over achieving

I’m dismayed by the current ethos of target setting in education, the constant drive for improvement (there’s no longer such a thing as good enough), and the expectation that everyone should be at least averagely good at everything (every child matters? Not any more. A vestige of understanding of the normal distribution? I don’t think so.) I don’t remember this from my own school days at all. Failing your mocks in January and the threat of having to stay in Chesterfield for the rest of your life was considered to be sufficient carrot/stick.

Today’s rant was brought on by Big Daughter’s report, which arrived this morning, and exhorts her to:

-take on more responsibilities
-join an astronomy GCSE class next year (in year 9? why?)
-pass her clarinet exam and join wind band
-do (even) more extracurricular sports (as well as the netball, rounders, climbing and athletics she’s currently doing…)

And all of this whilst continuing to excel academically. She’s 13… There are not enough hours in the day, or days in the week for all of this purposeful organised activity. It certainly doesn’t leave much time for enjoyment, friendship, creativity or dreaming, does it? No time to read for pleasure, to experiment with personalities and looks, to spend time outdoors appreciating the world we live in, no time even to lock yourself in your bedroom listening to music too loudly. No time for living, and learning about who you really are. It seems like we’re desperate to start our children onto the adult bandwagon of stress, low self esteem and poor mental health as soon as we can.

Don’t get me wrong- I’m grateful for the many opportunities that schools offer my children. I’m all for opportunities, for everyone, but that implies freedom of choice, freedom to choose not to participate. I’m delighted when my children do well, particularly in an extracurricular activity they’ve chosen. But is more better? Do they need to do everything (and do it well)? I’m not so sure.

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6 Comments

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6 responses to “over achieving

  1. Tricia

    Yes…I definitely agree and it never stops and all it’s done is made everyone’s lives more stressful. Just been to a sixth form college evening where we have been told that on top of a 40 hour working week, they will have to be ready for exams again next May, and straight into A2 work, and they’re expected to do a whole raft of voluntary activities. They’re all great opportunities, but with 5 AS levels to do as well…I remember the lower sixth being a time to discover who you were!

  2. Oh, I so totally totally agree with you.

  3. katherinea

    Got to have something for the old RoA. Or whatever they call it these days. You can’t do it all, as Miss Potts lectures Darrell in Malory Towers (although that was more around playing the fool with Alicia than doing too many extra-curricular activites!) And you shouldn’t want to do it all, but nothing’s ever good enough, is it. You have to be plotting your next promotion or your next rung on the houseing ladder, when you might be better off just enjoying life. Not that you shouldn’t do those things, but you don’t have to.

  4. Beth

    Very familiar. Each year on our “target-setting” day I have to get my tutor group to set targets. Some of them, yes, fine, but we’ve been told that “continue to work hard in…” or “keep on with X activity” isn’t a good enough target and they must always be striving for more… I made one of my girls set a target of cutting down her activities (well, think we phrased it as “prioritising”) as she gets pressure from all sides, home and school. But we’re just sucked in to it all and have to pretend we’re all playing the game. Grr.

    • Tricia

      We all pretend we’re playing the game. So true, Beth. I call it The Emperor’s New Clothes culture. I think it’s an edifice made from a pack of cards and hope it all comes tumbling down soon.

  5. Crikey! Report cards round here are NOTHING like that. “Improve your handwriting and read newspapers” was as aspirational as it ever got for either of my kids. My girl is about to hit the English system for 6th Form and I am beginning to wonder what I have let her in for!

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