As I was prostrate in the bath the other night (which is where I do most of my thinking I must admit) and pontificating about the wonderment that are our children one question occurred to me… ‘What are we doing?’
That particular day I had spent the morning analysing nursery data, trying to project outcomes for children who had been on the planet for little over 1000 days and I was trying to map gaps in attainment in their reading, writing and maths skills to ensure I was rapidly closing the gap in their understanding thus further promoting social mobility. I was there with graphs, birthdates, data charts, expectation graphs and much more to try and fit a unique child into a norm referenced data tracking system.
It occurred to me that we are working in a complete oxymoronic system where we are promoting mastery in all subjects, depths of application and analysis where we can manipulate and apply information in unique and creative ways whilst our education system is in line with the industrial revolution. Where children are sorted by the number of days they have been alive, entering the system at one end and exiting with the presumption that we are all the same and should be achieving and behaving in a way which is ‘normal’.
It makes me wonder where the unique child is actually taken into account. As human beings we have varying genetics, parenting, nutrition, interests or passions which are the golden thread which align any person’s core values which are bestowed onto us by our parents and families. One thing that is apparent now is that if you were born in poverty, in a socioeconomically deprived estate, with a single mother, some social care issues and a deprivation of resilience and optimism, the government are now stating that you have to make more progress and at a more rapid rate than someone of the same age who has been brought up in the comfort of affluence with a stable home life, excellent nutrition and 3 long haul holidays a year to exotic and historic locations. Working in one of the most deprived wards in the country I did ponder as to how realistic that expectation is?
I’m not suggesting that we should not be aspirational for all children, aspiration is what we do. We want to make a difference in the lives of our children; why else would you be a Headteacher? The question I am asking is that how much can schools actually do? In the school I work in we have over 400 wonderfully unique children. We work hard to ensure they achieve their maximum potential. How much however can we influence their core values?
I am currently lucky enough to be part of the SCHOOLS NorthEast Healthy MindEd commission where were are debating in detail the mental health of young people and how it is felt that the mental health of our young people is in decline. Is it so mysterious as to why young people are feeling vulnerable and under pressure? If it’s not from exam stress, applications to redbrick universities, social media or ‘thinspiration’ web pages it’s from attachment disorder, poverty, identity, bereavement, bullying, parental separation, domestic violence, debt, drugs… the list goes on.
The government are quite rightly attempting to bring parity to society to suggest that whatever your background you should have the tools to choose your life and career. The question I ask is that in targeting schools and schools alone are the government missing the key issue? Have they correctly identified the missing ‘tools’? There has been a decline in social care, sure start centres are closing, peri-natal support is decreasing, health visitors are less and less involved, poverty is on the rise and there appears to be a deficit in the ability to parent effectively to ensure children feel safe and secure and able to take on the challenges of being a young person in the 21st century. How are school leaders and their staff suddenly qualified to solve all of these issues. We are experts in merely education.
Maybe the government needs to look more broadly at the issue as to why children from socially economically deprived areas do not necessarily socially mobilise? If they looked closely would they actually discover that they are not taught well in good schools, or would they discover that despite excellent teaching and pastoral care; without intervention into the wider aspect of parenting, poverty and mental ill health in our more deprived communities; the children have very little for the excellent schooling to stick to. Their resilience, optimism and core drivers (which are affected almost entirely by preschool experiences and parenting) which enables children to feel safe and ready to learn are lacking.
The question the government maybe should be asking isn’t how much more should schools be doing to solve the social mobility issue, it is how differently can the government support socioeconomically deprived areas in their parenting to ensure children come to school resilient and life ready, excited for all the curriculum has to offer thus enabling educationalist to do what they are trained to do and educate. With this embedded one outcome must be that the mental health of children and their families are improved and that children are more able to and achieve their maximum potentials, whatever these may be.