THE BLOG

Open Letter to Nicky Morgan in Response to Twitter Video

23/02/2016 12:14 GMT | Updated 23/02/2017 10:12 GMT

Dear Ms Morgan

I have watched the video you posted on Twitter with interest and it has added to my growing concern.

I am looking into education in the UK as a parent of two daughters who are close to completing their school education and as the Co-Founder of a programme promoting resilience, wellbeing and success in primary schools.

Here are some of my concerns, which I will explain further below:

  • There are fundamental issues with the British education system and your additional tests are doing nothing to make the situation better; they are making it worse. The system needs a major change, not more testing.
  • These tests put additional strain on the already precarious mental health state of our children, and put teachers under even more pressure than they are already under.
  • Education should not just be about attainment/grades.

You mention that it is essential for children to move to the secondary phase of their education well prepared and ready for the challenges ahead. I agree. I disagree, however, with the notion that everything has to be measured by a never-ending stream of tests.

With so much testing at every stage of education, where is the time for teaching and learning?

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Image Credit: Pixabay.com

Perhaps I naïvely look at my imperfect education at the European School in Luxembourg - a strange amalgamation of various European education systems - and see that whilst they got a lot wrong, they also got a lot right.

We didn't start formal school education until we were six years old, having spent two years previously in Kindergarten - nursery - learning to play and socialise with other children, developing friendships, becoming ready for school. Therein lies the first fundamental problem with the British education system, as I see it. We start too early. Perhaps we would have fewer issues with the mental health of young people and the, often related, behavioural issues seen in many schools, if children were allowed to develop fundamental life and social skills before being expected to learn academic knowledge. Besides, teaching children earlier actually doesn't make them do better, academically.

See this article on the University of Cambridge website, which states:

... results show that the early introduction of formal learning approaches to literacy does not improve children's reading development, and may be damaging. By the age of 11 there was no difference in reading ability level between the two groups, but the children who started at 5 developed less positive attitudes to reading, and showed poorer text comprehension than those children who had started later. ...This body of evidence raises important and serious questions concerning the direction of travel of early childhood education policy currently in England. In the interests of children's academic achievements and their emotional well-being, the UK government should take this evidence seriously.

The second issue is this: Teachers are increasingly expected to produce some kind of measurable output as if schools were a production line. Has everyone forgotten that we are dealing with human beings? Children are all different, so why do we expect them all to be educated the same way? In some countries, teachers are held in high regard as highly competent and knowledgeable professionals. As outlined in this article on the Smithsonian regarding schools in Finland, they are allowed and expected to use their judgement regarding the best way to educate and support children.

Many European countries have a school system where children re-sit years. In my school, many did in fact re-sit years and this was a good thing. Children who are struggling with the fundamentals, as you explain in your video, Ms Morgan, cannot succeed later on in education, so why are we then pushing them through the sausage machine, regardless? Your tests won't stop children struggling later on; instead, they are an additional stick to beat teachers with, and an additional pressure on children, when we know that children's mental health is reaching crisis point.

A teacher can tell whether a child is doing well or struggling. They don't need a test for this. The teacher should be able to assess how a child is progressing, discuss this with parents and, where necessary, in consultation with other teachers and with parents, make the decision to allow the child to re-sit a year so they can get the fundamentals right. The UK is not doing well in the education stakes when compared to other countries, yet in the years where more and more tests have been introduced, more pressure has been piled onto pupils and teachers, all in a bid to make the UK 'do better', we have only succeeded in doing worse. Why keep doing more of the same thing that isn't working and expect a different outcome?

The third and possibly most crucial issue I need to raise is this: Why is so much importance placed on grades as the sole indicator of success? What happened to educating the whole person?

I explore this issue in more detail in my previous Huffington Post UK article 'What is the Purpose of Education?', in which I quote Sir Anthony Seldon:

Education is a once in a lifetime opportunity to open children's hearts and minds to the unbelievable wonder of the universe.

When and why did it all go so wrong?

I would be, of course, happy to have a conversation with you about the issues I have raised, in person, if you were open to such a dialogue. Meanwhile, I hope you will listen more to teachers, who are at the forefront of education, and who, along with parents and external providers into the education system, like me, truly work very hard at giving our children the best start in life and the best chance of success, whatever they wish to do and achieve in life.

Yours sincerely

Frederika Roberts

A concerned observer