With anxiety and other mental health issues rising in children resulting in school phobia and school Refusal causing huge issues to many families & schools I think it’s time we looked at what the problem really is with our education system.
In my view and aside from the current funding crisis, the main issue is the one size fits all approach. By this I mean lack of flexibility when it comes to a child’s individual needs, strengths interests and Mental health.
For a system that claims to be inclusive, schools in general, are reluctant to deviate from the normal structures and routines for the benefit of the children or child in their care.
As a parent of a child with SENs (Both recognised and unrecognised) I heard far too often;
“All children are expected to …..”
“That is the way we do things at this school.”
“The government (or OFSTED) requires us to do things in this way.”
This is all well and good until you realise that all children are not the same, that each is an individual with individual minds, learning rates, attentions spans, processing speeds, emotional and physical capacity, resilience and a multitude of other things.
For instance, my son is bright, yet dyslexic, is capable of great focus when he is involved in his special interests, finds social interactions exhausting and loves being outdoors when he is not suffering from anxiety but hates sport of any kind. Now because my son hates sport it doesn’t mean he won’t exercise, take him to the woods and he will run about and get all the exercise he needs. Because he finds writing by hand painful does not mean he does not like sharing stories or views.
Why MUST all children do Sports or write exclusively by hand? Why must all children do the same, is squeezing all children in to fit the same curriculum really inclusion? To me inclusion is about all children being the best they can be, feeling the most self confident, developing to their full potential however facilitating achieving that looks different to each individual child.
It seems that every day there is a new test or government intervention to control and measure learning in school. It is all about structure and regimentation. If we want to develop capable , self confident, flexible children who are good at problem solving then shouldn’t the learning environment needs to reflect those same values and aims?
Schools and teachers need to have the ability to adjust, tweek and if necessary totally rethink educational approaches to suit their school, class and each individual within it without fear or reprisals for not following the government line. Children and parents need to be participants in not just learning but in how their education is structured around them. In short i feel inclusion is about including SEND children and their parents in all aspects of their education and facilitating the approach and method of education that plays to their strengths and supports them where they are weakest.
I believe schools should be answerable to parents rather than government and that parents and students views should be what makes up reports and performance each measured on the happiness of the children and the satisfaction of the parents. This would soon put a stop to forced off rolling, excluding SEND children and other practices used to help school massage figures in order to perform well in OFSTED reports and tests.
In short I believe the answer to unhappy students lies with giving back control to heads, teachers, parents and children and taking it away from government. Such flexibility could in turn help SEND students get tailored and specific support and education. The money saved on OFSTED inspectors and processing tests and data could go back into the schools to pay for individualised support for students.
No doubt my proposed approach will seem overly simplistic to many and I am not claiming it is perfect or would be without problems, it may not be the right one or have all the answers but one thing I know for sure is that a total rethink of our educational system is needed if we want a truly level playing field for all children and for schools to become places that support the mental health of their students, rather than damage it.