May 10th, 2013
The recent announcement that one of England’s top performing grammar schools is to scrap its entrance exam amid fears the 11 plus is being undermined by an ‘endemic’ culture of tutoring has once again put the spotlight on the private tutoring industry and after the Sutton Trust released figures last year that showed 43% of children nationally had received private tuition, this decision may be celebrated by many parents.
Is it parental fear that if a good place at a selective school is not secured for their children they stand no chance in the overly competitive job market or is tutoring a way for parents to compensate for choosing state education and fearing they may not be doing the best for their children? Whatever the reason it is clear that tutoring is now so commonplace for many parents it is assumed to be a requirement of any child’s education. Of course tutoring is very widespread in the private sector as well where parents are already paying high fees. My 9 year old niece recently moved on from one of London’s top day schools to a gentle boarding school in the country. She was the only child in her year of 60 students at her old school not being tutored. This endemic has to stop.
I confess that today my teenage son, who has specific learning difficulties, is currently accessing a tutor to help him with basic numeracy and to re-sit a Maths GCSE. The one-to-one environment of learning some basic arithmetic skills that were overlooked early in his education is one he is thriving on. His self -esteem has increased as a result. He can ask unlimited questions without the fear of sounding silly and it is okay to make mistakes and learn from them. After watching as a family this week some reality TV in the form of The Apprentice and witnessing some sensationalist cringe-making TV in the form of a group of bright young things unable to do basic measurements and percentages, he appreciates and values the input he is having so that he has the essential life skills to cope with numbers! Clearly there is room for tutoring to help fill a specific gap where a child has missed out on some essential skills which are necessary pre-skills for the next level and which are difficult to address in the classroom.
This is very different from the tutoring that is done to coach children for 11 plus and other exams. And when tutoring is done so routinely that the majority of children in a year are receiving tutoring that is a very anxious environment in which to be (not) learning. The high pressure, high stakes culture that permeates schools and children’s lives, and so worries educationalists, often is as a result of anxious and pushy parents, the tiger mums and turbo charged Dads with very, very high expectations for their children. Let’s not rob our children of their childhood and let Chelmsford High school lead the way on the ‘tutor proof’ test enabling schools to distinguish between the naturally bright and able child and the one who has been tutored to within an inch of their lives.
As a parent coach I see the results and outcomes of a pressured child later in their teenage years feeling not quite good enough; parents feeling disappointed in their children; parents maybe complaining of the overly pressurised environment. Some educational environments described as overly pressurised may just be the wrong environment for that child. The child may not have developed the skills or the best work habits and having been placed in an environment not best suited to their learning style and profile. The effect on self-esteem and how children view themselves can often be a high price to pay.
Let parenting not be a competitive sport and our children be one of our own ‘achievements’. It’s a real challenge for us as parents but we must strive to achieve some kind of balance between equipping our children with skills for adult life and allowing them to have a happy, unstressed childhood without the years of tutoring. We want them to develop a good work ethic and to enjoy learning rather than just passing exams.
In the words of Madeline Levine from The Price of Privilege:
“Children need to see that we value their character first, their effort second, and then their grades.” Dr Madeline Levine
July 01st, 2011
Have you ever had the experience where your child says they are bored and there is nothing to do? Or indeed the situation where a simple family game of cards dissolves into hysteria and tantrums if your child does not win? Simply playing sport or other games can sometimes be fraught with emotion for both parent and child. Encouraging simple creative play from an early age can often be a minefield as parents are bombarded with a n overwhelming array of educational toys – largely electronic, with an amazing range of batteries and buttons. The marketing gurus cleverly stamp a package as “Award Winning Toy” encouraging parents to buy with the implication they will have as a result an “award winning child”. This preconditioning starts early and moves with the development of your child into the more sophisticated area of Nintendo Ds; Playstations and Xbox’s. Electronic toys are largely about children executing tasks and play therefore becomes based on performance and not imagination. The manufacturers may just as well put a health warning on the box saying” creativity and imagination not included in this package!”
Another on going problem for many parents is that as children develop in age, there can be a temptation to fill children’s free time with many organised activities and entertainment often designed to add to their list of accomplishments. Indeed we do live in a culture of organised play, as the pressure to maximize every moment is enormous, especially as time together between parent and child may be compromised. The result can often be children who, when left to their own devices, may not know what to do. We don’t want fun to be seen by our children as commercialised and yet so often this can be the case .
