to ten in French, and we put all our energies into getting them in to the secondary school which has the 'best results', yet often, our responsibility for their education seems to end there. 

Children like Emily are telling us – the adults who can stand up and be counted, who can make  decisions and orchestrate change  – what they want from their education system.  We are quick to be outraged at our school café serving chips, or, conversely telling us our kids cannot have a packet of crisps in their lunch box, yet when our uninspired teens tell us the best thing about school is the bell signalling the end of the day, we just roll our eyes.
So when youngsters so eloquently and intelligently make a stand, shouldn't we be listening and grasping the opportunity to find out what would inspire them, and keep that desire and longing to learn continuing past primary-school age?

I asked my eight-year old if he could change one thing about school – his reply: 'Nothing!'

I wonder what his answer will be if I ask him again in five years?

Photo: Karen Sherr



  • Linda


    Linda Jones, Editor

    11 April, 2011

    Hi Kelly, thanks for such a thoughtful and interesting read, like you I was impressed by Emily's clarity and passion for what she believed in. I asked my daughters what they would change and they said they would like to have their lunch hour earlier....I'm not overly impressed by their focus on food, but with me as their mum, I can't be surprised.

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    Ready for Ten admin

    11 April, 2011

    What a thought-provoking post Kelly - thanks for sharing it with us. It's funny because thinking back on my own education, I too only have good memories about primary school, and not so great ones about high school.

    It's very interesting to read Emily's views on SATs, which seem to echo many objections raised by parents across the country. This line of open communication is exactly what is needed to improve standards of education for all our children. Well done Emily!

    Ready for Ten Team

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    Karen Sherr

    12 April, 2011

    Hi Kelly, Thank you for appreciating the value in Emily’s Teach First entry. As her Mum, I am extremely proud that she entered the competition and delighted that she won the further education section. As I am the founder of Musical Minis, Emily has been brought up with the values and philosophy I consider to be essential in formulating the programme. I am aware that these have now become important to Emily, especially the fact that she wants every child to achieve its full potential.

    Emily was diagnosed at 3 years old with sight problems and has had to cope with various hazards throughout her education, especially with inadequacies with exam boards. I think this has resulted in Emily championing the causes of children who can’t stand up for themselves as well as she can. In the Autumn Emily is hoping to go to University where she will be studying Education as part of her degree. I really do hope she continues to come up with suggestions for the education system and it would be great if some of the policy makers would just listen to her and other teenagers' views

  • Linda


    Linda Jones, Editor

    12 April, 2011

    Hi Karen - you must be hugely proud of Emily. It's good to see children and young peole standing up for what they believe in.

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