For me I have fond and not so fond memories of primary school, which for what it's worth I believe shapes you more than middle or upper school ever will.
I was blessed to go to Willowbrook in Keyworth, as the name suggests , there was a brook and willow trees, along with a nature reserve, peacock and peahen, dicks, geese, rabbits, Guinea pigs, gerbils and hamsters to name but a few of the menagerie. I remember nature walks, learning to read and write, how to tell the time,how to take care of creatures of fur and feather and interpretive dance to a BBC radio programme in my knickers and vest!
We had a quite corner, story time, bottles of milk at breaktime and trips to Twycross zoo, Eyam well dressings and saying my evening prayers before putting my chair up on the table and leaving for the day.
I also remember slipping on the freshly polish parquet flooring and breaking both of my front teeth ( still have porcelain crowns to this day), kiss chase which with vampire teeth was never successful, boys putting daddy long legs down my summer dress and my very oddly coloured shoes that my mum thought it would be cool to dye.
I have so many memories of those early school years, that would shape me into the person I am today. My teachers were encouraging and caring and learning was fun.
I then progressed to middle school from the age of 10 til 13. Howarth Cross in Rochdale. Again a wonderful school, strict of course with Mr Kershaw ( dad of Liz and Andy) as our headmaster. It was the teachers that really made the school, many of which I'm still connected to all these years later. What makes it stand out in my memory is the ethos of encouragement and inclusion. A real feeling of building you up, not keeping you down... although I dare say Andrew Dixon would maybe not agree with the frequency of which he got the cane in class ( sorry Andrew, I'm no longer in contact but hoping that things worked our for you in adult life... despite the Benylin bottle at the back of lessons in the library)
But here's the rub.....
I can hardly remember anything from my upper school... some of the people maybe, but nothing of the lessons, the exams, my O levels... not a jot!
Well of recent I've had several referrals for young people taking their GCSE's, stressed unhappy, convinced that if they don't get straight A's all the way then they're a failure and work will be elusive for them, let alone the expectation that "EVERYBODY GOES TO UNIVERSITY"
Now I'm not for one moment suggesting that all schools and all youngsters feel this way, but I'm finding myself having more and more conversations on this topic and feeling alarmed by the level of low self confidence, low self esteem and low self worth in so many young people.
The alarming level of self harm.
It's almost impossible to say how many young people are self-harming. This is because very few teenagers tell anyone what's going on, so it's incredibly difficult to keep records or have an accurate idea of scale. It is thought that around 13% of young people may try to hurt themselves on purpose at some point between the ages of 11 and 16, but the actual figure could be much higher.In 2014, figures were published suggesting a 70% increase in 10-14 year olds attending A&E for self-harm related reasons over the preceding 2 years.
I'm wondering what changed?
OK, so I'm heading towards the half century ( blimey did I say that out loud?) And exams have always been stressful for people right? But something has changed. The way our children are learning has changed. The pressures have changed. The way we communicate has changed. The pressures that come with technology/ social media/ the internet has added a whole level of anxiety and peer pressure expectation for our youngsters that we have no precedent for.
In contrast I have many friends who home educate their children. Its a big decision and commitment to home educate and not for all children or all families. Contrary to what may be perceived that doesn't mean that home educated children don't learn, or don't socialise with others, it just means they approach learning in a different way. In fact those youngsters I know who have been home educated appear to be happy,bright, articulate, socially confident and emotionally resilient.
It does make me think that perhaps something in the current approach and system isn't working so well for many children .
Looking back on my school days now; I don't know about you but eventually you forget it all. First you forget everything you learned ( that you don't have use for in every day life) - the dates of wars, logarithms and how to write an essay on Henry the IV part one. You especially forget the stuff you didn't really learn, but memorised the night before to cram for your exams. You forget the names of all but one or two of your favourite teachers. You forget the timetable and which lessons you had to sit where. You forget the spats, the upsets, the humiliations and the end of the world break ups. Then eventually you get on with your adult life and it all fades into the memory bank.... which of course is s selective filing cabinet that gathers dust except for the really meaningful stuff, the stuff that shapes us.... which in truth all comes down to the perception of our memory of the experience.
Isn't it time we built our young people up? Raised their self esteem and self worth. Helped them to understand how their thoughts effect their experience of life. How to process their emotions positively, healthily and with encouragement.
On many occasions when we've been running our leadership retreat in Get the Edge (our sister or brother... which ever you prefer ....company) participants have often said- I wish my son or daughter could come on this. I've learned so much about myself, they should teach this stuff in schools!
Hold that thought... and watch this space....