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Does the national curriculum quash children's natural love of learning and curiosity?

(43 Posts)
Closetlibrarian Fri 13-Jan-17 15:05:38

DC1 starts primary this year. We're deciding between a local state primary and a local independent school. Both are equally convenient in terms of school run. We liked both a lot when we looked round - got a good feeling, etc. Kids seemed happy. Teachers nice. Facilities good.

The independent isn't a 'prep' type school that teaches them Latin at 6, but rather one based on an educational ethos that claims to foster and promote children's natural curiosity and love of learning. Lots of outdoor-based learning, etc. The notion being that the national curriculum, SATs, and the ways that teachers have to teach (to the test, etc) quashes children's innate curiosity and makes school a chore. Our decision between the two schools basically comes down to this rather abstract difference - that the indie school fosters curious, independent confident children whereas the state option doesn't (not because it's not a good school or the teachers aren't good, but because of the system in which it has to function). It's making it impossible to decide - it's something that seems impossible to actually measure, or prove, but at the same time, I suppose, it's really fundamental, and important.

So, I'm wondering how much it's actually true? Does the state primary system wear them down? Have your children had their innate curiosity quashed by school? Or do they bounce off to school every morning, keen as mustard?

sirfredfredgeorge Fri 13-Jan-17 15:30:23

DD is in YR1 her curiosity and interest in learning is not at all reduced by the national curriculum, which doesn't seem to me to be either onerous or in any way related to something which would prevent someone becoming or continuing to be curious, independent or confident.

I recommend reading the national curriculum, it contains nothing that you wouldn't think pretty essential in a kids education.

Of course, how it's delivered may not suit, but that's about delivery, not the curriculum.

How are you controlling for the fact that the kids who attend the the independent school are completely different to the kids who don't in your abstract difference. I think it's very unlikely to be very down to the school.

Foureyesarebetterthantwo Fri 13-Jan-17 15:33:50

I would say no until you get to Year 6 SATS and then the exam-mentality takes over and it's all about tests and teaching to the test. The rest of primary is pretty fine, I've found.

ScarletSienna Fri 13-Jan-17 15:38:01

I think it is the NC in combination with schools needing to prove progress with quantitative data in certain subjects. I've experience of both sectors and really hope we can afford the fees for our schools of choice!

Closetlibrarian Fri 13-Jan-17 15:39:26

Yes, you're right. I don't think I phrased my op very well. Partly because I'm not sure how to put it. It's not down to the curriculum per se, but the way it's delivered.

I think, in fact, the difference is mostly down to size. The indie class sizes are small, which means that children there can more follow their own interests. Obviously a state school is less able to do that with larger class sizes.

And yes, of course the demographic will make a difference too. That's my concern, if you like, about whether the indie is worth it. The kids there are curious not because of the school per se but because they would anyway be curious, switched-on kids. So, with that in mind DC1 would enjoy both schools get the same out of them.

MilkRunningOutAgain Fri 13-Jan-17 15:50:25

My DCs primary doesn't teach to the test until yr 6, when it does get a bit carried away with SATs, though not to the extremes some schools go to, from reading MN threads. My DD has been happy at primary, and remains fully engages and interested, she is in yr 6 now. My DS was not particularly happy or engaged, but I'm inclined to think that is down to his rather unusual personality rather than the school. He wanted to do sport and nothing else. He has been single minded since birth, I think he would have been the same at most schools. He's yr 9 now and still the same.

MilkRunningOutAgain Fri 13-Jan-17 15:56:01

Posted too soon, meant to add that he has no/ little interest in the NC and has always found all lessons boring, unless they go into sports , either results & statistics or actually doing them, he loves PE. So to an extent, if your DC is not middle of the road ish, it may help to try to find one that suits his personality more.

meditrina Fri 13-Jan-17 16:03:59

What are the leavers destinations from the prep? Do those schools have have competitive entrance exams?

If so, don't kid yourself about the need for teachers to prepare their pupils for year 6 exams.

It's about delivery. A confident school will deliver the curriculum (whether the NC or their own version) competently and in a way which enthuses pupils and educates them in the broadest sense. Then, aside from a bit if exam technique and practice tests, they expect their DC to pass because they are at that standard. School such as these can be found in both sectors.

Others can be very results driven, teach to the test etc. Again, these can be found in both sectors.

Closetlibrarian Fri 13-Jan-17 16:23:03

No tests per se in the indie meditrina. Kids go on to state and private (selective and non-selective) secondary schools. They are very much not a prep school and not about getting kids into selective private secondaries. The head says this openly.

Closetlibrarian Fri 13-Jan-17 16:26:53

Good point Milk. DC1 seems, from what you can tell at 3.10, relatively middle of the road. Bright but not exceptionally so. Just your usual interested, curious kid really. Enjoys pre-school, etc. No particular passions re. sports or music or anything like that.

irvineoneohone Fri 13-Jan-17 17:22:56

If I can easily afford it, I think I would go independent, without a question, for less children: teacher ratio and maybe more say in the education because you are paying.

