It’s for Sir Michael Wilshaw, the head of Ofsted. And Michael Gove. And all the other
idiots politicians who appear to feel they know what children need regardless of what people who actually know children say.
Did you see this? In the telegraph apparently he’s talking about a checklist. Parents should be issued with a checklist for raising their children.
It’s hard to be calm and coherent about this really. But I’m going to try.
He said too many children were getting an “unsure start because the early years system is letting them down”. In all, 23 per cent of childcare providers were no better than satisfactory last year, it emerged.
The first thing on my list is a rule against redefining words.
You see, satisfactory means good enough. And while it would be lovely for every childcare provider to be outstanding, surely being good enough, is well, good enough? Or does satisfactory actually mean unsatisfactory now? (Could every childcare provider be outstanding? Doesn’t outstanding mean you stand out, ie you’re different? So if they were all outstanding, then they wouldn’t be. See, this is the problem with redefining words. It turns communication into nonsense.)
But sadly, that is beside the point.
Let’s take a look at Ofsted’s list, shall we?
• To sit still and listen
• To be aware of other children
• To understand the word no and the borders it sets for behaviour
• To understand the word stop and that such a phrase might be used to prevent danger
• To be potty trained and go to the loo
• To recognise their own name
• To speak to an adult and ask for needs
• To be able to take off their coat and put on shoes
• To talk in sentences
• To open and enjoy a book
How do I get one of those failure noises? You know the one, that goes de-durr.
Top of the checklist for Sir Michael Wilson is to sit still and listen. Because in his model of education, of life, that’s how you get ahead – the very first thing you have to do as a child is stop learning.
Have you ever sat and watched a toddler? They are little learning machines. But they don’t learn by sitting still and listening. They learn by investigating, interacting, taking apart, putting together. They learn by asking, imitating, experimenting. They are active, joyful, destructive and exhausting.
And the first thing that Sir Michael would do, the very top of his list, is he would stop all of that. He would have them sit still, and listen. Because you know this is what is meant by children aren’t school ready at 5. It means we aren’t starting them early enough with the sitting still and listening. (Is it school readiness at 5 he’s targetting? For all that’s compulsory education age, most children start the year before that, so is it reception age children, 4 year olds, that’s he’s complaining about? I thought that reception was there to move towards the school readiness thing. But what do I know.)
Has Sir Michael ever been to a Montessori school? The children there do sit still and work for ages and ages on different things. There’s not a lot of listening to begin with though – things are demonstrated without words. Words get in the way of watching, of touching, of exploring. And do you know what? It works. Montessori children are inquisitive, experimental and very very good at learning. Not at being taught, at learning. They are absolutely aware of other children, of varying ages, because Montessori children aren’t taught in single age groups, but across years. And do you know why that is? It’s because human children aren’t set up to learn from or with identical age peers – why would they be? Another two year old doesn’t know any more. They are set up to learn from older children – you watch a baby with an older sibling. They follow them about. They imitate. They adore. It’s a wonderful relationship, and it works.
Our education system is set up to break down natural patterns of learning for young children, and Sir Michael would like that to happen earlier and for more children.
Don’t fall for it. Let kids be kids. Give them space to learn and be and play, and if you must, teach them to sit down and be still and quiet later. Much later. Or better still, let them figure it out naturally, in family environments where it works, or where they can see the point of it for themselves.
Sir Michael would disregard what I’m saying. He’d point to me, no doubt, as one of the members of the chattering classes, and say that I am disempowering children from disadvantaged households. What I’m saying is that year on year and generation on generation I think it’s the education system that’s disempowering people, by telling them that they have to be taught. That there is only one right way. That you have to sit still and listen.