Well it is term one, autumn one and here we are at the very beginning of our journey to a delayed start to reception.
I am also nine months pregnant so these lazy last few weeks of pregnancy have felt especially special, spent with my little buddy on the lead up to the birth of her little brother or sister. So in the midst of the madness of our friends kids starting school and us cramming every single second in together I have been thinking a lot about the other side of it all, life as mummy verse life as a reception teacher or as the children used to call me "MISS!!!"
Before I had a child I have to say I was one of those blasé teachers who gave the parents a friendly tap on the shoulder and said "quick hug and goodbye" before expecting them to trot off into the windy September morning forgetting about their child and enjoying their day.
I also must admit I saw these little beings in my class as capable of a lot more emotional and social intelligence than I now understand a four year to old to be capable of. I didn't expect tears and to be completely honest thought the children who cried were probably the mollycoddled ones!
Oh how times have changed!
So for now to the world outside I am now the overbearing parent who has delayed their child's entry to reception and my child is the one wrapped up in cottonwool! Or is she?
For a start I know that if I dropped Amelia off at the university gates let alone the reception ones tomorrow she would skip happily in, I invariably hear "off you go mummy" or "don't play with us" when I am out and about with my very independent daughter and she has absolutely no problem settling into new settings and with new people.
So why have I found the last couple of weeks so unsettling?
Intrinsically I believe that four or five is too young for the school environment; the longness of the school day, the business of the canteen and the high pace expectations of those early days are off putting for most parents. The fact that the only other mothers that I know personally that have delayed entry to reception are fellow teachers speaks volumes.
The first thing to note is the tiredness, the sheer exhaustion and the tears before bedtime that my friends children have experienced, it is like we accept that children are going to be exhausted without question when really the question we should be asking is, is this the best starting place with which to learn? It isn't just about learning is it? It is about happiness, discovery, exploration, loving and understanding this crazy world we live in and isn't school there to give us more clarity, to make things clearer? Would we as adults expect and accept this level of exhaustion from work? Would it go unquestioned?
As a teacher I had a sleeping area for the children where we had big comfy pillows and sleeping bags. We had a dark tent and some sensory lights and noises inside for the children and we took pride in making it homely comfortable, a real place of safety. This is unusual. I never once questioned having it, never once delved any deeper into why it was necessary and what it meant, that effectively the school day was too long and the children needed some time out.
This blog post is not a criticism of well meaning parents, nor of excellent teachers and schools but instead the rather slant viewed system that we live in whereby a child of four is supposed to in a very British sense don his satchel and get on with it! Even little Prince George has struggled this term, not enamoured with school - so what is it about it that is making the little Prince and others want to fall asleep or go home?
Aside from the tiredness the other thing that has struck me is the panic from parents who have been told incorrectly that their child should have reached the same academic standard as everyone else on entry to reception. You can see their minds filling with homework and worksheets and further reading and that ever so telling moment when they say they feel like the school has already written them off! At four! In week one!
The problem with the UK system is this, there are too many things that children must be able to achieve before the end of reception, there are too many excellent teachers trained to get them there without thought for whether they are going to have fun, want to be there and love learning and there are too many Head Teachers that are constantly led by Ofsted until you quite frankly want to shake them and say what about the child?
Too many factors, too many variables, too many children from different backgrounds. One of the most common arguments put forward for the early age school start in this country is children from deprived backgrounds who if left at home won't have the opportunity to close the gap. But the gap doesn't close this "attainment gap", instead of closing gets wider at each stage up to the age of 16. As every year passes in school, the results of the richest and poorest grow further apart.
Finnish pupils start formal education at seven and then enjoy 11-week summer holidays - and they end up with the highest educational standards in Europe.
Poland, a rapid-climber in international education league tables and overtaking England at reading skills, is also another country where pupils do not start until the age of seven.
So to the teacher at the high achieving school telling that parent their child is behind and needs to step his game up in the first early weeks of school just stop and think for a moment. Are all children the same? Is all success measurable? Let us take a step back and celebrate that child’s achievements so far in the last weeks.
So what have we learnt from the other side, term one, autumn one?
I have learnt that children and their parents are resilient, that most children accept change, that most teachers are well meaning but that this sometimes gets lost with the pressures of next steps, attainment and progress. Most importantly I have learnt that children tend to know what they are capable of and what makes them happy.
So I asked my independent, intelligent and loving little monster if she wanted to go to school yet and she simply rolled her eyes and said, "No mummy I am too little”.
So instead we ate wagamamas and painted our nails and do you know what? We didn't feel bad at all!