All change in education
Since the whole GCSE grading debacle broke, the newspapers have been awash with one education scandal (or is it initiative?) after another. Not only does the grade boundary story rumble on but now we are to scrap GCSEs for an alternative that’s not entirely clear and, according to yesterday’s papers, the A levels are likely to get a dose of community service and extended essay. More reverence to anything with ‘baccalaureate’ in the title, it would seem.
As a teacher and a parent, I can’t help feeling that this is more bombardment than any generation should have to take. Whatever our individual politics may be, and however we might feel about the current system, both teachers and, more importantly, learners seem to be falling foul of rhetoric and posturing from all sides. Ideas and possibilities seem to leak out before they are fully formed and the parents of pupils already facing a nerve-wracking future are left feeling that they don’t even know which hoops their offspring are going to have to jump through in order to have a chance of gaining the jobs that don’t currently exist…
As a Head, I want to offer reassurance and certainty, but, in the current climate, that’s increasingly difficult to do. We risk the futility of a Corporal Jones ‘Don’t Panic’ and the temptation to crawl under the Morrison shelter and wait for the shelling to stop is a strong one. However, a further glance at the papers does offer a lifeline.
Last week North Carolina State University published a study which analysed the performance of over 10,000 teenagers and declared that parental input is perhaps more important than that of a school in determining pupil success. Pupils whose parents encouraged them academically and attended school events did better than those with less parental input, even in better performing schools. Dr Toby Parcel, co-author of the report, was quoted as saying that ‘parents need to be aware of how important they are’.
Now you may be surprised that I, as head of a high-performing, fee-paying school, should be so delighted by this news. It would be easy to assume that I would benefit more from a report saying that the right school is everything, driving parents into Kent College’s open arms. But nothing could be further from the truth.
I really like this report in the first instance because it rings true to me. After almost 20 years in teaching, it is, to me, just patently obvious. Children with supportive, interested parents who value education, out-perform those who lack such support. And how is this good news for me? Well, of course the first thing a supportive parent does is choose the right school. So, even if a strong parent in a weak school might be better than the other way around, a strong parent and a strong school remains the best formula.
Secondly, I think this report supports all schools in illustrating that no parent – even a fee-paying parent – can abdicate all responsibility to a school. Most of our parents would never dream of such a thing and subscribe absolutely to the necessary team work between school and home to get a girl to her full potential. However, I can think of occasions when I’ve been told that even issues such as incomplete homework and misbehaviour on a Saturday night are the school’s responsibility because we have been paid to create the perfect child, even during her hours away from our care.
But the main reason why I think this is such good news is because, even in the face of educational controversy and uncertain reform, common sense and a strong support system can prevail. When I am asked what things will be like for our 10 year olds when they get to 16, I’m afraid I can’t be 100% sure. But what I can assert is that, if we keep taking an interest in them, supporting them in all they do and working together as a team, they will be able to face whatever is thrown at them. Thank goodness some things don’t change…