Our local secondary school has just come out as the second best school in the whole of Scotland. Being second out of 339 schools means that it can boast to being one of the best schools in the country. Every school has been ranked from best to worst performing school in a league table which was recently published. I am sure the teachers and management at the school are celebrating and parents have a warm feeling that they have sent their kids to a great school (Declaration here, my kids have only recently left the school in the last 6-12 months). However, let us dig a little deeper before we all get sore backs from the slapping going on. What does the ‘best’ mean in this case? In this evaluation it was solely based on exam results and specifically it measured the pupils who achieved 5 or more highers. My verdict is that this is not a measure of the best education but it is a measure on how they are taught to pass exams. Ken Robinson backs this up in his many talks. Exam results are seen as the promised land and the entrance fee to an adult life of university, employment and all the riches of the world we live in.
My experience is that schools will drive the behaviour that gives them this outcome (exam passes). Schools will encourage and spend time with the pupils who will give them this outcome while those who will negatively impact this measure will be actively discouraged from sitting the exam if there is doubt they may not pass. A reflection of our society in that we drive inequality wider and wider to the benefit of the ones at the top of the ranking while the ones at the bottom have to fend for themselves. This is not education but a capitalist dogma which is the access point for entering our neo-liberal society.
It’s not just the schools who are driving this agenda but it is being ably supported by all of us as parents. We stop our kids playing to make them study. We bring them in tutors to help them excel or at the very least get that exam pass. We ferry them to private institutions to give them even more skills to pass that exam. We believe we are doing the right hing for our kids but are we? What is it teaching them? What are we making them into by giving such privileges? Again, the haves get more but where does that leave the kids in the school ranked at 339?
I believe we are in grave danger of robbing our kids of their childhood if we haven’t already done so. The pressure we put on them at an early age to pass exams as we tell them that is how they can make it in the world. Really?
So where does grassroots football come into all this? Our game has never been more important in the context of the above. A chance to not be constrained by school and just go out and PLAY football or any other play. A chance to PLAY football without an exam at the end of it. Just PLAY for the sake of PLAYING. Go and PLAY with friends without having to be assessed and sit standardised tests. No pressure from parents or teachers or even coaches.
I should emphasise that PLAY means active PLAY outside in the natural world whether that be playing football or climbing trees but not sitting inside playing a computer game.
This PLAY time is crucial in a child’s development as they learn the skills of co-operation, teamwork, ownership, responsibility and friendship. The kids can learn these skills without adult input but only if we let them!!! Are we willing to take the chance and let them think for themselves (another key skill) or we will we drive them to be compliant and subservient?
The more and more we cut out PLAY from our kids in order for them to ‘concentrate on their exams’ the poorer we make our society. Yes, they may well get better exam results but the long term effects on both the individuals and on the fabric of our society will be serious. WE will make the gap wider in our plutocracy. The rich will get richer as materialism is the altar at which we worship. Our education system will continue to produce automatons who can pass exams but don’t have the social skills required in the new, developing workplaces. It will produce people to fill jobs but at what cost? Once the dream of a university degree; a house in the suburbs; 2.2 children; a driveway full of cars; exotic foreign holiday and all the status you’ll ever need to satisfy your ego then what next? And YES there will be a what next?
Ironically, education is both the problem and the cure. In its current form it is both authoritarian and dictatorial. Obedience, conformity, compliance and selfness are the order of the day when what we really need are free-thinkers, critical thinkers, teamworkers and community champions displaying creativity and risk taking if we are to advance our society. Let’s have a pause for thought and look around to see what is going on in our world. Remember, we are perfectly designed to get the outcomes and consequences of our actions. (Almost) everyone has gone through the education/school system so is it any wonder where we are today!!
Yes, I would like to offer some hope from my little speck of dust in the corner of the universe. I believe that being part of a grassroots community club that can reach way beyond what is taught in schools. We can offer an environment through PLAY where creativity, enjoyment and free thinking is encouraged and promoted. It needs to be the antithesis of schools. Kids choose to come and are not forced. We don’t try to teach or lecture to them but should encourage them to become learners. We need to encourage a growth mindset where questioning and enquiry is a common occurrence.
I am now in my 50’s and have only recently realise how important PLAY is to my all round health, fitness and wellbeing. Without my health the rest doesn’t really matter. So at my age, I push myself daily to PLAY. The penny has dropped for me again. I wish it had dropped earlier but the meaning you get through play is priceless. My play is in the form of being much more active. Running, gym, football, golf or even just the simple things of getting out in the fresh air and walking. My activity/PLAY levels since the turn of the year have been significantly higher and the health benefits have been extraordinary. My sleep is better; my energy levels are higher and just feel better generally.
Just think if we can instill this in our kids then we will help them create great habits for life through PLAY. Maybe one day we will measure schools by how much meaning they can create through PLAY. Now that would challenge our norms but maybe it could create a fairer, more democratic, healthier and more environmentally conscious society for us ALL to enjoy.