What is the value of primary education?

When would you say is the most important stage in someone’s educational journey?  Starting secondary school?  GCSEs?  A Levels?  Going to university? 

These are all significant milestones.  However, it is the early and primary years that are the most important stage in our learning. 

Over the last few months, I’ve been musing on how much we value primary education. But what do I mean by “value”?  That word has dual meanings, and I’m using both of them hand-in-hand.  It can mean the monetary value we put on something – how much we consider something is worth in pounds and pence and are therefore prepared (or not prepared) to pay for something.  It can also mean our principles and how much importance we place on something.  For example, it might be spending time with friends and family or having good health.  Things that don’t necessarily have a monetary value but are important to us and help us live a happy and fulfilled life.

So, back to my musings.  Something I’ve noticed is that tuition rates seem to be based on the stage of the educational journey, which is based on the age of the learner.  The further along the journey, the pricier it gets.  Therefore, primary tuition is at the cheaper end.  This is obviously frustrating for me on a personal level as a specialist primary-age tutor, but it is also frustrating on a wider scale as it makes absolutely no sense to me to charge based on the age of the learner.  It just reinforces the misconception that primary education is less valuable than education for older students.  This is fundamentally untrue. 

The other thing I’ve noticed is that tuition for exams, such as 11+ and GCSE/A Level is charged at a higher rate than the type of tuition I provide, which is about helping a person develop, grow in confidence and raise their aspirations (and maybe do well in some of those exams in future).  Again, there is an inherent value judgement here that exams and academic achievement is more important than supporting development, confidence and enjoyment of learning.

I’ve googled and searched the internet to try and find reasons as to why we as a society place less value on primary education, and less value on non-exam-based, holistic learning.  What did I find?  Nothing.  No one that I can find is talking about this.  Am I the only one to notice it?  Surely not, but at the moment it feels that way.  Whilst I can’t find any research or discussion about these issues, I have some theories of my own as to why primary education is undervalued.

We think that what primary-aged children need to learn is “easy”. 

Because it’s “easy” it must therefore be “easy” to teach.  Firstly, I think homeschooling proved that what primary aged children are expected to learn is far from “easy” and that teaching them these things was also not “easy”.  We think teaching a child to read, spell, add up, is easy because we learnt it so long ago and we do these things so automatically we forget the effort that was needed to master them.  Teaching these things requires expert knowledge of child development, how our brains enable learning at this age, and therefore how to break down these “easy” tasks into stages.  That is not an easy thing to do.  Whatever anyone is teaching requires knowledge, understanding and skill.  The value should be based on the skills and experience of the person delivering the teaching, not on the age of the learner. 

We think things for young children should be cheaper. 

I’ll be honest and say I’ve no idea why this might be.  Maybe it comes from a sense of not putting up barriers to opportunities and helping families on tight budgets which I am fully in support of, but doesn’t explain why things get pricier from the teenage years onwards when barriers are still there and budgets still tight.  I believe in state education.  I believe in libraries and free access to museums.  I believe in affordable child-care and early years provision.  However, if we are choosing to supplement what is already affordably available (in this case state education), then sometimes we need to be prepared to pay a premium for that.  Bespoke 1:2:1 tuition is just that – a premium service.

As a society we undervalue the early stages of education. 

This goes back to my first point.  Maybe it’s because we think primary education is “easy” and all early years and primary teachers do all day is play with children and colour in (I can assure you this is definitely not what they do!) 

As I said, early years and primary age is the most important stage in our educational journey.  It is when the foundations and building blocks for all future learning are laid.  We want those foundations to be strong and secure.  If they are not, then we are setting children up for a difficult learning journey.  If building blocks are not put in properly then other things don’t fit together.  Things don’t make sense and learning becomes difficult.  We have to “unlearn” things that were not taught accurately (a classic example being adding and taking away a 0 when multiplying or dividing by 10.)  Whilst it is possible to unlearn things (we now understand much better that the neural pathways in our brains can be changed and are not fixed as previously thought – this is called neuroplasticity), it’s preferable to get things right first time.  When’s the time to do this – early years and primary!  This is when we learn all the fundamentals (the things that we later consider to be “easy” because we have mastered them a long time ago).  If we can’t read, then we can’t access any other learning.  If we don’t understand multiplication, then we are going to really struggle with many other mathematical concepts, if we can’t spell and write then we are going to be severely left behind and struggle to cope with life. 

These things are not “easy” or less important.  They are absolutely vital!  I can’t stress the importance of this enough.  Primary educators are setting children up for their future.  They are the people who have a fundamental role in determining how their learning journey may pan out.  It is a hugely skilled job and getting it wrong leads to damage that can be difficult, or impossible to correct (if not detected and addressed).  Because of this, maybe primary educators should be valued more than educators at other stages?  At the very least, they should be as equally valued as any other educator.

We value exams and academic success. 

Our education system is based on valuing certain subjects over others.  Eg, maths and English are seen as more important than art or hairdressing.  Governments put a huge amount of pressure on children (and teachers) to pass high-stakes exams.  These exams do not start in secondary school.  In England, children are formally tested in the first term of Reception, again at the end of Year 2, again in Year 4 and yet again in Year 6.  These high-stakes tests are used to predict their GCSE scores.  This is insane (and will require a separate blog to explain why). 

In the UK we have some of the most unhappy and stressed children in the world because of our focus on exams and academic subjects at school.  However, without self-confidence, resilience, perseverance and aspirations, many children just cannot cope with this system that pushes them too far too fast, and does not give them space to explore other subjects they may thrive at.  No subject is more important than another.  All subjects cross-over.  There is a huge amount of cross-over between art, music and maths for example. 

I value the need for children to believe in themselves, try new things and develop a love for learning.  These are soft skills that cannot be measured by a test, and therefore and not valued by governments around the world who want to be top of the league tables. 

If you pass some exams along your journey, then that’s great (and obviously useful and advisable)!  However, if you have the self-confidence and resilience needed to thrive in your learning you are more likely to pass those exams.  These soft skills are just as important, if not more so, than academic achievement.

The value I place on my tuition service reflects my beliefs around the importance of primary education, my qualifications, experience and skills.  Just because the learners I work with are under 12 and not working towards formal exams does not make their learning journey any less worthy.  Investing in high-quality tuition from an experienced and professional tutor who will raise your child up and open doors for them further along their learning journey is priceless.

If you would like help for your child to feel more confident, whilst working at their pace on what they need, to support their learning at school, email me at topcattutor@gmail.com.

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