Microwaving Childhood.

A few years back we chatted to our kids about moving house. Our 7 year old coped with it in the way children do – outwardly there was not much fuss – the emotion was processed through play. With 3 toy dogs in her little play house she acted out how they’d stay in touch if one moved away to another kennel, there were tears from each of the puppies. Play was her way of processing the information, of developing her mental strength and of coping with the change.

Children learn mental strength through play – it’s a fundamental part of human development and has been fine-tuned over millions of years of evolution. Without free play, children’s’ minds become so over structured that they can lack the skills they need to cope with the real world, with boredom, with difficult people and tricky situations. Yet this essential emotional tool is being limited by a whole host of factors – and the school system is undeniably playing a part.

As parents we know play is in decline. Limiting screen time is our continual battle and children not ‘playing out’ our constant lament… we’re trying our best to ‘let kids be kids’ for as long as we can but children spend the vast majority of their waking hours in school where play is being severely limited and a culture of teaching to the test is taking over.

Other countries recognise that the primary years are essential for nurturing slow and steady development through play based learning. In sharp contrast, the UK’s fast paced school system means that children as young as 5 can now be sitting at desks for the majority of the day. Missed playtime is often used as punishment for children who can’t keep up and schools across the country have done away with afternoon playtime altogether because there’s not space in the curriculum to fit play in!

Primary school, which should be a ‘slow cooker’ for development, is microwaving childhood. No wonder there’s such a call for initiatives such as Mental Health Awareness Week. No wonder Home Education is on the rise.

What’s causing this issue in schools? Undeniably high stakes testing such as SATs where schools are rated, headteachers judged and teachers promoted based on test results. SATs are killing play in schools as test scores take priority over wellbeing. As a strong coalition of parents, teachers and education professionals keep shouting – children are More Than A Score!

On top of this decline of play it is common knowledge the pressure caused by SATs actively causes anxiety and emotional stress in children… a double whammy for childhood mental health. We’re not by any means referring to ‘emotional stress’ in a snowflakey way – we’re not talking about a few tears before bedtime here. We’re talking about doctors medicating children who can’t cope with the ridged nature of school , kids self harming because they can’t cope with the age inappropriate work, children talking about suicide if they fail the tests. This isn’t a problem created by snowflakes – this is an avalanche of pressure created by the Department for Education.

The DfE are fully aware of the concerns from both parents and professionals about the epic failures of their flawed curriculum. An Education Select Committee review concluded that SATs are pointless and damaging and yet the tests continue to take place year after year after year… the tests may provide a way for this government to claim that school standards are rising but at what cost to the mental health of our young minds?

Whilst the buck clearly stops with the DfE, we mustn’t let school leaders go unchallenged – clearly some schools handle the testing culture better than others. Rather than being merely footsoldiers following orders, more need to join the battle to fight the system they describe as ‘immoral’ and ‘bordering on abuse’. Headteachers have a moral duty to put the well being of children ahead of data collection. Bad things happen when good people simply follow orders.

Microwaving childhood might increase academic standards in schools – more 7 year olds may be able to recite times tables, more 11 year olds be able to spot a fronted adverbial – but the long terms costs are not worth the gains. Society needs to prioritise a ‘slow cooked’ childhood where children can develop their mental strength at a natural pace to prepare them for the challenges of the real world.



Increasingly parents are asking what they can do to protect children from the high stakes testing in primary schools.  There’s a mainstream awareness that the system is not fit for purpose and that the pressure children face in primary school is damaging.

It’s hard for parents to know what to do for the best.  Parents are very respectful of teachers and  headteachers and trust them with the well-being of their children.  However, parents are also aware that the teaching profession is speaking out against SATs and being ignored.

  • This Question Time clip shows the strength of public opinion against the high stakes testing and the frustration felt by the profession.
  • This article shows that MPs are aware of the link between SATs and mental health.
  • This report shows the severe impact high pressured testing can have on young children.

