My son struggles at school, but it’s the system that’s failing

Author: A parent of a primary school child, and supporter of More Than a Score

My son is six, in Year 2 and struggling academically. He is struggling with a curriculum that is narrow, age inappropriate and ultimately skull crushingly dull. He doesn’t like school because in his words, “I find the learning so difficult, mummy. It is just too hard for me. I don’t like it!”

My beautiful, bright boy is suffering from anxiety about school at age six. SIX. Many mornings we have tears when we drop him off at school as he feels overly nervous about the day ahead. In fact yesterday morning he awoke at 3 o’clock full of tears, scared about the next day’s lessons. “I just want to stay at home with you mummy, school is too hard!” He said.

I must stress that this is not the fault of his school and most certainly not the fault of his wonderful teacher and support staff, who use all of their expertise, creativity, professionalism and experience to try and make this dreadful curriculum, which frankly should never have returned from the 1950s, engaging for all of the children in their care. Even if my son wasn’t struggling so much, I would still be opposing this curriculum and fighting for change.

On 3rd May 2016 my son and I took part in the Let Our Kids Be Kids’ strike. I took him out of school for the day of in protest of SATs – against high stakes, age inappropriate testing. Is it right that a six year old should feel like a failure because they can’t fathom what a ‘fronted adverbial’ is? (a question on a test SPaG paper that my friend’s son had last year).

I would like both of my children to experience and learn from an education system that has a broad curriculum, where creative and independent thinking is encouraged. Not focused on rote learning in a couple of narrow areas. The government bangs on about ‘mastery’ of learning. How is rote learning (which is all this curriculum is), ‘mastery’ of anything? – Apart from demonstrating that you might be good at repeating back a few facts and figures by heart. How does that give my children a broad and rounded education? It doesn’t. The DfE’s obsession with data and number crunching completely misses the mark…that our children are individuals; they are more than a score.

I work at the Science Museum; a place where invention, creative thinking, excellence and human endeavour is celebrated every single day. Where will my son’s generation of opinion formers, scientists, artists, writers, and musicians be if they are being turned off right at the start of their education?

Where will that generation’s Einsteins, Wright Brothers, Lovelaces, Turings, Somervilles, Sharmans, Wellcomes, Hawkings sit? Stephen Hawking came to the museum to give a talk in our IMAX to a large group of youngsters. “Don’t forget to look up at the stars and not down at your feet!” He said to them. How can our children do that when they are being forced through a system that does not encourage wonder, or help foster a thirst for knowledge and a hunger for learning?

This system has turned my son off. At six years old. This is why I am part of More Than a Score and why I am an ardent supporter of Let Our Kids Be Kids. I owe my son this: to fight for a better system of education, to raise standards and hold schools to account, yes, but I would like to see the government work with teachers and unions to do this, not vomit out flawed policy after flawed policy creating chaos without seemingly consulting anyone. Personally I would like to see a complete suspension of SATs in 2017 so that another group of children do not have to go through same chaotic mess that their peers had to at Key Stages 1 and 2 in 2016.


16 thoughts on “My son struggles at school, but it’s the system that’s failing

  1. Well said my son is the same age, daily we have school refusal however seems to be OK when actually in school he struggles with feeling like a failure, he’s concerned and mindful of not doing things right so will stop himself trying and he’s 6!

    I fight the good fight although sometimes I feel I’m in a minority and I’m targeted as the trouble maker!

    I actually work for a school with a breath taking ly refreshing attitude I just wish everyone was the same I fear the system has created many teachers and heads to be robotic thinkers and engrossed in playing the game along with the politicians.

    We are definitely considering home education as a valid alternative to bring back oor creative thinking little boy x

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Have you considered looking at steiner schools? Age appropriate, gentle learning. It’s wonderful. Really let’s them develop with confidence, learn valuable life skills and learn all the right things but at the right age. Makes such a difference!


  2. Your post resonates so much with me. I came out of a meeting with my daughter’s school in tears yesterday because I’m told she’s struggling and won’t pass her SATs. She’s a bright., creative., thoughtful 10 year old. Articulate and engaged with the world. Passionate about inequality and animal rights. But she’s going to be a ‘failure’ before she reaches senior school. She has a type of dyslexia and can’t spell but her stories are amazing. She’s inventive and scientific. But she can’t spell and she can’t do tests. She can comfort a reception child. But she can’t complete a task in the alloted time. This system is flawed. This country will be the poorer for it. Let’s create drones who mindlessly fulfil tasks but where are the creative people who’ll make a difference to our world? Keep up the good work and I will too!


  3. I feel for your dear son. This was our experience with our lovely boy, aged six, at his local primary school in London. His teachers thought he was quiet and withdrawn but he had simply lost all confidence in his abilities, struggling with a curriculum that was turning him off learning.

