OK so let’s start with the free school meal for infants. The government spent a huge amount of money equipping kitchens to be able to cater for this then they tried to abandon the idea and replace it with a breakfast. The reduced costings were due to an assumption that few children would take it up. In the run up to the election I discussedihist with my 7 year old son and he couldn’t understand it.
I am not ashamed to admit that when Matthew started school he was classed as disadvantaged. We lived with my parents. I had no income except child tax credits and their biological father has only made 4 child support payments in 7 years. Matthew would have qualified for free school meals anyway, but now our circumstances have changed. Anya starts school in September and she will not be considered disadvantaged as she comes from a secure home with a stable family and income. Matthew will move to junior school where the free meals are not offered.
My own personal preference is to eat a main meal at lunchtime to fuel me for the afternoon, and I believe children benefit from the same. Having worked in schools for over 10 years, I know the struggle staff have to ensure that packed lunches are healthy so a school dinner provides a perfect alternative and varies the range of food that children experience. As a mum, I love not having to worry about my food choices being judged. I make a packed lunch for Anya at preschool but she currently dislikes sandwiches, wraps, crackers etc so it is a real battle!
Next, the SATS. I will admit straightaway to a conflict of interest on this one. My son has just taken his Key Stage 1 SATS and I have had reassurance from the teacher that he has done well. I also work at two infant schools so know of the pressures being faced in the wake of the introduction of the more challenging curriculum and the assessment of Age Related Expectations.
The BBC article refers to the Key Stage 2 SATS taken at the end of Year 6.
How can it be right that children are failing? Yes, I know that competition and testing prepares them for later life and I think that making qualifications harder to achieve increases their value. But there needs to be a narrative behind the data. Progress of the individual is surely more important than whether they have passed a national standard. When Matthew started school he couldn’t read and wouldn’t even hold a pencil (despite living with a retired teacher – hi Mum!), now he reads fluently, writes, draws, paints etc so his progress has been phenomenal.
At every parents’ evening, my questions have always been ‘does he have friends’ ‘can he express his emotions’ ‘how does he interact with others’ ‘what are his strengths and weaknesses’ ‘how can I help’? I have little interest in his academic ability: this is a tiny part of what makes him Matthew and I anticipate the same for Anya and Zach.
The two infant schools I clerk for are utterly dedicated to helping children achieve their best, whatever their skills and whatever their potential. They are passionate about providing the best education they can for the children in their care, continually adjusting to both national curriculum changes and individual cognitive development.
Testing undoubtedly has its place in our education system but it is not a full picture of the children and future we are creating.