My ds go to state, he is happy. And I don't think it's squashing his curiosity at all. But some aspect of learning, if the school say "A," we have to agree it's "A", even it's not doing any good for him.

sirfredfredgeorge Fri 13-Jan-17 18:14:18

Low Pupil/teacher ratios is actually something I wouldn't want - it means your peer group is much smaller, so you're more likely to be the best at everything or the worst at everything, either of which can be difficult to deal with. Also means any discord in the class makes you much harder to seperate, and makes it less likely you'll find a compatible person to bring out the best in you.

Equally, I'm never sure why a small class makes it easier to learn what you want, if there are 5 or 15 kids per adult, it's not one and one to decide what to do?

But some aspect of learning, if the school say "A," we have to agree it's "A", even it's not doing any good for him.

This I can see as a bigger reason, and I'm always amazed by the number of threads where people paying are so submissive with their private schools!

mrz Sat 14-Jan-17 07:26:40

*"*^*I think, in fact, the difference is mostly down to size. The indie class sizes are small, which means that children there can more follow their own interests. Obviously a state school is less able to do that with larger class sizes.*^*"* Why not? Many can and do

Lowdoorinthewal1 Sat 14-Jan-17 09:37:04

I teach in a community primary school and find DS's independent prep worth it.

However, it's not about the core curriculum, in which I can see little difference. They are working slightly ahead of the NC age related expectations, but that is probably the nature of the cohort rather than particularly whizzy teaching. For me, it's about the 'other stuff'. Every week he has three sessions of actual sport (as opposed to PE) which lead to matches against other schools (he's in Y2). On top of this he swims each week, plays golf and tennis with professional coaches, has ICT and language and art lessons with specialists and uses a proper science lab and art studio. Twice a year they put on an amazing play which is head and shoulders above anything I've seen produced by state schools in quality- just because they give much more time to it. There is also a massive focus on social 'airs and graces'- which you may or may not want- but my DS does converse very naicely with adults.

Also, they have longer days which enables me to work!

People will come on and say 'my state school does ALL of that' and they may be right. However, in my experience of 15 years working in primary schools, it is not standard.

Foureyesarebetterthantwo Sat 14-Jan-17 09:46:11

Low I agree that that's where individual primary schools differ, is in the extras and how much effort they put into that stuff, mine have been in three primary schools and the one they are currently in is very good at that, so a great play every year (never the nativity!), specialist language lessons although I don't think they were very good, swimming we did ourselves so both are excellent swimmers, outdoors school/keeping chickens/rabbits- but at least one of the other schools they went wasn't good at that stuff at all.

I think the point about wraparound care is an excellent one, mine had after-school club but you had to predict in advance whether you would need it so last minute care was not possible and we used it less and less.

Not sure about the social 'airs and graces' bit, both mine are extremely articulate around adults, but that's probably due to upbringing/intrinsic outgoing personalities than the school. One thing I really like about their primary school though is that they include every child in everything, so if there's a play or a class assembly, everyone has a line or has contributed a picture and gets their moment in the sun. On that score it's very democratically run and I do feel there's little favoritism where the 'good' children get to do everything.

RafaIsTheKingOfClay Sat 14-Jan-17 11:31:26

How far do they take the ethos of each child following their own interests? There's a big difference between constantly drilling children for tests at one end of the scale and almost completely free reign at the other.

At what point would they direct a child's interests if they weren't particularly interested in maths, for example? At what point would they provide additional help or intervention in a subject where a child is struggling? If the answer is they don't, then I would be very cautious unless you are prepared to pay for additional help on top of the fees.

MiniEggAddiction Sat 14-Jan-17 12:59:26

My DS is in YR in a school much like the Indie you describe and we all love it. I'm only comparing it to my local state school (which is actually "outstanding" and generally very well regarded). I love that there's more flexibility; when it snowed they could ditch lessons go out into the snow, they have lots of time outdoors (doing forest school etc.), smaller class sizes also means they can adapt to individual personalities really well. They have loads of extra clubs e.g. lego, chess, programming, outdoor skills, dance etc. Generally I find the atmosphere is just much more homely. All the teachers and caretakers, secretaries, dinner ladies etc. know the names of all the kids and it's just a very happy environment.

Obviously this is very specific to each individual school and child. Some children have a temperament that is suited to lots of time sitting still doing set tasks and as long and won't be put off by the less flexible syllabus anyway.

bojorojo Sun 15-Jan-17 01:46:30

I think in schools even as large as several hundred, the staff, caretakers etc know the names of many of the children. They do see them for years!

I think the independent school in question is selling itself to a niche set of parents who are not competitive and believe in a very child-centred education. If that is what you want, then by all means pay for it. I think from YR to Y5 children in state schools have plenty of space to be themselves. There isn't much doubt though, that they have to be directed and on task in order to learn. Also, a poor teacher is poor with 15 in the class. They might be found out more quickly with 30 in the class and will probably never be good enough for the state system.

