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'I was a teacher for 30 years. The system is now so broken, I'll home-school my family.'

Queensland’s Kathy Margolis was a teacher for 30 years. But unless she can change the current education system, she’s not planning on letting her grandchildren go to school.

“I have said to my three sons, ‘If you guys one day have kids, and I haven’t managed to get the system changed, then I’m going to home-school every last one of them,’” Margolis tells Mamamia. “I will not see my grandchild going into the system.”

Margolis quit teaching last year, explaining why in a post that went viral. Last week, she gave up her job in outside school care, and now feels she can speak completely freely.

One of her biggest concerns is that kids are being expected to read and write in their first year of formal schooling – called Prep in Queensland – when they might be as young as four and a half. This results in some little kids feeling like failures.

“There are kids who are saying, ‘I’m stupid, I can’t do this,’” Margolis says. “They can see their friends who know all the sight words. Not only that, we’re giving them report cards that are telling these parents, ‘Your child hasn’t met this standard,’ when really, what we should be saying to the parent is, ‘It’s okay, they’re just not ready yet, don’t stress.’ But they’re not hearing that and they’re going out and getting tutors.”

Margolis says she saw this happening when she was working in outside school care, but had to bite her tongue.

“I would have lost my job if I’d have said to parents, ‘No, stop with the occupational therapist, stop with the speech therapist, stop with all of this, and give your child an extra year.’

“Parents want their kids to do well and to be okay, so they’re coming from a place of helping their kids. Really, the kids just need extra time.”

Margolis says there’s no benefit in teaching four and five-year-olds to read and write.

“A lot of it, I think, is parents’ ego: ‘My child can do this,’ and ‘My child can do that.’ The only people who go against what we’re saying, and there are less and less of them now, are the ones whose kids are thriving. They’re going to thrive no matter where you put them. In the play-based program they also would have thrived.”

She says all the evidence shows that learning to read and write earlier is not better, and parents need to look at that evidence.

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“If they looked at the evidence, they’d actually chill out and go, ‘You know what, my kid’s going to be okay, they’re going to have better social skills, they’re going to have less anxiety, and they’ll still know what they know, they’ll just know it later.’”

Margolis now works for the organisation Protecting Childhood, which believes in play-based learning till the age of six, no set formal homework till the age of eight, and no standardised testing which is used to “pass or fail”.

“The education system is broken,” she believes. “It’s wrong, especially in Prep. I think it’s the media-based hype about results, and I think parents don’t want their kids to fall behind so they’re buying into the whole fear thing.”

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She says she can understand why the home-schooling movement is taking off.

“But once again, not everyone can afford to do that,” she adds. “We shouldn’t have to give up our job to home-school our kids. There should be a viable alternative out there.”

Margolis says a lot of teachers are saying what she’s saying, and parents need to listen to those teachers, and then educate other parents.

“Who better to know, really, than a teacher? Those kids are our life.”

The Queensland Department of Education did not respond to Mamamia‘s requests for comment. However the state’s Education Minister Kate Jones recently told ABC Radio the Queensland Government had been working with teachers on establishing a mix of play-based and formal teaching.

“I have to ensure that early year teachers feel that they have the flexibility to do the appropriate age learning for students in their class,” Ms Jones said.

She also said introducing transition statements sent from kindergartens to prep schools would also improve conditions by identifying any issues a prep teacher should be aware of.

Do you agree with Kathy? Are our egos getting in the way of our children’s education?

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