I often wonder about those in government making the decisions about our educational system. It seems that more and more we are pushing our children to breaking point in some cases. You hear of young people committing suicide because of the pressure of exams! I certainly know there’s much anxiety for our High School students as they are continuously compared to each other and graded on their achievements. For all children it can be an immense pressure and one that some young people can not cope with. What are we trying to do to our children? What about being children, experiencing life as it should be – a happy, joyous place of discovery and amazement at the wonderful creation and possibilities we have. If only we would see that in our children. They are all so different and grading them as equals when they aren’t is ridiculous.
Vulnerable children of course are a whole different kettle of fish. If every child had the same advantages and experiences in life, then maybe we could compare them to each other – the average (whatever the means) – but they’re not. A quote I heard a long time ago that just won’t leave my head is this:
‘Students who are loved at home come to school to learn, students who aren’t come to school to be loved’ – Nicholas A Ferroni
Wow that’s so powerful. If children know they are loved and accepted in their home environment then coming to a slightly stressful place like school can be manageable – not always of course, I’m very aware that for ‘typical’ children school and the pressures of grades and exams can be overwhelming too. But for children who have a sense of shame at the core of their being and who worry more about surviving the day than learning and passing exams – school holds a torrent of emotions and turmoil just waiting to explode.
A thought that’s been going round my mind for some years now – since I started training schools on Attachment Difficulties for children in school, is based on an archery target.
If you imagine the target has four circles – the bullseye, the next level out and so on. These four sections represent the four main areas of development that we need as humans. Academic (learning), Social, Physical and Emotional. These are the four areas I think that are important (there’s also spiritual but for this purpose in education maybe not so relevant).
In our current educational system the bullseye – the thing we aim for the most and what we’re targeted on is Academic – attainment and achievement, exam results. That’s what we’re aiming for at all costs sometimes.
The next level out might be social – so if they make some friends, or can interact with others, debate well with other people and show some empathy towards others then that’s great – BUT it’s not the main aim.
Next might come physical – if they understand nutrition and make wise food choices, if they are fit and sporty then that’s good – BUT it’s not the main aim.
Finally comes the emotional development – if they can control their temper, express themselves well, be resilient when they lose then that’s great – BUT it’s not the main aim.
You get the picture right!
They’re all on the board but we’re always pushed towards that main aim of the academics.
However I really believe this Is flawed.
For all children but especially vulnerable children if they do not feel safe and calm they will not be able to learn. Parts of the brain will be inactive if they are always worried about what might happen, am I going to get beaten up at break time? Will there be enough food for me? Is Mum coming to pick me up? All these teachers hate me…..and on and on. If we do not attend to the other important areas of development before the academics then these children will continue to struggle their way through an insensitive system that does not acknowledge how difficult it is for them.
I believe the archery target needs to be the other way round. The bullseye should be emotional development, then physical, then social and finally academic. They are all important but the focus is important too. Wouldn’t it be great to have a system that was flexible enough to accommodate this? To allow dedicated and caring teachers and staff to meet all the needs of these children and young people who desperately need a safe place to be – where they can discover their strengths, be creative, realise their potential and become integrated members of society in the future.
My only hope for this change is the many passionate people I’ve met in education over the last eight years. People with a heart to make things better for vulnerable children despite a system that seems to work against that. I thank all of you reading this who fall into that category – you may never know how important your work has been to someone but I can tell you without a shadow of a doubt it is worth it. Whatever might happen for that child in the future all those positive interactions they’ve had with other adults reinforces that they are valuable and worthy of our attention. Please don’t give up. I know it must be frustrating but these children need you. This system needs people who will speak up for the vulnerable children who can not do that for themselves. And hopefully we can make a huge difference to this system that seems determined to make life harder for children whose lives are already hard enough.
I know this is a different kind of post to the ones I normally write but I feel so passionately about this. Please join me in this – send us a message through email or facebook to add any comments you may have on this subject.