The solutions to the above are so simple as to be overlooked:
In terms of playing competitive games and sports, many life skills are required in order to be successful and enjoy taking part. We need to teach and train our children to:
Set up opportunities to practice the above skills by playing sport and other games. (This also provides opportunities for positive time with your children which contributes to a positive relationship with them, improves their motivation to please and increases their self-esteem.)
And finally when your child returns home from their cricket or rounders match resist the temptation to ask “Did you win?” replacing it first with “Did you enjoy yourself? And then “did you play your best?” or “did you manage to keep your eye on the ball the way you’ve been practicing” or “Did the coach have any good tips?”
March 22nd, 2011
The Path to Somewhere
The Parent Practice is delighted with the response of our two screenings of “Race to Nowhere” earlier this month. If you attended a screening, we hope you enjoyed it. If you weren’t there, we thought you might like to hear how the screenings went!
If you’re unfamiliar with “Race to Nowhere”, it is an American documentary that explores the pressures today’s children are under to succeed. While the film is American in content, the themes are absolutely universal, and as we saw from the speed with which the tickets sold, it seems the concerns are shared by many parents in the UK.
While some children are able to thrive with pressure placed upon them by schools and extracurricular activities, there are also many that aren’t able to deal as well. This film tells their stories. It raises so many questions: the benefits of standardised testing and early years’ homework, getting into the ‘best’ school versus a school where that particular child may be better able to flourish, and redefining success.
We had initially planned on holding only one screening at Channel 4, and were bowled over by the overwhelming response which had that screening sell out within hours – and almost crash our website! The waitlist quickly grew, so we decided to host a second screening at the Clapham Picture House. Overall, the film screened to over 150 people. Both screenings were followed by a 30 minutes panel discussion which was led by Elaine Halligan of The Parent Practice, and included Bonnie Harris M.S. Ed, the author of the series of parenting books including What To Do When Kids Push Your Buttons; Heather Hanbury, Headteacher at Wimbledon High School; Charles Bonas, Educational Consultant & Commentator; Sue Kumleben, Facilitator with the Parent Practice, Holli Rubin (Psychotherapist), and Philippa Jackson (Headteacher of Hollymount School).
From the panel discussion, and conversations afterwards, it was apparent that all the parents attending have a clear awareness of the challenges and pressures their children face within today’s education system. There is a collective sense of helplessness – many parents feel they are on a treadmill, and that if they decide to step off, they have in some way failed their children, despite knowing instinctively it may be the best thing for them!
Although our audience was just a small sample of parents, it was clear to us that that there is a considerable increase in parents’ concerns about how their children are coping at school. At the same time, many parents don’t believe they possess the appropriate knowledge, confidence or courage to support their children through school, and make the most appropriate choices for them.
If anyone is interested in hosting their own screening of the film we are happy to support you in doing so. It looks like there will be 2 or 3 more screenings in the London area this spring/summer.
We feel really thrilled to have brought this film to London and look forward to seeing what impact it will have for parents and educators alike. Some changes have already started to happen! A few days after the first screening, Wimbledon High School’s Headteacher blogged that:
“We should beware of ‘over-scheduling’ children’s lives: students need time just to ‘be’, to play, to ‘hang out’ – it’s something we believe in strongly at WHS. Within our new timetable, which I am announcing soon as part of the outcome of the curriculum review, there will be more time at lunchtime to do just that. I want our students to enjoy extra-curricular clubs for their own sake, not in order, as they get older, to tick boxes on a UCAS (university entrance) form. I do think that busy teenagers are often the happiest. Those with interests and hobbies will gain confidence which will help them academically as much as socially. But those interests have to come from the girls themselves – we can’t and shouldn’t push them.
True to our Parent Practice ethos, we have decided to be part of the solution as well, and to focus our minds and resources on creating a response for parents. We are in the process of developing a workshop, which has a working title of ‘The Path To Somewhere’. This workshop will look at how we can re-define success, and how we can empower our children with appropriate life-skills so they can thrive within whichever school environment best suits them.
So, stay tuned … it looks like something exciting may be starting to happen, and we’re proud to be part of it! And in the meantime, we’ll let you know when ‘Path to Somewhere’ is ready to launch!
If you’re curious to know more about the film, please take a look at www.racetonowhere.com.
October 04th, 2010
By Ann Magalhaes
I remember growing up, when school reports were handed out and I received grades around the 80% mark. I would then call my Dad and tell him the results, feeling pretty good about myself. His response was inevitably something like: “what happened to the other 20%”. Now, to my teenage ears, what I heard was “you didn’t do well enough, or you could have done better, or you were lazy and didn’t study enough.” My enthusiasm, and motivation to try harder deflated faster than a popped balloon!
