Hello! I’m Leanne and I’m new to the ParentPower Team. As well as contributing articles, I’m going to be putting together the Newsletter for you each month. As a way of introduction, I thought I’d to tell you about some of my experiences I’ve had with my children’s school, which has led me to become part of the ‘Parent Power’ movement.
I have 5 children – my eldest two are almost through the school system. After years of feeling powerless as a parent with trying keep my children safe at school, whilst ensuring they received appropriate life-skills and a good academic education, I have now decided to break from it entirely and educate my younger children myself. Like many other parents I know, I had naïve expectations concerning what my children would be taught at school, and thought the best example I could give my children was for me to pursue a full-time career, whilst they would enjoy a state education, which would lead them to successful careers and happiness. I’m now wiser to the system and, looking back on the many challenges, it’s difficult to call any of it a success – it was at times more like a dystopian nightmare. I am now passionate about helping and advising parents on how best to protect their children from negative and sometimes destructive influences their children are faced with at school. It’s now a duty for parents make a stand for the children they love, and we’re here at ParentPower to help and empower parents to do exactly that.
At the age of 26, now a single mum, with a 2-year-old daughter and 4-month-old son, I went back to work full-time while my children went to nursery. I was like every other mother I knew and thought I was doing the best for everyone, including myself. The health visitor said my nightmares about the children getting hurt were caused by ‘separation anxiety’ and would soon pass; the nursery staff said the children would stop gripping onto me for dear life and crying for me after a few weeks. My 2-year-old daughter did stop crying – after a few months – but the baby never did. I felt extremely low, and I was put on anti-depressants. They made me emotionally numb. It wasn’t healthy. My 2-year-old stopped talking to me. I’d ask her how her day was, and she would just look down at the floor. A complete contrast to how she was pre-nursery – constantly giggling, chatting away, and blowing kisses at me. For me, one of the worst things about the system of school and work for mothers is separation from your children, especially when your instincts are screaming at you that it’s wrong. And that’s something that often comes up in cultural representations of dystopian society – separation, isolation and then indoctrination – Brave New World (Aldous Huxley), The Dispossessed (Ursula Le Guin), Animal Farm (George Orwell). The government contributed large amounts for someone else to have my children, but will give nothing to mothers to look after their own children.
Then came primary school, where my daughter continued not to speak to me or even the teachers. And when my son later started primary school, he kept running away! I’d get a phone call, while I was helpless at work, explaining that my son had somehow managed to escape from the classroom, had gone beyond the secured fence perimeter that surrounded the school, and how some of the staff had had to leave the school to find him. But they’d assure me that he was now back, and ‘safe’ at school. I’d ask him why he would run away, and at 4-years-old, with his squeaky voice, he’d tell me that he ‘just wanted to stay with me.’
As time went on, my daughter would complain to me about other children in her class – she was small, so children would pick her up, and because she had been dropped more than a few times, she was worried about being dropped again. I spoke with her teacher many times, asking if she could ask the other children not to pick my daughter up, but nothing was done, and my daughter was always very worried about going to school.
Then Year 6 come along, and I had the email to say that they were going to be delivering sex education. I watched the Channel 4 programme Living and Growing that the school said it would be showing; but I felt this was far too explicit, especially when baby-making was referred to, narrated by a child, as a ‘fun thing that adults did’. Worried that this could lead to early sexualisation and experimentation, I chose to have my daughter taken out of class and, instead, I spoke about all of this with her myself. The next day, however, her fellow classmates told her everything about the video anyway, but at least the subject had first come from me, framed within the values I wanted to impart to her, and in a way that I knew she could understand given her age and level of maturity.
During this same period, my sister was trying to warn me about what was yet to come with secondary school. She was in the process of writing a complaint to her son’s school, because, during a science class, the Year 9 students were instructed to list every derogatory term for sexual body parts they could think of, which were then written on the whiteboard. The school’s response to her complaint was that the governors had decided this was a ‘necessary part of the curriculum’.
