6: Growing Up!

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Ross Morrison McGill founded @TeacherToolkit in 2010, and today, he is one of the 'most followed educators'on social media in the world. In 2015, he was nominated as one of the '500 Most Influential People in Britain' by The Sunday Times as a result of...
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How do you know if you’re doing a good enough job as a parent?

Not many readers will know, that my son was the reason Teacher Toolkit was born. In 2011, I was made redundant from a senior leadership academy chain – who transpired to have financial irregularities (twice) and a government ‘notice to improve’ – who, later in 2014, had 10 schools removed from its control. Anyway, I digress.

Unbeknownst to me, after taking the decision to take voluntary redundancy to enjoy some ‘time out as a new father’, my son was born 3 months too early weighing just 1lb 9ozs – or 730 grams. It was stressful, made more difficult by the fact that we had to travel 85 miles everyday just to be by his bedside; 82 days to be exact – in hospital and no chance of getting back into the job market. I resigned myself to focus on being a husband, dad and a teacher – and in that order.

Freddie was born at 28+2 weeks gestation – almost 12 weeks premature – on Saturday 21st May 2011 at 17.42pm, weighing just 730 grams (1lb 9ozs). He was classified as ‘extreme preterm’ as well as ‘extreme low-birthweight.’ He had less than a 50% chance of survival. (Tommy’s Baby)

Family First: Teaching Last?

It wasn’t until 3 months later, with my son finally at home on oxygen support, did I start to think about my career again. As the 1st September 2011 passed by, I felt very strange ‘not being in school’ for the first time in 15 years.

It’s very rare that ‘teachers’ put themselves last.

School life always comes first. We are conscientious souls. We feel guilty when we have to take a day off sick. Worse when our child is sick and are forced to stay at home to look after them – regardless of what deadlines we have to meet, or if we lose a day’s pay and then have to spend more cash on an ’emergency babysitter’. The life for parents working in school is badly designed and being a ‘teacher-parent’ is challenging. There is little scope for flexible absence to meet the needs of good, hard-working teachers who have circumstances – sometimes beyond their control – outside of school.

School absence policies make the situation much worse. I’d go as far to say they could sometimes verge on discrimination. However, I digress again and will get to the point.

6 Years Later

This weekend, I celebrate my son’s 6th birthday. Freddie has insisted for the past 3 months, that his party theme this year will be ‘superheroes’. As a father, I will be making a guest appearance as an inflatable ‘Incredible Hulk’ and taking on all the mini-superheroes in the garden for a wrestle …

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Last year I wrote about how well Freddie is doing at primary school. He ‘reception class’ report said:

“Freddie you have made so much progress in the last few weeks. You are beginning to write sentences independently using your sounds to spell. You use finger spaces and spell some of the words correctly. You are writing digraphs and using capital letters at the beginning of sentences. You enjoy reading books, listen to questions and can talk about a book. You are pleased with yourself and know you are good at writing.”

Although this year, something has changed.

Let’s ignore the fact that he was born premature and is ‘summer born’. Lucky to be alive for that matter …

Rubric Assessment:

However, the rubric of school assessment states that Freddie is currently ‘behind expected progress‘ in year 1. The first formal year of school and already we are receiving letters of concern. This is not worrying for me as a parent or as a teacher, because I understand the pressures schools are under to perform: this is the same pressure applied on to each and every teacher to ensure their students make expected progress.

But, what about parents who are not teachers? Those who do not understand the rubric? Those who are being the best parents that they can be, yet penalised by the time of year their child was born, or the difficulties and hardships that they are born with; their postcode and/or learning difficulties. Have we lost sight of our purpose in education? I’m all for assessment and understanding ‘how well students are performing’ as a parent and teacher, but is there no room for students to just be making progress as a child?

Apparently not.

Our education system is currently blighted by accountability, league tables and performance data. So much so, the political rhetoric to raise standards is reaching every classroom, child and family. It’s certainly not a ‘superhero system’ to be proud of.

The Department for Education is ‘under fire for “failing to act” nearly two years after promising to stop the “postcode lottery” of unfair admissions for summer-born children.’ Every November, I write about World Premature Day to raise the profile of children born too small, too soon. It’s probably something I will do for the rest of my life – as long as I can write and have the platform to do so.

Every child has a back story. Every assessment needs context and you can feel rest assured, Freddie’s school has been made aware of his ‘start in life’ to put his assessment into context.

So, despite life at school being very challenging and the exam period having just started, this weekend I am on total shutdown. There will be no ‘teacher’ or senior leadership work at the front of my mind. This weekend, I am going to be a dad. I am going to be a husband. Most of all, I am going to be the Incredible Hulk and be the superhero I need to be for the most important child in my life.

Happy birthday Freddie. You will always be making ‘expected progress to me’ …

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Freddie was in hospital for 82 days, which equates to a total of £287,000! (6 weeks in Intensive Care and 6 weeks in Special Care). If we could raise just one day’s equivalent costs, we’d be delighted.

2 thoughts on “6: Growing Up!

  1. Happy birthday to Freddie- lucky to have such a wonderful dad! You are right -it’s so important that we dedicate time to our own children too- they grow up far too quickly.

    Absolutely agree with you about the reports and assessments. With my youngest of three now about to sit her GCSEs, telling them to try their best has to be good enough.

    It’s not as if we will love them any less if they are not making ‘expected progress’.

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