Offspring Two (I can call him ‘child’ no longer) left it till almost midnight to put clean bedding on his bed last night, and mindful that he was tired and that the time we will spend together is decreasing alarmingly before my very eyes, I offered to give him a hand. We pillow-cased a pillow each, then stood on either side of the huge bed that replaced his boyhood single, to stretch the sheet over the corners of the mattress. By the time it came to the duvet, his phone had announced a message and I began the quilt alone, tucking a corner into the Union Jack cover and handing it to him to hold in place whilst I tried to tuck in the others. But I’d done it all wrong and was making a right mess of it.
‘I usually turn it inside out to do it,’ he said, finishing a message with his thumb and putting his phone in his pocket. ‘Here, let me.’ And he took the lumped-up mass of duvet back out, flipped the cover inside out and with a flick of the hands that Dynamo would’ve been proud of, had the cover on the quilt in a flash.
‘Mrs Chirp taught me that,’ he beamed proudly. ‘When we went on residential.’
‘Fancy that,’ I said. ‘All those years ago.’
‘Yup, residential was cool.’
‘Yes,’ I agreed, ‘and so’s Mrs Chirp.’
Only the day before I had sat in at a café having a half-term hot chocolate with Mrs Chirp and a crowd of other former colleagues from the school which gave my son such an excellent education. Like me, all were employed there in a supporting role – specialist teachers, admin staff, cover supervisors and teaching assistants. We were, as someone once termed it, ‘extra bodies in the class’. Like me, the greater majority of the group no longer work in the school, their jobs deleted through budget cuts, shifting government priorities and the pursuit of the latest trends for educating children.
Those still in post spend less and less time interacting with individual children. It’s fair to say that morale is low.
Educational fads come and go, often with a new change of government and the subsequent need to be seen to ‘improve standards’. Some of these fads will be successful and some of them won’t. It seems to me, though, that success has more to do with the skills of the people delivering them than the actual schemes themselves. Good teachers generally manage to teach successfully, no matter which system they’re required to use. It’s such a shame they’re not trusted enough to simply get on with it.
I personally believe that a lot of the problems with education could be solved by having two teachers in every classroom. Children learn by talking and doing, and whilst much of this can be implemented through group work with their peers, all children benefit from regular one-to-one interaction with caring, informed adults who have the skills, knowledge and ability to pass on what they know. It’s simple, really. The more adults there are in a classroom, the more attention each individual child within it receives. The positive effect on mental health and wellbeing is huge, too. We’re social creatures who thrive on interaction and connection, and whether we’re grown-ups or children, working alongside someone who listens to us, knows a bit about us and can give us help when we need it is priceless.
The more interaction a child has with such an adult, the more they will learn from them, whether that’s practice in reading, learning the continents of the world or knowing how to find information they need in a library or on the computer. Or how to put a cover on a duvet, even.
I’d like to thank Mrs Chirp and the many others who’ve had a hand in my son’s education, for the part they’ve played in developing the wonderful, witty and knowledgeable young man that he is.