In a previous article, I highlighted the way we, as parents, all aspire for our children to succeed in life and how we are aware that success can be measured in an inordinate number of ways. In Reggio Emilia, children are encouraged to be themselves and to develop independently through their own language of expression. From birth, children are regarded as being capable and competent, full of potential, with a right to be heard and listened to. And so how do we ensure our children fulfil this potential?
One might consider the education system as being the highway to success, but how and when this success is to be measured is currently a hot topic of debate amongst mental health experts, teachers and parents of children in their early years.
The campaign “Let the kids be kids” is calling for a full educational review of primary assessment, asserting that “the Department of Education is damaging the mental health of children through its excessive testing and is devaluing education by promoting rote learning of age-inappropriate grammatical concepts.
We are creating children who are stifled and demotivated due to continuous and unnecessary teaching to the test. We are setting schools up to fail and leaving them open to academisation.”
During the application process for a reception place for our daughter this September, one school’s enquiry of the nursery attended by our daughter, as part of the admission process, requested that the nursery confirm the “potential” of the child concerned.
“Potential”, as defined by the Oxford English Dictionary, means “having or showing the capacity to develop into something in the future”. This definition appears to have a wide interpretation and, in fact, the use of the word “something” is so non-specific that a child ought to be able to become whomever they might wish, expressing themselves howsoever they might wish. This definition and interpretation does not however sit comfortably with the UK’s repeated testing of early years children in Years 2 and 6. What does this testing seek to achieve? Do the results enable teachers and parents to assess whether their children might “develop into something”? I would argue no. Primary testing focuses on grammatical and arithmetical accuracy rather than creativity and individuality. It is these latter characteristics which arguably enable a child to become a free thinker, to be confident and resilient. Expecting a child to learn by rote or by being taught a model answer, rather than allowing a child to research an enquiry independently, does not respect the competence of the child. Nor does this approach support a child’s right to “develop into something”, essentially anything or anyone they wish, expressing themselves in whichever language they so choose.
The education highway might historically have been viewed as the pathway to academia and to success, but it fails to recognise the true potential of our children. It fails to account for our diversity and fails to embrace these differences. It is difference which makes us stand out as individuals; as talented young people with a right to be valued, to be listened to and to be heard.
I would urge anyone who believes children should be allowed the opportunity and the freedom to develop their inquiring minds and a love for learning, to sign the petition “Suspend primary testing in Yr2 and Yr6 for 2017” created by the “Let the kids be kids” campaign: