Dear Mr Gove…

Dear Mr Gove,

I see that you are marketing your ‘longer school days, shorter holidays’ idea as ‘family-friendly’, but I’m not sure you’ve really thought that through…

As a working mother, I structure my working hours around my daughter’s schooling and holiday times – and I’m glad to do it. My daughter is not an inconvenience whose care gets in the way of those longer working hours I’d like to be doing – I love her and I love spending time with her.

Dear Mr Gove...Speaking of my daughter, let me tell you about her. She’s six. She’s funny, creative, imaginative, soaking up the world and the experiences it offers her like a sponge. She’s also the most stubborn person I know, fiercely independent and surprisingly vulnerable.

She loves school but, being six, she gets tired before the end of the school day. Over the term, her tiredness accumulates and by the time the holidays come, it has begun to make life hard for her. Holidays are a welcome break from the work/school routine – for me as well as for her.

 

Sometimes in the holidays, we stay in our pyjamas till lunchtime and tell each other stories, or build chocolate factories for princesses out of cardboard boxes. We visit museums and stately homes, go swimming, meet all kinds of interesting people, and have the time to consider more fully why we can sometimes see the moon during the day or why the children on the adverts on TV don’t have enough food to eat. (I should have mentioned earlier that she loves swimming. She has a weekly swimming lesson at 3.30pm – I wonder where we would fit that in if she has to stay at school till 4.30pm?)

I am able to structure my working life around my daughter’s schooling and give her these experiences because I work for an incredibly family-friendly, understanding and supportive organisation with wonderful people. I work on flexi-time – my hours are my own to plan so I can fit them round the school day. Sometimes I have to work in the evening or at weekends, but I can take the time back during school holidays. I can work from home whenever I need to. I work for an organisation which values people as people, not as commodities.

Might it not be more ‘family-friendly’ to look at measures encouraging other businesses and employers to be more understanding of the needs of working parents? And, for those times when parents can’t be off work while their children are off school, might it not be more ‘family-friendly’ to invest in the charitable and third sector who can give children experiences beyond the school gates? Or to bring the cost of childcare down?

I may be wrong, but I have an inkling that this ‘longer school days, shorter holidays’ idea might be more ‘business-friendly’ than ‘family-friendly’…

I have never looked at my daughter and thought, “I wish she would work harder. Why can’t she be more like those children in Hong Kong and Singapore and East Asia? Why doesn’t she have to work more, learn more, why can’t we put more pressure on her to achieve and succeed?”

Instead, I admire her curiosity, her exploring questioning mind, her interest in everything, her recent development of the ability to count in tens, and her imaginative ability to see elephants, mushrooms, and people dancing in the clouds.

Please don’t spoil her. Please don’t take any more of her childhood away from her. Because we love her, just as she is.

Yours sincerely,

A Working Mother

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15 thoughts on “Dear Mr Gove…

  1. Julie this is brilliant!
    As a teacher I see children getting worn out by the end of the day and comes the end of a term some are just about dragging themselves around. You then have the teachers…

    If this goes ahead there will be one hell of a lot of burnt out people young and slightly less young 🙂

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  2. Bang on the money Julie. I've got three young boys and the youngest (six year old) is whacked out by the end of the week and by term breaks he needs the time off. We already keep him busy with after school swimming lessons, Beavers and weekend Tai Kwon Do. Making him work longer at school will exhaust him further, drop his resistence, (he's had his tonsils whipped out after several bouts of tonsilitis which saw him lose half a term at one stage) see him fall prey to more bugs and lead to him being off school sick.
    I don't want my kids to be pitted against semi-mythical robotic-teaching schemes in the Far East. If Euro schools can hold their kids off from attending school until much later than Brit schools, and still be “successful” economies, then why can't we. Why must it always be “work harder, work longer, do more” – god knows, they'll find that out as adults because we're all doing that and not getting any more reward for it.
    Meanwhile, if we push through shorter summer holidays, then I expect Gove to push for a much shorter Summer Recess for Parliament. Good for the goose, good for the gander, eh?

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  3. Thank you for the encouraging comments! I've sent the letter to Mr Gove direct by email (yesterday) and will post any reply that comes my way here.
    I don't expect to change his mind (I've been well-trained in not changing politicians' minds through encounters with my own MP!) – I was just so frustrated by the way he paints parents, as if we all want our children to be in school for as long as possible so we can work without the inconvenience of having to think about them. I wanted to speak out on my own small corner of public record for the many, many parents (and non-parents!) who feel as I do.
    I also know how very very lucky I am to work for such a wonderful organisation and that the vast majority of people are not in the same position – which is why I think the government should be doing more to encourage employers to be more flexible and understanding of the needs of working parents and their children.
    For now, I continue to cling to the hope that this idea will go the same way as so many of his other innovations and never see the light of day…

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  4. Julie your letter is lovely and very very true. I have two hats on, that of a mother and of a teacher. I am not sure I could possibly find the energy to work more than I already do. I am not sure he realises that teachers are deffinately not well paid child minders. We may only be in school from 8:20am – 3:45pm but spend alot of time planning, preparing and marking. he will drive alot of good hard working teachers out of the profession and discourage people from choosing to train to teach. i too love spending the holidays with my young son, going out or painting in the garden. Just quality family time.

    Well done for speaking your mind and standing up for what you feel is right or wrong.

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  5. Very well written and so very true Julie – I remember alienating myself at school a little when they sent home a questionnaire asking how they could improve the early years/foundation classes – my reply was to not start school till they were 7 and to let them 'play' more beforehand or stay at home if that was preferable to the parents – it was like I had grown two heads, and then when a teacher suggested my son might at 5 be special needs as he did not seem to be able to write well, and I asked if he was happy – she was astounded that that should be my priority!! I have 4 children now aged 21 to 12 – how I wish I had had even more time at home with them – I love them dearly – I applaud your stance and hope that maybe he will listen – perhaps we should all bombard him with our own feelings and experiences.

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  6. You are so right. Once they are teenagers we don't see enough of them so we need to make the most of the time we have when they are little. It is a two way street because children really need to comfort of home to ground them for the years to come. Stressed unhappy humans do not learn, achieve,sucesseed, they survive….just. Other countries may have longer days but they do not start formal education until the children are 7. Mr Gove clearly has no idea about childhood ( maybe his was unhappy!)

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  7. Julie, this is truly inspirational! I'm training to be a teacher, and I think you make so many good points. I just hope that Gove has the sense to listen to the people he is being paid to represent! Keep writing!

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  8. Beautifully written, I couldn't have put it better myself. I would vote for you as Secretary of State for Education, but I recognise that your priorities are where they should be!! As both a Primary school teacher and a mum of two, I am in full agreement with this letter.

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  9. As a teacher and newly minted father I have many of the things you mention to look forward to with my daughter, Emily. I hope I can, and in the manner you describe. We'll have to wait and see.

    My class do manage to work outside of classroom hours through the class blog I've arranged (on Blogger as it happens-feel free to have a peek) and I hope my efforts in this 'sneaky' writing and learning helps them.

    This is not curricular Mr. Gove, I've chosen to provide it, manage it, encourage its use, for free, because I care, like teachers should, and do.

    If parents value education then their children will succeed. If they don't then we're fire fighting. My pupils have parents who care, I'm lucky. I'm not sure all teachers are so fortunate. Where is the parental legislation? Stop uncaring and poor parenting!

    Does Gove care? Or does he simply seek a more prestigious cabinet post? If teachers whine so much (and they/we have that reputation) then perhaps let them manage education. Blue sky thinking right there. Is that the sort of jingoistic phrase I should be using to promote change and educational improvement? Probably, it seems outside the box. Perhaps a minister with no experience of the system he's trying to improve is what we need. Let's see.

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