Ever feel like the education system and life in general is a treadmill ?

You’re launched aged 0 and don’t stop till you drop off somewhere along the way.

We slept in this morning – half term – until 10.30 am. After 6 weeks of 6.30am starts, 6 days a week, the hours are beginning to feel like the devil’s own phone number.

Is there any point in even trying to keep up with the standards set by our South East Asian friends in Singapore, Japan as well as high-performing cities in China such as Shanghai? Hong Kong alone top the PISA ( Programme for International Student Assessment) taken by 500,000 15 yr olds in 60 countries.

In South Korea it’s normal for children to go to school from 8am – 5pm, come home to eat, go to a crammer from 6-9pm, head back home and finally hit the sack at 2am after more revision and homework. Then they get up at 6.30am and start all over again. I’ve heard of at least one family who continues this regime in the ‘holidays’.

Tiger Mum. pushy parent

I know of someone who calls their child a ‘SPECIMEN’ …

child under microscope

…  and another family who talks about their son as a ‘PROJECT’.  How the hell do they think their children will deal with those labels? Even if, according to the parents, they call them that in jest.

project child

The highest cause of death for under-40s is suicide. Surprised?

South Korea is near the top of the tables, but have the unhappiest children. 

Indonesia is almost at the bottom of the league tables and their kids say they are the happiest.

What can we learn from this?

Time was, we came home from school, did a bit of homework, then rang our dealers from the phone box on the corner and smoked grass in the local park. Or were we rubbing two boy Scouts together to make a fire?


No. It was mainly:

1. Watching Blue Peter and Dr Who

2. Collecting milk bottle tops

3. Swimming in the North Sea until our lips were blue (wet suits? Don’t make me laugh)

4. Making explosions with sulfur-scented scratch ‘n’ sniff cap rolls

5. Stockpiling copies of ‘Look and Learn‘ and doing what Big Chief I-Spy told us to.

6. Sucking as much lemon sherbert as you could through the liquorice ‘pipe’ before it gummed up

All good innocent stuff.

Nowadays the kids look like this

Tired kids

I’d like to know how we got onto this fast moving conveyor belt in the first place, and who blew the starting whistle.

Was it:

  1. The pupils who say the schools are demanding higher standards
  2. The schools who say the parents are demanding higher standards
  3. The parents who say the schools are demanding higher standards
  4. The schools who say the Universities are demanding higher standards
  5. The Universities who say the job market is demanding higher standards

Unfortunately, the job market has a workforce that looks like this:

Exhausted workers

What’s the use of being a Big Banana if you’re celebrating your 40th here:


Ironically, some of the highest achieving nations are now beginning to realise the need to slacken off a little from their intensive test-driven syllabus, and introduce an element of creativity into the curriculum. A generation of work-only focused children won’t beget successful families even if they live that long. They’re finally starting to emulate the Western system of education – before we locked onto League Tables big time. 

And what are WE doing? Blindly following the exam results and stepping up the pressure every year to catch up with those at the top. There’s no room for kids to grow into fun-loving, healthy grown-ups if they’re being force-fed. Everybody says, “I just want them to be happy”. Well, excuse me but what sort of tyranny is that? Here it is again but highlighted to see who’s holding the happiness wand – “I JUST WANT them to be happy”. Where’s the room in there for our children to explore? Become who they really are? Not just more successful versions of ourselves.

Here’s a list of jobs I don’t want my son to do when he’s older: bullfighter (dangerous), Roman Catholic priest (no grandchildren), racing driver (too fast), pigman (smelly), banker (loose relationship with moral compass), mobile phone salesperson (differently truthful), astronaut (too far away from his Mummy).

But, and this must be the ‘BUT’ that allows the child genuine freedom to explore their true nature – we as parents have to let go and not interfere with their dreams. So, if he or she wants to head off to Spain to swoosh a red cape in front of a snorting bull (as the English son of some London accountants I know has done), let them. Forcing or guiding them into a career they neither love or have a natural flair for is limiting their very being. Did this happen to you?

Let’s hop off the conveyor belt today and take a good look at what education really is. The Latin root of the word education is duco meaning ‘I lead, I conduct’. Surely good education is genuinely leading the child to their personal best. Not ‘THE BEST’ according to a set of criteria relating to only a minority of kids who are born academics. Hothousing very bright children is debatable at best, but doing so to those who have no natural ability in formal study but may have great talents elsewhere, is fundamentally cruel, and a waste of all the possibilities that make life richer for us all.

I’m sure that most children can probably do a great deal more than they think they can, and often do a great deal less than we would like, but wouldn’t it be an idea to slow the speedometer on the treadmill for a while?

