Monday, 13 May 2013

A letter to Michael Gove and the Response

'Dear Mr Gove 

 Firstly I would like to say that I imagine the work that you do day in day out must be filled with pressure and demands, so I appreciate you taking the time to read this email. 

 I was made aware of your proposals to extend the length of our children's school days and to also reduce the amount of holiday time that they have during the summer. I'd like to share with why this whole idea would be painful and damaging, not only to our children, but also to our society. 

 Grace is six years old and she loves reading. Actually reading is her favourite thing to do. She recently read Roald Dahl's 'Matilda', 'The Twits' and 'Fantastic Mr Fox' and spoke with real joy about how much she enjoyed reading them. They made her laugh and filled her with curiosity. Grace read these books when she woke up in the morning, when she got home from school, on the way to her ballet lessons and after her gymnastics lesson. She enjoyed the books so much that she told her mum and dad's friends all about them.  

 Grace was delighted when the film of 'Maltilda' came through the post. One afternoon after school Grace, her little sister Lizzie, her mum and dad, all cuddled up on the sofa and watched the film. They laughed together and all fell in love with the little girl who stood up against those adults who saw children as 'adults in waiting '. Mrs Trunchball hated children. She thought that by being stricter, meaner and a bully the children would lose their childish ways and become useful in the world. Mrs Truchball and Matilda's father saw productivity and making money as the most important things in life. 

Yet Matilda, the other children and Miss Honey knew different. 

They knew that creativity, imagination, love for others, compassion, kindness, standing against injustice and sharing our lives were much more powerful. 

These things change the world you see. 

These things leave a powerful legacy. 

The greatest movements, moments and nation changing events in human history have come from these virtues. 

When we look back and paint a picture of our common humanity, the bright colours that remain in our mind and on our hearts are from those who have displayed these characteristics and fought for these goals. 

Families and communities do not need robotic children who can become robotic adults who produce lots more 'stuff' for us all to consume. Our society does not need our children to work longer and harder.

Our society needs our children to be children.

And children are not adults in waiting.

Children are not future producers of stuff.

Children are creative, curious, beautiful and imaginative. And we need to protect and encourage this. 

Grace is like this you see. And so is her little sister Lizzie. So on the beach or at the park or when they are all gathered at church, they are asking questions and laughing and enjoying time spent with mum, dad, friends and family. 

Grace loves school, just like Matilda. But Grace also loves being with her mum and dad and sister. She loves playing at friends houses. She loves being with the church. She loves dancing. And through all the different people and experiences she is having Grace is learning how to enjoy being a child. Her laugh makes the world a better place. Every child's laugh makes the world a better place. 

Yet people like Mrs Trunchball want to silence their laughter and simply make them work harder. But by doing that our children might lose all their creativity, imagination and compassion.

If our children lose this then we are all in trouble. 

You see Mr Gove, they are all 'our' children. We all have a responsibility to them to ensure they have the best possible childhood. You and I have a responsibility to help Grace flourish. 

Grace and Lizzie are my daughters. I love them dearly. Any time I spend with them is a joy and precious. I don't want to work longer, I want to work at spending longer with my beautiful wife and daughters. 

My daughters are not pieces of capitalist meat that need to work harder. Longer school days and shorter holidays means less time for families, children under more pressure, increased tiredness, pressure to 'perform' and so a loss of human identity. We don't need this.

What our society needs is that we all spend more time together, eating together, sharing our lives and stories together, listening and learning from each other. 

Everything you are suggesting will erode and destroy further this possibility.

Please don't be Mrs Trunchball. 

If you persist in this I and many others will stand against you. Parents, teachers and communities will stand against you for the sake of our children and our future.

Please listen to our voices. Please preserve the laughter of our children. 

Yours faithfully 

Revd Joe Haward'

And the response I received:

'Dear Rev'd Haward 
Thank you for your email of 22 April, addressed to the Secretary of State, about media reports on the Secretary of State’s views on the length of the school day and year in England. As you can appreciate the Secretary of State receives a large amount of correspondence and is unable to respond to each one personally. On this occasion I have been asked to reply.
In his 18 April speech to the Spectator conference, the Secretary of State encouraged all schools to seriously consider making changes to the length, structure and content of the school day. He also pointed out that the structure of the current school year has not changed significantly since agricultural times and may not reflect the needs of today’s pupils and working parents. We have a responsibility to make sure our children get the best education possible to equip them to compete in the global market. 
We understand your concern about the length of the school day and year. Some of the best schools in the country recognise the benefits of a longer school day and of changes to the structure of school year as well. Such changes can really assist to children, particularly the most disadvantaged who are more likely to lose out over the long summer holidays. Academies and free schools, such as the David Young Community Academy in Leeds and the Free School Norwich, are already making changes in the best interests of their pupils.
Academies and free schools have the freedom to set the duration of the school day, and to set the length and dates of school terms as they see fit. In September 2011, the Government removed the prescriptive process that maintained schools had to go through when changing their school day. All maintained schools now have the freedom to set the duration of their school day as they see fit.
Maintained schools are bound by the School Teachers’ Pay and Conditions Document (STPCD), which sets out that teachers should work for 195 days (including 190 for teaching and 5 for training). The Secretary of State wrote to the School Teachers’ Review Body (STRB) on 17 April asking it, among other things, to make recommendations on how the non-pay conditions of service in the STPCD could be reformed, including provisions relating to teachers’ working time. The STRB will consider a range of evidence before reporting in January next year. Teachers’ conditions are one of the factors that restrict schools’ ability to make use of their freedoms to vary the length of the school day and year. 
I hope this is helpful to you.
Your correspondence has been allocated reference number 2013/0026463. If you need to respond to us, please, and quote your reference number.
As part of our commitment to improving the service we provide to our customers, we are interested in hearing your views and would welcome your comments via our website at:
Yours sincerely
Annabelle Mulholland 
Ministerial and Public Communications Division