Toby Young: Getting The Most Out Of Primary School

Toby Young

As a father of four children under 11 and co-founder of the pioneering West London Free School, Toby Young has learned a lot about primary education. His recent book is a much needed manual for parents who want to demystify the new curriculum and support their children’s learning at home. We talked to Toby about his top tips for the new term.

If you feel like you’ve lost track of what is and isn’t taught in primary schools these days, you not alone. The rate (and extent) of change to the curriculum in recent years has left many parents slightly bewildered. And while there is no shortage of educational resources online,  it is still perhaps surprising that until Toby Young and Miranda Thomas (who have nine children between them) did so, nobody had already written a book attempting to decode the curriculum in one place.

Divided up by year and covering the 10 core subjects, What Every Parent Needs to Know not only explains clearly what kids will be taught each year but provides loads of practical tips and advice about what you can do to help – from app/website recommendations and spelling word lists to memory games and historical days out. This practical aspect is what we love most and what makes it so widely applicable – even if your kids follow the common entrance or other curriculum many of the core topics will be the same, even if not followed in precisely the same order. We think it’s a brilliant addition to any family bookshelf. Let’s just hope they don’t rewrite the curriculum again next month…

Toby Young On Getting The Best Out of Primary School:

What advice do you have for parents whose children are starting Reception this September?
Ideally, your child should be toilet trained, able to get themselves dressed and undressed, capable of recognising their own name when it’s called out and have some basic familiarity with the alphabet and numbers 1-20. If you have the time, arrange to visit the school with your child beforehand so it’s not an unfamiliar environment on the first day.

Primary-school reports can be a bit vague – how can you tell if your child is doing well (or badly, for that matter)?
Look at the data, not the comments. Levels were discontinued in 2014, but many schools still use them. The level your child is expected to reach in each year is as follows: Year 1 (1b), Year 2 (2b), Year 3 (2a/3c), Year 4 (3b), Year 5 (3a/4c) Year 6 (4b). If your child is above (2 is higher than 1 and a is higher than b or c), they’re doing well; if they’re below, they’re not. From next year, levels will likely be replaced with a score of above or below 100, where 100 is the expected level.

How much time do you think primary-aged children should spend doing homework?
Around half-an-hour a day.

Where do you draw the line in terms of screen time?
My wife tries to limit our children to one hour a day, but that’s an ideal rather than a realistic aim.

Sir Anthony Seldon, headmaster of Wellington College, has taken a strong stance against tutoring primary-aged children – what’s your take on it?
I generally agree, but with one proviso. If your child is preparing to sit an entrance exam to be admitted to a selective school and their present school isn’t adequately preparing them for it, then it’s worth doing. Otherwise, your child will be at a competitive disadvantage. Tests like Common Entrance and the 11+ are supposed to just assess raw intelligence, but there’s no doubt that specialist tutors can help your child prepare for them.

What are the most common mistakes parents make when it comes to helping their children through school?
Doing their homework for them. Trust me, that’s not going to help them get good GCSE results.

What tips would you have for parents who think their child may be falling behind?
Don’t worry about it. Either your child will catch up, or they won’t, and there probably isn’t much you can do about it.

If children pursue sports and music outside school it can eat into their homework time. How do you balance schoolwork and extra-curricular activities?
Get them to do their homework first thing in the morning, before they go to school.

What’s the single most important thing a parent can do to help their child get the most out of primary school?
Make sure they get a good night’s sleep and have a proper breakfast. They’ll enjoy school more and the teachers will enjoy teaching them.

Toby Young Book Toby Young is the co-author of What Every Parent Needs to Know: How to Help Your Child Get the Most Out of Primary School. Buy a copy of his book, and follow him on Twitter.