Why don’t we all agree to calm down, and let the children play.

At least some of the time.

Cereal Boxes

What do you think?

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  1. What an EXCELLENT post! Jo, you’ve excelled, and made me laugh into the bargain.

    I absolutely love the comparison of kids at school with adults in work. So true. I just look at my daughter and husband as proof.

    The Government were harping a while back about the happiness factor, whatever that was. A bit wishy-washy and totally unfocused, because they knew absolutely nothing about it. And because of this, and the fact that a lot of those obese grey-suits lolling about in their cabinet chairs probably thought it was a load of mumbo-jumbo, nothing ever came of it.

    And what were they supposed to do, exactly? How are we to regulate happiness when the country is in recession? No pay rises, high living costs, increased fuel bills, no job security, benefits being cut, health and social services being cut – nothing but doom and gloom.

    Going back to education, it’s all due to standards, and making everyone strive for a degree. When I went to University I was one of the top 5% of the population to do so, now it’s 50%! Universities have to sort out the wheat from the chaff, so bung up their expected grades to dizzying heights. They charge enormous fees because they have to, and in some cases students are suing universities because they deem their education isn’t up to the mark!

    I know we must all strive for excellence, but not to the point of detriment. What are we going to do when everyone who is worth anything has burned out?

    1. Thanks for your heartfelt comment Alice. You’re right about the Government, such poorly thought through policies. Short termism, though we too as a population demand instant answers and have been left high and dry by the bank(er) robbers. You pose an important question at the end. Who knows, but sometimes it feels as though half the country will be full time carers looking after the other half who are burnt out cases, both mentally and physically.

  2. Brilliant post. I couldn’t agree more. I was just talking about this the other day that I constantly feel run ragged and that I feel I will never finish my to-do list nor will I ever reach a stopping point. It seems to just keep going and going and going. i keep getting told life but surely it wasn’t always such a fast pace society. And the want to be better than the jones attitude. Damn you pinterest for making me try harder and harder I say. Thanks for linking up to Share With Me. Loved this post. #sharewithme

    1. Glad you like the post Jenny. Just driving me mad too at the mo’ – even half term had to badger him to do stuff he’d missed from being away for 2 days. We keep saying ‘Mindfulness’ but can’t seem to find the time 🙂 Well done you for even knowing how to do Pinterest. Losing passwords and grubbing thro Spam for new ones they send is extra hassle too. One of these days it’ll be me in a loin cloth meditating in a cave (centrally heated of course!) with no inbox to stress about x Thanks for doing #sharewithme

  3. All the time Jo – well most! F stating school at just turned 4 made me realise this even more – i don’t care how well he does, life should be enjoyable and fun and he can do whatever he likes – juts not the stuff you listed 😉
    Fab post though – i hope i don’t end up a hospitalised banana! x

    1. Thanks Katie. I see other children increasingly being driven at son’s school inc one Mum who complained her child wasn’t getting 100% in everything.(!!) Thought she was joking but sadly not as she didn’t join in my ironic guffaw. Your boys will do well whatever marks they get because (a) they’ve got lovely parents (not met your OH but he looks a bit of a pushover and not too dangerous) and (b) easy access to gin supply. I’m sure you won’t end up like the banana and even it you did, you’d be a real smoothie x

    1. It’s crazy isn’t it! So sorry that you gave it up as you were clearly a committed teacher but obviously have to put your own offspring first. Your lucky son though to get a one-to-one with his Mum from now on. Hey that sounds like a good slogan for home ed! Thanks for commenting too 🙂

  4. A fabulous post Jo and one that rings true for all of us. Both daughters were disillusioned with high school by the time they left as independent thought was discouraged! They couldn’t wait to go to university and study subjects they’d chosen for themselves and be encouraged to come up with their own ideas. I worry that we’re stiffling our kids and adults for that matter with too much pressure placed upon them and not enough time off for good behaviour and this can’t be healthy for any of us!

    1. You’d think independent thought would be encouraged at a much earlier age. Hope they’re finally enjoying their studies at university.
      I know if I’m under too much pressure I don’t perform nearly as well – why should it be any different for children? Thanks so much for commenting, Izzie x

  5. What a fantastic post, one of the best I have read for ages! So very true. My husband and I are both teachers and I think it is safe to say that my husband completely over thinks things and believes that the children should always be learning and doing stuff. I put the brakes on and say, no actually they also need time for themselves as that is just as important. Our education system is so full of testing and result tables, it makes me so cross. I agree with you that the treadmill definitely needs to be slowed down.

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