Basically I think I’m going to be a nightmare…

I have a soon to be three year old son.  In this season of fun parties and gatherings one question keeps being asked ” So, what school is he going to then?”.  As a migrant to Australia and to Adelaide, I’ve been told many times that this question is the first thing many adults are asked too.  That the school you attended makes a difference in relation to circles walked, networks gained maybe even status.

If we were in the UK my little man would be 12 months away from starting school and he’d likely already have his place at the local primary all secured.  Here in Australia he has the benefit of two years with me (poor chap) before the education system claims him for its own.  This is the first time I’ve ever looked at the education system from a parents’ perspective and it’s pretty terrifying.  I have the benefit of at least having worked in the system I’m sending him into but i still find it fascinating how this one decision is going to define him in some way.

I do not feel defined by my primary or high school.  I don’t want him to be defined by that either. Here are some thoughts that i wanted to share. I’m curious as to how other teachers/ parents etc view this process and I’m very happy to receive advice!!

“The Best School”

How do we judge what is the best school for our little people?

I was raised in a culture where the best school was measured on one thing and one thing only. The percentage rates of statutory examinations.  The percentage of A-C at GCSE, the percentage of scores in the equivalent of SATS and, I was a product of that.  As a kid I really believed that I needed to get perfect scores to get anywhere in life.  As I grew older I realised that that wasn’t actually strictly true… As i tried to learn the ways of the Growth Mindset (forgive the style there – Star Wars is on in our living room right now) I realised how those scores should be seen differently.

Instead of looking at percentages of marks in brackets and goal posts sets by a government agency. If i have to look at data – and if i’m honest i do like a bit of data.. – I’d be more interested in seeing how much progress or growth students make in differentiated levels.  Do kids move and grow in each of the subjects they study, at what rate and most importantly WHY? Is it because they have teachers who are passionate, caring and truly innovative or is it because kids in that environment are taught to learn in one way….

If i found out that, for example, maths lessons were taught from a text book and only from a text book, even if that text book was written by the staff at the school, I would run the other way quickly.  That approach is DEATH to a creative mind… Maths is so much more than textbooks…  NO NO NO.. not even if the students were getting amazing marks… why? Because they are being taught to think in one way, to produce grades in one way for one purpose and I know (from my own experience) that having a decent grade at the end of it really won’t mean you have the first clue how to use that knowledge in a world that move fast, changes, moulds, challenges and DOESN’T HAVE A TEXT BOOK.  The best school, in my mind, wouldn’t focus on the whole percentage outcomes and those goal posts, they would be focused on the rates of growth in all students, at all levels… in fact they might not even care about those levels.. they’d just want to make sure the growth rates were good overall.

“The Most Innovative”

Razzle dazzle. I KNOW that some schools like to use this.  I’ve worked with schools who have openly admitted to me that they haven’t used ‘that tech’ since the man with the camera came around to take pictures for the school website or prospectus.  What does innovation in a classroom look like? What does it feel like?

Now this one really interests me. Mostly because of the work I’m doing with Reflect Growth and the Microsoft Innovation Center SA.  The concept of innovation in education is fascinating and is completely reliant on culture.   However, if a school considered itself innovative because it had stuff… that would be very unimpressive.  So no… you won’t win me over because you have a 1:1 program, a set of iPads or a class drone that you sent into space.  Tell me what you’re doing with it, why and what the results are for your learners… and I’d love you to include yourself in that.  Innovators are questioners, they challenge and the move forward as a result.  They are passionate about that.  I’d want to feel that passion for development, for curriculum for learning.

“The Happiest Place”

The mood, the culture of a place is incredibly important.  I want my little Mr to face challenges and, in order to do that he needs to feel safe to make mistakes, to celebrate them, to explore them and to grow from them.  I want him to understand that we have to make mistakes in order to learn.  That that is what learning actually is.  I don’t want him to feel that getting a low mark is a bad thing.  If we have to have marks at all… the it’s what you do with the result that matters not the mark itself.

Perhaps most importantly I really want him to learn by stage NOT age.  I don’t want him to be limited by what is perceived to be an appropriate stage for his age.  I want him to run at the pace that suits him not be held back or pushed to hard.  That is possible.  I’ve seen it.  Take the curriculum (which will provide some helpful markers for all this data and knowledge gathering to happen) and stop labelling it by year level.  Does it happen in Australia? How? Where?

How on earth, as a parent, do you go about finding out answers to questions like that? Especially in our current system’s set up?  Am I even asking the right ones?

I’ve got two years to work it out!! lol


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