I have been a teacher for 10 years now. For most of that time, I worked in a large comprehensive school and taught across the ages of 11-18 years. During that time, I supported children from a variety of backgrounds and saw thousands of children pass through the system.
In general, my experience with schools has been good. I went to great schools as a child, trained in some lovely schools and worked in one of the best schools in the area. All of these school were filled with fantastic staff who wanted the best for their students.
However, once I became a mother my views on the education system started to change. I saw it as a whole and pictured my children going through it.
Reductions in funding for schools, under-resourced teachers, a return to old-fashioned teaching and increasing exam pressure for our young people makes me worried about sending my children to school.
But homeschooling is not an option for everyone. It’s not really a long term option for us. Therefore, as a teacher and a mother, I offer this advice for those of you worried about this too.
Listen to your children
Children tell us about their day in more ways than just with words. Body languages and changes in normal patterns of behaviour can give us lots of clues.
But verbal communication is the easiest, and encouraging your child to share their thoughts and feelings is going to be the easiest way to judge their overall well-being.
Listening is key here. Making time to listen to your children from a young age will make them feel heard as they grow up.
If they are telling you that school is hard, don’t be dismissive. That is how they feel, acknowledge that and work on a solution together. If they are worried about a test, discuss that with them and find strategies to manage the worry and make time for revision.
Advocate for your children
Sometimes our children need us to speak for them. I’ve seen first hand how dismissive schools and teachers can be of the opinions of children. If their voice isn’t being heard then you need to speak up for them.
Unfortunately, there is fine line between advocating for your children and just being a pain in the bum for the school. Fight for your children’s right to accessible education and a care-free childhood, but maybe don’t write that letter complaining about the homework taking a bit longer than expected.
Make time for play
There is a time for learning and a time for play. Luckily, we do our best learning when we are playing so make sure that your child has plenty of time for that too.
Play looks different at different ages. Play is fairly obvious for children under 10, but for teenagers and even adults playtime can be hard to define.
But create the space for it to happen. Schedule play into the day, the week, the year. And protect it for the whole family.
There is very little free playtime in the school day, especially as they move up through the years. You will need to find time for it at home.
Support and encourage their interests
Despite the best efforts of schools, budget cuts and limitation on time mean that schools cannot cover everything. When you look at it, the curriculum is ridiculously narrow even at the best of schools.
Hence, it is important to nurture your child’s interests outside of the framework of school. Maybe you get lucky and you have a kid like me who loved maths, in which case you can stand down a bit. If not, you might need to get creative.
Sports and arts clubs are the obvious choices, but library books and online learning can provide cheaper stimulation too.
Even something as simple as watching films together and discussing them can inspire a future director. Or watching nature documentaries could keep that love of animals going strong. Your creativity here will go a long way to encouraging theirs.
Learn how they learn
Teachers try their hardest to adapt to the learning needs of the students in front of them. But when you consider that the way we prefer to learn is a spectrum and classes have 30 students and only one teacher then there are going to times when it doesn’t work perfectly.
If as a parent, you can discover how your child prefers to learn then you can work to provide skills to support them in the classroom.
In some subjects, I learnt well through auditory processes. I could remember whole speeches given by teachers on certain topics, particularly if they had a strong accent.
Once I figured this out, I used it to my advantage and would revise by reading out loud and using silly voices.
Other people are more visual and something as simple as a pack of highlighters or gel pens could go far.
But remember to acknowledge that this may vary from subject to subject, and topic to topic, so work with your children to learn these things about themselves. You can always pass this on to the teacher too, save them having to figure it all out again.
Build positive relationships with the school
This one goes hand in hand with advocating for your child, but having a positive relationship with the school will go far.
I have worked with many parents who have attempted to (and sometimes succeed in) bullying me or my colleagues all under the guise of supporting their child.
Opposite to this, I have worked closely with families of children with high needs and had fantastic relationships that have allowed these children to thrive.
Communication is key here. Creating a dialogue with the school that is consistent with the level of need of your child will keep the school up to date with life at home and provide a channel of communication for the school to report back to you.
What does the future of schools look like?
If I’m honest, not good! Funding is going to drop even more. Mental health funding is already stretched thin and SEN money is nowhere near where it needs to be.
On top of this, we have teachers and school staff being stretched to capacity to meet targets set by senior leaders, Ofsted and more.
But if you focus on your child. Make them feel heard, learn what they love and provide space for them to be who they are then maybe we can weather this educational storm.
Disclaimer: Remember the information you read here does not represent advice. Any ideas or suggestions are just that and may not work for you. Read the full disclaimer here.