Parents and carers read, listen to, are aware of news. They know that schools are presiding over a rising muddy tide of mental health problems caused by multiple factors.
They know that also one of those factors is the relentless (does that word still appear in the OfStEd success criteria?) drive to push students up to what data analysis tools has belched out as the MTG, minimum target grade, which a student should achieve in their GCSEs. What they don’t necessarily know is that teachers can be aware of this MTG from the moment that kids step into their classrooms at the beginning of year 7, so the drive can start then.
From the point at which it starts to matter, many parents an carers also become aware that in order to get to study a subject at A level, kids need a 6 (a B in old money). A 6.
It doesn’t take a massive leap then for that parent to look at a child who is starting to exhibit signs of stress and take the obvious course of action. They can point out the obvious but mainly unspoken truth. Students need to aim for 6s to get onto the next stage of their academic lives.
Obviously in those subjects they wish to continue at A level it makes sense to have honed their knowledge t as high a point to make the step up to the A level curriculum as easy as possible. But what they NEED is a B. In other subjects they need to achieve their 5 4/5-9s (according to the post-16 institution). So they can afford to get 4s or 5s. Even if, on paper, they may be destined to get an 9, what they NEED is a 5.
There will always be a sizeable minority of students who are ambitious and who want to reach the absolute peak in every subject they study. They are self-motivated, goal-oriented, probably well-supported and would get those grades with a decent teacher at the helm whether they were driven through the system or not.
We have to ask ourselves if those other students, the ones who are less confident, less ambitious or without a goal to work towards to benefit from out ambition on their behalf or not. I’m sure some do, while others suffer under it.
Teachers have bemoaned since the advent of school league tables that a student’s grades should not be more to important than the teacher than to the student, but that has never been more true than now.
Faced with a choice of a weeping and broken child striving against the odds with the aid of caffeine tablets and the renunciation of all those extra curricular activities which brought them joy, or other dubious resorts, to reach the grade 8 which the teacher, reading from the computer, says they should, or a child who modifies their expectations and preserves their health, what responsible adult would join the school in hounding their young person?
If enough of their parents and students work together in this way, the obvious consequence is that the teacher’s data looks bad, That teacher will have been judged to have under-performed even, because they didn’t get their grades. Because on results day we regard that list of children and grades as OUR grades. and so, more importantly do the senior leaders and OfStEd. We are required to be ‘accountable’ for our students progress and attainment.
Something has to change. I don’t pretend to know how that will happen. But in a world of record rates of childhood anxiety and depression and with a crisis in teacher retention and recruitment in this country, where it was recently reported that we have the most inexperienced teaching profession in Europe, I have an idea what SHOULD happen.
This is the whole reason I am working to get my call to arms, Strictly Positive Teaching, out there as possible. We cannot keep working in a way which is counter-productive and which results in the absolute antithesis of what we want, assuming that what we want is a teaching workforce which is ambitious, capable, creative and caring, and committed to their profession in the long term; and happy, focused students who are working towards their own challenging but achievable goals.