    Until we emigrated to southern Europe. In his new primary school, less than three months later, he is like a different child. He’s completely engaged, so proud of his learning, more confident and excited. He talks about what he has learned each day, questions different aspects of each topic covered. He is relaxed, talkative and has more friends. He asks to apply what he has learnt in different ways when he gets home. He is more independent. Completely unprompted, he tells us he loves his school – where before he was anxious about it and reluctant to go. It’s a joy and a great relief.

    I wish the same for you. Yes, it’s the system that’s failing.


  4. There are so many mums who agree with you, when will parents, as specialists in knowing their own children, ever be asked what education they’d like for their child?


  5. Thank you for sharing your story so passionately and articulately, I meet teachers all the time who echo your concerns and frustrations with the constraints the current education system imposes on our children. Joining together to support teachers and all staff in schools is vital and that’s why so many of us joined the Let Our Kids be Kids campaign last year. We must join together to help prepare our children for life in our complex global world and protect their sense of awe and wonder at the same time.


  6. I am a year 2 teacher and I blog about my teaching life under this regime. If it wasn’t so soul destroying it would be a joke. To label a child as failing because they can’t spell penniless and use it three times independently in their writing……..


  7. I agree with you, and more. The rot in our education system extends all the way to GCSE. This week, my lovely, bright, A* boy threatened to take his own life because of the pressure that’s being piled on him. Teachers are at their wits’ end. Schools’ budgets are being cut. The whole thing is madness.


  8. I love your blog.
    My dd has rapidly disappeared as she has gone through schoolm. She was in year two last year and it was horrid. This year has not been any better and I’ve also had my middle son start school. He hates it. We have hd fights to get in and then fights when we get home.because he has been bored and frustrated all day
    because my children are bright they still learn bu they don’t enjoy it. I’ve long held te belief that children start too early and especially boys should not be engaged in formal.learning at five. When I was teaching year two it felt so wrong for some.of them.
    I see now how my boy changed in half a term.
    So after Christmas we will start home ed. The system is so broken and I wont let it break my children.
    I love your post. Its wonderful.
    Keep.fighting the good fight xx


  9. You comments resonate completely with me. As a teacher of 26 years I have with heavy heart left a profession that I have always loved. My own dyslexic child luckily went to a school that chose not to do SATS. Just about to sit her a levels she has never been defined by her learning problems and has never felt a failure. Last year in my year one class I had to tell some parents that their children were failing at the age of 6, despite having one of the most caring, articulate and creative group of children for many years- I cannot do this to children any more.


  10. I am one of those teachers who are trying to make Year 2 an amazing and exciting place to be as well as jump through the hoops set by the government. We embrace Forest Schools and take our children out as much as we possibly can within the constraints of the curriculum. It is on the beach, in the woods and in the grounds that we see children’s faces light up with awe and wonder, both at what they see and what they do. In class we try hard to make the learning fun and choose topics that will enthuse beyond paper. i.e. Our local lighthouse > Grace Darling > our Lifeboat station > building lighthouses > electric circuits to make our lighthouses work (although physics is no longer in our curriculum!). Teachers are doing their very best for your children and also worry about the creative rather than academic learning, especially as here in a working class town whose future depends on hands on, creative people. Keep up the good work and I wish you luck trying to change a government mindset.


  11. I am a retired Primary teacher and am so horrified by this dreadful curriculum. I have a 6 year old granddaughter and I fear for her and all children in this present system. Our children deserve far better than this


  12. My daughter has just started year 1 and is hating it too. She is an able pupil and has the potential to achieve well in school but the narrow and dull curriculum has switched off her desire to learn at 5!! It is so wrong to harm young children like this’


  13. Thank you for voicing these thoughts. My daughter is also 6 and in year 2. She is lucky that she is not yet struggling too much, but she already places a lot of pressure on herself and is acutely aware when she has ‘not got it right’. At this age I want her to be learning to socialise, learning that the world is exciting, and realising she has a wealth of qualities to contribute. Spellings and adverbials do not benefit these goals at all. In a world increasingly filled with hate and anger, and people whose self-esteem is so low they would encourage us to turn on others so they feel better, we need to do better by our children. The world deserves better and so do our children. Let them be kids first, grown-ups later.


  14. I empathise with all these parents. Before my son went to school he was a lovely happy, bright child, but soon became withdrawn and lacking in confidence. I was told he didn’t join in with the ball games at playtime and used to stand on his own. He didn’t want to go to school and complained he had pains in his stomach! To cut a long story short after numerous discussions and meetings, over many months, with his school he was finally assessed and diagnosed with dyslexia. He has since gone on to gain a university degree in Architecture! I don’t know much about the current curriculum but my advice to parents is, if your child is not happy and not progressing at school go with your gut instinct and fight for better schooling. School years should challenge children but not to the point that it destroys their confidence and childhood!


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