What is primary school for? Education in the widest sense, with every child accommodated for

Schools shouldn't be test-heavy laboratories turning out a million mini-Goves

Share

On Monday, I took my daughter to her first settling-in lesson at her new primary school before she starts properly in September. I was probably more nervous than she was.

As we walked across the school playground and the bell rang for morning break, children spilled out of their classrooms and I was transported back to my first few days at school, spent cowering in the corner hoping that no one would notice me.

As we got into the classroom, my daughter wouldn’t let go of my hand as she saw other children sitting at tables painting or making biscuits with Play-Doh. But within a few minutes she was drawn out of her shyness by her lovely new teacher, who was encouraging and positive, even when she made a mistake or did things wrong.

Despite my nervousness about my daughter starting school, I am encouraged by what I have seen so far. A primary school (rated “Good” by Ofsted) where reception classes learn phonics and maths every day, but at which these four and five year-olds are still encouraged to be what they are: very young children who want to play, paint, get messy, use their imagination and make friends.

Despite what the dear-departed Michael Gove no doubt thinks, this kind of ethos is what British primary schools should be: a combination of learning and play and, as pupils get older, gradually more rigorous tests. But also with a recognition that some children cannot be as academically brilliant as others, and that teachers are at least in part there to bring out other qualities in their pupils.

This was the spirit behind the letter sent by Rachel Tomlinson, the headteacher of Barrowford Primary School in Nelson, Lancashire, to Year 6 pupils alongside their Key Stage 2 test results. After this letter was retweeted thousands of times on Twitter and shared widely on Facebook, it turned out Ms Tomlinson had copied it from a US blog, triggering calls from some (including, not surprisingly, allies of Gove) for her to be sacked for plagiarism.

But while Ms Tomlinson was in the wrong – teachers are the last people who should be cutting and pasting – this was not an exam paper or a PhD thesis. This was an attempt to inspire. Ms Tomlinson’s intentions were well-meant, and her desire to motivate a group of children is no less valid. In the letter, she said that “tests do not always assess all of what it is that make each of you special and unique”.

The examiners, she said, did not know the children the way their teachers and family did – that many of them can speak two languages, play a musical instrument, paint a picture, or that their laughter “can brighten the dreariest day”. She summed up: “So enjoy your results and be very proud of these but remember there are many ways of being smart.”

The majority of us can remember being the child who did not streak ahead at tests but loved this stage of school for being education literally in primary colours. Primary school should be about preparing children for the more academic environment of secondary school, and not how the ex-Education Secretary saw it: as test-heavy laboratories turning out a million mini-Goves in training for Oxford.

You are not “dumbing down” education by exposing children to the wonders of sport, art, music and play, you are enriching their lives and encouraging them to love school so that maths, English and science are fun too.

Gove’s argument was that children from poorer, less academic backgrounds are let down when a school does not churn out pupils carved in his image. But improving grades for those children needs teachers who encourage an ethos of fun and affirmation. It is that positivity which is an unbridled, paint-splattered, dough-under-the-nails two-fingers-up to the era of Gove.

Germany – not so  great, after all

The backlash has begun. Just days after Germany’s triumph in the World Cup, at a moment when the entire planet is in awe of that nation, it turns out a group of German food producers has been fixing the price of sausages.

In a murky scandal which makes the secretive Bilderberg Group seem like Katie Price’s love life, a cartel of sausage producers met at a hotel in, confusingly enough, Hamburg, to fix the price of wurst. Germany’s competition watchdog has fined members of the cartel £267m for price-fixing. It is huge news in Germany, although I’m not sure you can buy Böklunder, Wiesenhof or Rügenwalder brand sausages over here – either at Marks & Spencer or even the German-owned Aldi.

Still, if it had been anything else – bar maybe match-fixing – this national scandal for Germany would go unnoticed. But fiddling the price of German sausages risks undermining their international brand. It is a bit like that moment when we discovered the Queen stores her cornflakes in a Tupperware box. Some of the mystique has gone.

READ MORE:
The Israeli offensive isn't an attack on Hamas, it's an attack on peace
Stop trying to make money out of  feminism
A wool jumper is just as cruel as a mink coat
 

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst- (Customer Support) - £29,000

£29000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst- (Customer Suppor...

Recruitment Genius: Laser Games Supervisor

£14500 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: PPC Executive / Manager

£22000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A PPC Executive/Manager is requ...

Ashdown Group: Service Delivery Manager - Retail / FMCG / WMS Operations

£55000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Service Delivery Manager - Retail / FMCG / WM...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The Independent journalist James Moore pictured outside Mile End underground station in east London  

From ‘coloured’ to ‘cripple’ - some words just don't belong in everyday language

James Moore
Marina Litvinenko, the widow of former KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko, leaves the High Court after the opening of the inquiry into his death  

Laying the blame for Litvinenko’s death at Putin’s door is an orthodoxy that needs challenging

Mary Dejevsky
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee
World War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel

Max Brooks honours Harlem Hellfighters

The author talks about race, legacy and his Will Smith film option to Tim Walker
Why the league system no longer measures up

League system no longer measures up

Jon Coles, former head of standards at the Department of Education, used to be in charge of school performance rankings. He explains how he would reform the system
Valentine's Day cards: 5 best online card shops

Don't leave it to the petrol station: The best online card shops for Valentine's Day

Can't find a card you like on the high street? Try one of these sites for individual, personalised options, whatever your taste
Diego Costa: Devil in blue who upsets defences is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

Devil in blue Costa is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

The Reds are desperately missing Luis Suarez, says Ian Herbert
Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Former one-day coach says he will ‘observe’ their World Cup games – but ‘won’t be jumping up and down’
Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

Magnetic north

The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness