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Why I believe the outdated curriculum is adding to the child mental health crisis

Updated: Sep 22, 2021

With the masses homeschooling over the last year, I have had several parents say to me, “they are just not interested, I think it’s the learning from home, they just can’t focus” or “they just can’t concentrate on Zoom, they will be fine when they get back into school” and all I keep thinking is, I disagree.

I should point out that I am very aware of the need for children to be back in school with their friends; we now know the importance of relationships for mental health and wellbeing. As Vanessa King points out in 10 Keys to Happier Living “...our need to feel connected to other people is regarded as a fundamental nutrient for psychological well-being”. However, in my 11 years of teaching I have witnessed a dwindling of motivation, a lack of excitement for learning and an increase in frustration and sense of failure. I believe these reactions are leading to a decline in the overall wellbeing of the children in our care.

Let me be clear. I am not blaming children. I am not blaming teachers. I am not blaming Senior Leaders.

I am blaming the curriculum.

I am a creative teacher, I build strong relationships with my children, follow their interests, work collaboratively, value each individual contribution BUT doing all of these things is a struggle. I work against the tide; a system designed for the opposite of all of the above. I am fighting hard. Fighting a system that requires linear learning. It wants me to teach a set of bullet points in an organised, controlled way to a class of thirty very different humans; all motivated by varied interests and who have different strengths they want to utilise.

When you call upon thirty different children to be interested in the same thing at the same time, it is likely that some will be disheartened and get lost along the way. As a teacher, this is devastating. You know your children, you respect them, you love them for who they are and what they bring to your classroom but the frustration in not being able to celebrate their individuality is exasperating. When you can’t give reasonable amounts of time for children to consolidate or put their learning into context because you are required to complete a section of the curriculum, then the children fail to see the point and to be honest, so do I.

The children see it and educators see it. Our curriculum is a cluttered, outdated, organised mess. And now parents can see it; in front of their very screens at home. Take this tweet from a parent as an example

When children find purpose, when they don't have to follow the rules/boundaries set by the national curriculum, this is what happens. Allowing children to direct their own learning journey, knowing that we are there to facilitate them, creates beautiful moments like these.

Parents can finally see our education system for what it really is and I feel relieved.

So parents, please know - that yes, Zoom is different and homeschooling is hard for the children but unfortunately these responses you are seeing at home are all too familiar to us in schools; we battle with them every day. Disillusioned and fed up are common phrases.

I want to finish by saying, do not despair. There are things we can do, but it involves a fight, fight for change. There are many of us out there already on this journey and I am excited that we now have some parents with us too.

We need to be mindful about the journey we are on; ask the children what works for them, find solutions, try new ways and listen to feedback from teachers, children and parents. Not only for an effective recovery from the past year but so that we don’t return to the mess we left behind.

Just as Cory Henwood said in his Tedx talk on ‘The Empowering Future of Education’ we need to “...focus on those essential skills instead of the things a robot or machine will do for us, to focus our efforts on authentic project based assessments instead of standardised tests and focus on students, their needs, their interests, their future. If we ride this wave into the future alone it could be scary but if we want to ride confidently into the future, we need all hands on deck”

Please check out two inspiring animations all about reforming our education system the first one called 'Can school make you happier?' made by ‘Teachappy’ and another called 'Divergent Thinking' from the education reformer Sir Ken Robinson, who sadly died in August 2020.


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