Thursday, 8 September 2016

Starting Secondary School?

As I hear more and more stories from parents whose kids have just started secondary school (at age 11) I'm starting to worry a little about sending my eldest...and he's just started year 4! (For the uninitiated, that means he doesn't go until September 2019!)

Tales of detention for having the wrong colour socks, bills for school trips before the kids even started, begging letters asking parents to 'donate' (presumably for the staff Xmas piss up...). That's on top of the uniform which can only be bought from one supplier (and you need some kind of Lord of the Rings type quest to find them), and the 15 different types of PE kit to be worn for every sport imaginable, in all types of weather, in different colours dependent on whether your name starts with 'S' or there's a full moon...I think you get my point.

But the joy actually starts in year 5 of primary school when you have to decide whether to join the scrum to find the perfect tutor, to decide whether they should attend exam class (and then being asked by school why they're not attending when you've made the 'wrong' decision), whether they should be doing past papers on top of the weekly reading, spellings, maths and English homework that comes home. 

And that's alongside all the extra-curricular activities. This term alone my 8 year old is taking swimming lessons and tennis lessons outside school and has signed up for lacrosse, judo, guitar and recorder at school. You know, for a more rounded educational experience! I'm not surprised he simply wants to play Minecraft and watch You-Tube when he's at home...

I was staggered to find out that entrance exams for grammar school take place on Monday next week and applications need to go in now. They've only just gone back! And some poor kids have spent all summer 'revising'.

From what I've seen so far, primary school is all about encouragement. About individuality. About building kids' confidence, teaching them to know when to question and when to toe the line. 

Not only do they learn the 3 R's, and SPAG (and possibly other catchy collections of letters) but there is a focus on personal development, on mental as well as physical well-being, and on managing your emotional development. 

This is a good thing...and then they go to secondary school where the message appears to be 'conform or be punished'.

There's the academy in Kent in the news this week who sent scores of pupils home for wearing the wrong uniform, where the police had to deal with a 'disturbance' after parents gathered at the school to complain. (

Then there's my former high school, now an academy (shock, horror) which threatened pupils with the withdrawal of privileges if parents threatened to question or criticise the school on social media. One parent even likened the school to the Korean Army! (

When did our schools become draconian, military like institutions? Possibly when teachers pay became linked to pupil performance, but that's another blog post all together.

Rather naively I thought schools were there for the education of kids. I also thought that in this new world we live in, they were supposed to be a partnership between pupils, parents and staff. Apparently not. Apparently it's so that a bunch of governors and head teachers with a God complex can impose their authority on a group of 11 year olds by deciding that navy blue is far more respectable than black when it comes to socks.

Can you tell I'm angry? You're damn right I'm angry!

In a 2004 report regarding mental health in young people, 1 in 10 young people were found to suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder. I dread to think what that figure may be 12 years on. 

Starting a new school can be an incredibly stressful time for some kids and instead of helping them with the transition we're threatening them with punishment for incredibly minor infringements of 'rules' that no-one in their right mind gives a crap about. In fact I would love to see the peer-reviewed academic evidence that backs up the claim that detention for everything improves behaviour. Or are we simply trying to run an organisation based on fear, because that's always turned out well...

I fully understand that all organisations need rules, and in the most part I'm a big fan, but then I did work in quality assurance so...

What I'm not a fan of is this nanny state mentality that seems to be filtering into every aspect of our lives. That I'm expected to hand my child over to the school system to be handled however they see fit and have my child face the 'punishment' if I dare to question it.

Now for some people reading, this will seem like a long rant with no basis. The majority of kids will start secondary school and have no issues at all, in fact many will thrive in a rules based environment. They'll happily drag 15 sets of PE kit to school, they'll wear their regulation socks up to the knee and they'll never hear that dreaded word 'detention'. 

In fact, I was one of those kids. Never broke the rules. Spent every lunchtime and after school taking part in some extra-curricular activity. To the extent that in sixth form I was taken to one side by my teachers who were concerned I was going to burn out. Turned out I did, it just took another 15-20 years to happen...

Now imagine you're the parent of one of the 1 in 10 kids who suffer from a diagnosable mental illness, or one of the 1 in 15 who deliberately self harm and now decide whether you give a crap about the colour of socks.

So, 'vive la revolution', 'power to the people' and all that! I'm off to don some stripy knee length socks, and for the record, the 3 year old will be wearing Batman socks to nursery tomorrow!

P.S: Some of the information/stats for this blog post came from an excellent book called 'Mind Your Head' by Juno Dawson and Dr Olivia Hewitt. Aimed at young people, this covers topics surrounding mental health, presenting them in an clear and supportive way. If you would like to know more about mental health and young people or know a young person who would like to know more, I'd highly recommend this book.  

1 comment:

  1. Have a look at the Danish/ Swedish systems for secondary education. They have the right idea.