When your babies are small, the thing you really can’t wait for them to do is to walk, because that means you don’t have to carry them anymore. The tiny baby bit is lovely, if you like that kind of thing, but they very quickly get heavy. You need them to learn to move by themselves, because otherwise you can’t even make a cup of tea. Crawling is efficient, but it is also mucky, and it’s not a great all surface option. So walking it is. But you can’t just hoist your kids up onto their feet and say “walk” – their legs have to be ready to cope with it, and they have to have the confidence and the will to do it. They have to jump that hurdle when they’re ready, otherwise they’re just going to fall over. And you also clear some space in the room, so that there is less stuff for them to trip on. Putting pointless hurdles in their way is a really dumb idea.
As the DfE has discovered to its cost, one of the dangers of setting the hurdles too high, and of erecting pointless hurdles, is that you run the risk of tripping over them. If you set an agenda of “high standards” and then you fail to live up to the kind of standards you said you expected, your shins get bruised. A cancelled baseline, delays to the exemplification materials, a KS1 SATs spelling test that shouldn’t have been published, “achieveing” on the gov.uk website. Ouch! Ouch! Ouch! Ouch! If you’re going to say that there are “no excuses” and that “all must be above average” (oh my aching shins) then you can’t really make monumental mistakes and expect people not to giggle as you fly through the air. If you’re going to ask for something from children, then make damn sure you model it yourself. Because you can’t have higher standards for the kids than for you, unless you’re a hypocrite or a dictator.
If a child is ready to jump over the “spot the adverb” or the “use a semi-colon” hurdle, then by all means set up that hurdle for the child to jump over. There is absolutely nothing wrong with having high expectations for each child, and I have no problem teaching children to spot these things, mostly because they are best avoided. But not all the kids in the same class are the same age, and some kids are not as tall as others. Why would you make them jump a hurdle when they’re not ready, or make them walk before they can crawl? All you end up doing is bruising their shins. And that’s not high expectations, that’s just bullying. (A bit like making all schools become academies is like dragging them over the hurdle against their will.) So I’m not surprised that parents are rising up and starting to make a noise. And I’m watching very closely to see what happens. Because the DfE can set up whatever hurdles it wants, but I don’t have to let my children crash into them.