It has taken me a long time to start referring to school years by numbers. The reception class has no number. I am pretty sure that this is because in most other European countries obligatory schooling starts a year later, even though most of them also have pre-school classes which most children attend. After that we have years 1 and 2 in what used to be called the infant school, years 3 to 6 in what always used to be the juniors. This is followed by years 7 to 11 in secondary school, now called high school for some reason. And finally we have years 12 and 13 which some people still call lower sixth and upper sixth, because we still talk about sixth form college, despite the fact that some people now call university “college”, American fashion.
I may have acceepted this numbering system but this does not prevent me from having to refer back to the labelling I grew up with when I want to work out how old children in a particular school year are. It’s a bit like the formulae I have to use when converting to and from metric measurements. For inches to centimetres, I rely on my knitting experience; to check your tension is correct you cast on a certain number of stitches and knit a certain number of rows, forming a square that measures 4 x 4 inches or 10 x 10 centimetres. I base my calculations on that. I then just do the maths. Similarly I know that 5 miles is 8 kilometres - another straightforward calculation. Pints to litres and pounds to kilos are both more complicated.
And although I think and dream in the foreign languages I speak, I cannot “think” in metric. I always have to translate back to the measuring system I am used to from childhood.
I feel the same about the nomenclature of school years. And I wonder, now that we are (unless someone finally sees sense) leaving the European Union, whether we can change back to the old way of referring to them. Unlikely! Too many of today’s teachers, like our daughter, have grown up in the new way of doing things.
Anyway, Year 6 / fourth year juniors / junior 4 / top juniors are gearing up for Sats this week. Our daughter has had to explain to her Year 4 / second year / junior 2 class that they must be very quiet and considerate as they go past the school hall, which they cannot use for certain usual activities, because their 10 to 11-year-old schoolmates are doing tests in there. In fact the school hall has been unavailable for most mornings for weeks because the Year 6 class teacher has had them doing daily practice tests. Surely this is not the best preparation for Sats, which I think stands for Standard Assessment Tests. Surely the word “standard” suggests that it should be a routine matter, not something to get the children all worked up and stressed out about. Surely that teacher has read some of the statistics about children’s stress!
Here is an article about letters that teachers have sent to pupils and their parents reassuring them that Sats are not the be all and end all and that they, the teachers, are aware of other qualities that their pupils undoubtedly have.
As well as finding items concerning stress about tests, I keep reading about children stressing about gender identity. Packs of advice and guidance are now being produced for teachers about how to deal with this in the school situation. Inevitably, as well of the easier question of what to call a child, it raises problems about PE changing rooms and use of toilets. This article points out the two differing views on approaching the question. I was relieved to see that one of the experts giving advice to teachers spoke sensible from her own experience. She remembers clearly having wanted to be a boy, having indeed been convinced she was a boy for quite some time. As she grew up, she changed her mind.
She is not suggesting that we should believe that all transgender children will “grow put of it” but rather that we should not rush into too-permanent solutions such as hormone treatment and even surgery at too early a stage. Accept and respect the child’s point of view, ensure that others, especially other children, do the same, but don’t make to much fuss about it.
Let children be children!