Everyone knows about the problem but no-one is taking action!  Many parents now feel they can not stand by and watch this happen any longer… they want to take action to effect change.

In the past couple of weeks it has come to light that parents DO have a power to act against the tests.  Research by Reclaiming Schools points out that “Heads are clearly expected to work in cooperation with parents and teachers.” and that “there is nothing in law to force a parent to submit their child to these tests”.   This advice is reiterated in an answer to a parliamentary question regarding withdrawing from SATs within which Anne Milton MP states that ‘Children attending school are not legally required to sit the national key stage tests’.

So… if you want to use your parent power to stand up for your child, you can do.  Read the research into the law, use this letter as a template if you wish… do what you think is right for your child, and all children, in a broken system.

Withdrawal Letter – Year 6 SATs 2018

Thoughts from a retired headteacher…

Teachers, headteachers, parents… use your power!

“I daily thank god that I am a retired teacher and headteacher. I simply could not ask my staff to persecute children with never ending ‘tests’ that do nothing to further any child’s education or ability to make sense of the world. I simply would have refused to cooperate with the idiots charged with designing our so-called education system.

Teaching used to be a joyous profession. Happy children, staff who didn’t dread walking daily through the school gates and heads who were left to manage their schools without the constant interference of people who couldn’t do the job themselves.

I used to be described as formidable by LEA officers, advisors alike. Yes I was. Formidable in my determination to do the very best I could for the young people in my charge.

Schools used to be about opportunities for social mobility- a chance for bright children to be picked up by insightful teachers and for the ones struggling to be identified and helped. Education has become a political football booted from one end of an uneven pitch to the other people many of whom are products of Eton Oxbridge and who haven’t got a clue about the real world.

How I long to meet whoever sits there and has a light bulb moment! It would not take me 5 minutes to make it clear why I was described as formidable, why I was much loved by students, staff and parents alike and why they should be out on their ear.

Fight for your children! You have more power than you know.”

We want ACTION not words… stop the SATs NOW!

“I want a system that measures the progress that children make throughout their time at primary school fairly and accurately, a system that recognises teachers’ professionalism in assessing their pupils, and a system which does not impose a disproportionate burden.” Justine Greening


Tell her what you think lovely people…

“It is important that we have a proper, considered debate around these proposals so that we can move forwards to a stable, trusted primary assessment system which delivers strong educational outcomes for all children, regardless of their background, ability or any additional needs they may have.”  Justine Greening


Even Pearson are screaming STOP THE SATS!

So this is interesting and shows the tide most definitely turning. Pearson write the tests and their interim report into primary assessment echoes many of the points that we’ve been making:

-The concerns of government are prioritised over and above the needs of teachers and pupils.

–Teachers do not feel their professional judgment is valued highly enough.

They are concerned about the impact assessment is having on the curriculum.

-Children with SEND are put at a disadvantage by an assessment system which does not recognise their capacities and needs.

-Teachers are concerned about the dominance of assessment-for-accountability.

-Teachers, parents, governors and pupils all feel anxiety over the impact of high stakes tests.

-Assessment (ongoing as well as terminal) can cause unreasonable workloads.

-Teachers and parents have significant concerns about the accuracy and consistency of assessments.


Attention CHILDREN!

The DfE are investigating SATs because they aren’t sure they have things quite right.  They want YOUR views.  Your voice is perhaps the most important that they hear. If you are a pupil who has just had SATs this is your chance to tell the people in charge, in the government, what you thought of them.  Don’t worry – this is how democracy works,  we are lucky enough to have freedom of speech in our country and they told us that “this consultation is for anybody with an interest in the early years, primary education and the way that pupils are assessed in school. This includes… young people “.  We are sure they would find what you have to say really interesting and it might help make a difference for children younger that you who might do the tests next year.  Thank you so much!  Ask a grown up to help you on this web page: LKBKx