So often parents are heard to ask the question, ‘where did I go wrong’, on occasions when things with their offspring don’t go as planned. There is almost a default position that offspring failings are a direct fault of their parents and that things could have been done that would have made a difference.
I am not saying that parents are blameless, and, in some cases, their actions can be directly attributable to bad outcomes. However, most poor choices come about through lack of knowledge or information.
I would hazard a guess that few parents realise that the school year in the Western Hemisphere was determined in the 19th Century when it was necessary to have a long summer break to help with the harvest. Moreover, the school day was shortened, and Saturday schooling was stopped as too much learning was thought to create idiocy in the brain!
In the Eastern Hemisphere no such summer break exists as rice growing is a continuous process all year and not a seasonal one as in the West. This leads to longer school days and more of them. It also leads to a belief that no one who gets up before dawn 365 days a year can fail to make their family rich.
Another effect of the long summer break in the West is the impact on attainment across various socio-economic groups. When we measure children at the start of each of their school years we discover a gap between those from the lowest and highest socio-economic groups. However, if the change in scores over the course of each year is measured, the lower group appears to learn more.
This seems to indicate that the change in achievement takes place, not at school but, during the summer holidays. This is the time when those in the higher socio-economic groups are enjoying more culturally fulfilling trips and where there are far more books and other stimulus in the house.
A further issue arises when it comes to choosing schools for their offspring. Most parents will make their choices based on either external inspection results or standardised tests. Yet very few people will bother to see when the external examination was conducted and what all the criteria are that make up the difference between an excellent school four years ago and a good school last year! Even I got bored with reading all the guidelines for an Ofsted Inspection!
What rarely happens is an evaluation of pupil success at the end of the education journey. I examined the figures for those children reaching GCSE in 2020/2021. The measurement was based on those achieving 8 subjects in GCSE or equivalent.
If you remember my differentiation between the Eastern and Western Approach, it will not surprise you to find out that the Asian children living in the UK outperformed their white counterparts. However, socio-economic factors did not contribute to this. For example, the Chinese who performed the best had nearly all their pupils on free school meals as parents were typically in low paid manual work.
What all of this tells us is that we need to educate our parents before we educate our children. We need to throw away the outdated idea that education needs long breaks to help with a non-existent harvest. We need to recognise that more study will not harm our children’s brains. We need to recognise that the time outside of school is as important as that in school and that we are the teachers during that time. We need to choose schools on what they do for the pupil, not what they do for inspectors. We need schools that teach for the future, not for the next external test.
This means that parents need to recognise the simple things they can do to play their part for the people THEY have brought into the world. Read to them nightly when they are young and make sure there are plenty of books in the house. Take them to interesting places during holidays. These may be zoos, aquariums, out into the forests, art galleries, exhibitions, and historical sites. Who knows, you may learn something as well. Make sure your children get as much sleep as they need to perform well at school.
Look for ways of showing the importance of school by taking an active part in school life. This could be through the PTA, by never missing a sports day and a parent’s race, and by attending events whenever the opportunity arises. No matter how painful it may be to sit through another nativity play with your offspring as the third shepherd with a tea towel over their head, it is more important than darts night!
I do not blame parents for not doing all these things as parenting is not a science. When one has a child the midwife does not give you the instruction manual and a guarantee that the model they give you will work as advertised! That is why we need to start by educating parents into a post-19th Century approach to bringing up children more in line with one that the Asians have already discovered.
Most importantly, we need to realise that poor does not mean failure. The KIPP schools in USA have adopted this changed approach in the poorest areas with remarkable results. Remember the performance of the Chinese in the UK GCSE 8 results? A Chinese proverb says, ‘If a man works hard, the land will not be lazy’. So, let’s educate our parents to work hard at parenting instead of passing the whole responsibility to teachers. In the process they can show by example and train their children to work hard so their land will not be lazy.