My younger DD went to a traditional prep school but it had no entrance exams. They more or less followed the national curriculum. Other DD stayed at local state school and had far fewer extra curricular options and less sport, (but she was happy about that!). Both schools had their excellent teachers and their not so excellent teachers.

In no school that I am aware of can children follow their own interests in actual lessons but they do discuss and talk about topics. Have you actually witnessed how interests are followed in the classroom? What does it look like? Are most of the class doing long division while a couple of children decide to work on graphs and co-ordinates? Are the school really talking about differentiation where children are set work according to their ability? Or is it really glorified show and tell sessions? I would also want to know how many of the children at this school are SEN? Are they there to be sheltered from a more challenging curriculum that they struggle to access? Is some of the marketing angled towards the fact that your child will be educated with the children of like minded parents? Did you see the quality of work and can you assess how good it was? Yes, good schools to assess progress because if they don't, they do not know how well the children are learning - if at all. Very many independent schools are behind the curve with this. So any school saying that the curriculum is lead by the interests of a child would worry me because it is probably shorthand for "we have no idea what these children have learnt or what progress they have made in this school".

SoFedUpOfPeople Sun 15-Jan-17 02:04:06

Very interesting discussion with valid points raised. Going to mark my place to read later.

mrz Sun 15-Jan-17 08:18:42

*"*^*I love that there's more flexibility; when it snowed they could ditch lessons go out into the snow,*^*"* hmm i think most schools would take advantage of snow ...wouldn't they?

Sleeperandthespindle Sun 15-Jan-17 08:28:55

DD went to a school as you describe for a short while. She followed her (at the time) very narrow interests and was happy.

The school had many good points but its faults were greater and it was highly dependent on the personalities of the current teachers and their relationships with parents and children. Outgoing, extrovert children were highly favoured.

Her next school, and the current one (we had to move for work reasons) are state primaries with a clear focus on the broad and balanced curriculum. Despite the new NC (and as a teacher myself, I was concerned about its potential narrowness), the school (DS is there too now) has an incredibly interesting curriculum and approach. It is practical, creative, varied. There are (endless!) visits, outdoor days, celebrations, sports events. They swim every day in the summer term. There are regular family learning sessions.

Parents must go to visit a variety of schools before they make decisions, and certainly before they make decisions based on class size. It's what the staff do with that class that matters. Small classes aren't everything. Most children don't need frequent 1:1 or small group attention.

lljkk Sun 15-Jan-17 09:32:26

"i think most schools would take advantage of snow ...wouldn't they?"

ha! DC on school premises are often banned from going out in any snow. Certainly if it's actively still snowing. Or any hint of ice from 2 days ago snow. We haven't had snow in so long that our schools actually relaxed & let them out this last week on very fresh snow, but everyone was surprised. The secondary said they had go to the astroturf area.

mrz Sun 15-Jan-17 09:39:14

Last significant fall of snow we spent a week building igloos on the school field, had a best snowman competition, toasted marshmallows around the fire pit while drinking hot chocolate only going indoors to thaw /dry out occasionally.
So far this year we haven't had enough snow to mention.

user1484226561 Sun 15-Jan-17 09:39:37

the national curriculum doesn't quash natural love of learning, it structures it.

I have students interested in the Juice mission to Jupiters moons, and everything it is planning to do.

However, if they hadn't sat in lessons lower down the school learning about orbits ad rotations and magnetism and radiation, they would have absolutely none of the wonder, curiosity and appreciation for what this mission is going to attempt.

They did not particularly enjoy the basic stuff. But they did it, and now they are considering applying to universties which might lead on to them being able to participate in this mission for themselves.

That is one example, but everything in the NC at primary is designed to lay the ground work for understanding our world and human nature.

In life, not everything is fun fun fun.

You have to learn to defer gratification.

" child lead" education often leads to dead ends, where the child has neither the tools not the skills to take themselves further.

smellyboot Sun 15-Jan-17 12:26:24

The Indy is feeding you scare stories in my opinion. They are possible desperate for recruits and sound like our local one. All the state schools near us so amazing stuff all the time and I dont know one state school child near us in any of about 7 schools who has ever said they are bored. Our school is 750+ children and the head knows pretty much every child. Within a year group of 90, all 3 teachers, 3 TAs and support staff all know every child. Mine are always doing brilliantly creative ways of learning. Our reception children have access to the outdoor classroom for 5 hours of the day and they use it as much as possible - come rain or shine. We have an allotment, pond, and ducks too. They go to local museums, library etc to extend learning. They embrace any events e.g. Solar eclipse, euro footy, olympics, elections, and we have weeks of themed events.
I am always amazed at how many great idea our staff come up with to engage the children.
Don't fall for the sales pitch IMO

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