Years later, I mentioned this to him and he was really surprised that his words had had such an impact on me. He told that his intention was always about getting me to think about the other 20%, and that in his eyes, I was so capable of achieving 100%. He only wanted me to look at the gap and to understand what I could have done differently.
Fast forward 25 years, and I now have my own child, and one of my greatest concerns is that she will also not put in that extra effort. What I hope for her is that she works hard to do the best that she can, and that she has the confidence to go for things – whether it be academically or extra curricular.
A few months ago I was reading Mindset, the Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck. I bought the book after seeing her interviewed by the comedian David Baddiel, who had filmed a documentary about education. In the show he asked for her opinion about the worst things we can tell our children. Her response surprised him – and me! She told him that the worst three words we can say to our children are “You’re. So. Clever.” And don’t we all do it? ‘Good job, great game, clever girl, atta boy’ Curious, I had Amazon mailing the book to me by the end of the week! Dweck writes about instilling in our children (and ourselves!) what she calls a growth mindset – believing that intelligence is not innate, but can be developed. As parents, we need to ensure we’re doing this is by praising the effort and attitude that our kids are putting into their work, sports, musical instrument practices. It’s about having the curiosity to learn rather than the desire to feel smart; it’s about being able to perceive feedback as contribution rather than criticism; it’s about seeing others as potential collaborators rather than threats. It makes so much sense! The aspect of growth mindset that I love the most is the focus on trial and error – allowing ourselves the freedom to make mistakes and to learn from them.
While writing this blog, I was watching some Carol Dweck interviews on Youtube, and spotted a Nike commercial featuring Michael Jordan – quite possibly the best basketball player ever. He says “I have missed over 9000 shots in my career, I’ve lost almost 300 games; been trusted with the game-winning shot 26 times – and missed. I failed over and over and over and that is why I succeed”. One of the most challenging things we face as parents is the ability to let our kids make mistakes. Perhaps by allowing them the privilege of making mistakes, we also allow them the privilege of figuring things out for themselves, and allowing them to shine!
September 26th, 2010
By Elaine Halligan
From the moment your child is born, the conversation from coffee mornings to dinner parties can become unhealthily preoccupied with the topic of schools, and for many parents this can almost leave them bordering on an obsessive, compulsive disorder!
“Overly pressurised” and “far too much competition“ are the phrases that come to mind. Competition is healthy if it means we are teaching our children to do their best and strive to improve, and in this process we need to teach them how to handle failure and to regard it as an impetus for improvement. Competition is good as long as you don’t devalue yourself or others in the process -i.e. what are they prepared to do in order to get ahead? The recent “Blood Gate” scandal last year with the Harlequins rugby team gave our family much fodder for discussion as we analysed the nature of competition in sport. We are highly competitive on the sporting front and winning is important but not at any cost if it means we end up devaluing ourselves by cheating.
We can have a huge impact as parents on the way our children view themselves. This is built over time -you can’t ‘quick-fix’ it. If you only focus on and praise achievements the child will come to feel that something is wrong if they don’t come top/win the race/ get voted as class captain/ get a leading role in the play. The child who gets 7/10 in a spelling test and can’t report back to his parents the result through fear of disappointing them, will in time view themselves negatively and this will impact on their self esteem.
What does this all mean for you if you are in the process of choosing schools for the first time or at secondary level? Always match your child’s needs to an individual environment suited to them – this is the hardest part as many of us may not understand or accept our child’s temperament; character; strengths and weaknesses –both social and academic.
Be careful of labelling an educational environment as overly pressurised. There is only too much pressure if indeed your child is struggling and not sufficiently supported in that environment. If your child is academically able, is in good work habits and has the ability to be organised the environment will be right for him.
Be aware of the impact on children of prizes and comparative grades. In reality prizes often go to the same children every year and many know they are never going to get a prize so forms no kind of incentive, and can lead to feelings of hopelessness. Comparative grades are the kind where your child is ranked in class as opposed to their own performance being looked at on its own and against the last effort. There are many high performing schools that have no prizes for academic achievement . Instead they recognise the achievements of the pupils whether sporting; in the arts, or the school community or in contribution to the liberal work the school has been involved with
How well rounded will those pupils be when they move into the adult world, knowing from the exam grades obtained how well they have done and also being commended for their activities outside the classroom!
Do your research; follow your beliefs and value system and stay calm in the face of other’s rising hysteria!
By Elaine Halligan