When my daughter started at the local Catholic secondary school, I received an email explaining that my children would be taught the Ten:Ten RSE programme. Parents were sent a very short cursory survey, after being able to view only limited short clips and select sections of what was to be taught, most of which I thought was inappropriate and too explicit for such a young age – she was only 11! – and appeared to promote LGBT ideology, contrary to Catholic faith. The survey contained loaded questions and allowed only very limited opportunity to express my views, so I sent an email to the head mistress detailing my concerns. I never received a reply.
My eldest children have now almost completed secondary school, where, they tell me, they’ve had easy access to condoms the whole time they’ve been there, which again goes against Catholic teaching (sex is for marriage only, without using contraception). However, my children never had explained to them the Catholic teaching on contraception within their RSE teaching. They have instead, however, been presented with strong anti-Catholic opinions as something commendable and even to be celebrated. During a parents’ evening, for example, I noticed two pictures underneath the heading ‘inspirational people’ as I walked into their RE class: one was Germaine Greer – next to her image was ‘advocate for women’s rights and abortion,’ the other was a face and name I didn’t recognise, but was an ‘advocate for assisted suicide.’ Two people who were ‘advocating’ life choices completely contrary to the Catholic faith.
My children have also suffered from no end of bullying issues. My daughter was put under immense pressure by fellow students to conform with smart phones, make-up, and everything else they thought she should fit in with. My son was filmed being knocked about, while a group of students watched on – one of the students put the video of the incident online. My son later had a threat that he would be jumped by a large group, who would ‘continue to smash his face in until his nose was broken.’ I went into the school, emails were sent and phone calls were made, numerous times. I repeatedly asked for firm and definite action to be taken, so my children would feel safe at school.
Many evenings my children would be full of fear, in complete panic and unable to sleep, as a result of such experiences. They didn’t want to go to school. I would speak with the school in the morning, and I’d be promised that the child I was calling about could work somewhere secluded, away from bullies; but then, when reunited with my children after school, I would find out that the school never stuck to these arrangements. My daughter had to have counselling; and my son had to change school and is now having to catch up and learn new material, since schools all use different content for their GCSE curricula.
These days, when my children talk to me about their school experiences, they tell me they felt pressured at school to reject parental guidance and make choices more in line with the fashionable or official ‘group think’. It was particularly worrying when I was talking with my son about the Hitler Youth, and he said, ‘that’s what it’s like at school, mum! They want the children to obey the state ideology and not listen to parents.’
Throughout their education, I felt they had also been held back academically, because of the one-size-fits-all teaching approach which is an inevitable part of the school system. For example, my son was unable to move up to a higher reader stage during the whole of Year 4. He had a book given to him that was in the Year 4 reading boundary; however, although he could easily read the words he found it really dull and boring; and so, as it was unable to maintain his attention, he kept getting some of the accompanying comprehension questions wrong —so they refused to move him up a level until he had completed all of the questions correctly. I begged him to just read it and get the questions right, so he could move on to a new book, but he felt completely demoralised with reading. Consequently, I took matters into my own hands and read him the first Harry Potter book. He couldn’t wait for me to read the next one in the series, and then decided to go on without me, managing to read the remaining 6 volumes within the month. He was, therefore, reading at a far higher level than the book he had been provided with at school. The wide contrast between what I recognised he was capable of, and what the school believed he was capable of, had become very stark to me.
I was adamant that I could not go through all this again with my younger children, and I’ve now decided to home educate. They are at least a year ahead academically. I admit that when I was first introduced to the idea of home education, by friends who already practised it, I was baffled as to why on earth they would want to do that — thinking it unnecessary and just far easier to send your children to school. This was, however, before I saw how the school system undermined and held them back in so many ways; how it could try to break our family bonds and indoctrinate them with harmful ideologies. Now that I do home-educate, I’m often met with shock, and asked even whether it is legal for me to educate my children? Parents should be informed about the positive choice and benefits of home education, especially now that they are rapidly losing their rightful responsibilities to a state education system which is so failing them. If I can now help empower parents to stand up for their children, and to have them educated in the way that they know is best, then all the experiences I have outlined that have transformed my thinking, but have been so challenging for our family, will have had a purpose.