Testing times

March 17, 2015

I’m not at all surprised at today’s newspaper reports that children from poorer backgrounds (are we even still allowed to say that?) are much less likely to go to the ‘better’ universities.  It seems that without all the relentless parental hovering over their reading as tots, without the improving visits to museums and galleries, without input into GCSE and A level choices, these children come out the other end of school with the wrong qualifications for Russell Group unis (basically, the posh ones). But what about their mental health?

I’m beginning to think they may well be a lot better off than some of my children’s friends.

They choose the subjects they enjoy and go to universities that offer courses they want to do. What’s not to like about that?

Being groomed from birth to fulfil your parents’ expectations is tough, very tough. It can start ludicrously young, with coaching to get into the right pre-prep school at the AGE OF THREE. Seriously. From then, there’s a treadmill which leads to the child being pushed off to Oxbridge, if the parents are lucky, or to Durham, Warwick or another of the institutions judged to be far enough up this year’s list. Subject choices are restricted to the heavies that the top unis like, so it’s all sciences, maths, history, Latin and no isms or ologies in sight. All that would be fair, if exhausting, enough. But now parents are more than willing to bend all available rules to favour their own offspring. When my girls first started at school, it was seen to be something of a badge of shame if your child was singled out as ‘needing learning support’, which was then the new euphemism for dyslexia.

Now, I’m told, parents rush up to Harley Street all the time to get their children tested and certified as educationally needy. This gives them the right to extra time in exams, you see. And extra time basically means an advantage. Particularly if you don’t actually have any special educational needs at all.

A friend I know has this dilemma with her son. The boy is very bright, and has been reading since the age of four. He is not, in any way, dyslexic. He does, however, find the format of one of the GCSE exams he faces in the summer unusually testing. Candidates have to dash off six essay-type questions in one hour. Now, I think we could all agree this is a bit of a stretch, even if you know the syllabus backwards, forwards and sideways. His school, a brilliant and expensive place that turns out lovely polished children, has suggested a test or two might be in order, which might well, it believes, result in extra time for my friend’s lad.

Should she go along with this testing, knowing that her child simply does not have dyslexia at all? Or should she deny her child an opportunity that a lot of other caring parents are seizing with both hands? And what message does it all send to her boy, who is already stressed out at being a) suddenly singled out as needing extra help after a successful school career and b) very confused at whether this is fair or not.

What would you do? Answers on the back of a postcard of Cambridge, please.

Cambridge: how far would you go to get your child a place?

Cambridge: how far would you go to get your child a place?

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  • Domestic Goddesque March 17, 2015 at 10:56 am

    I wouldn’t do it. I hear a lot about children tutored to within an inch of their lives to pass the 11+ and get into a “good” school then flounder relentlessly. I know of lots of people, ridiculously intelligent people, who barely made it through Oxbridge alive. And I know many more successful happy articulate people who went to “average” universities and are thriving at running their own businesses or in great careers. My brother didn’t go to university in his teens, but moved around doing all manner of things and is now in his late thirties doing a Masters and kicking ass in the corporate world in the US. Talent, skill, intelligence, they all shine through in the end. And isn’t there a life lesson for your child in battling adversity, doing things the right way and letting the chips fall where they may. Not everyone in life wins at everything.

    • Dulwich Divorcee March 17, 2015 at 2:44 pm

      I think you are so right. A friend’s daughter was given a place at a private school near us on the condition that she have regular maths coaching to help her ‘keep up’ to their standard. What kind of a life is that at age 11? The trouble is that the parents are all competing with each other and forget half the time the impact it has on the kids. Quite a lot seem to drop out when they finally get to university and are not under the parents’ eye 24/7. Far better to do it at your own pace like your brother, who is motivated.

  • nappyvalleygirl March 17, 2015 at 1:08 pm

    I wouldn’t do it either. I agree with Domestique Goddess – no point pushing children beyond their capabilities, because they will just be miserable. And university isn’t the be all and end all. I often wonder “what is it all for?” when I look at this generation of children — do we just want them to end up being miserable and over-worked in a well paid City job? Or isn’t it better they end up in a career that involves something they are good at.

    • Dulwich Divorcee March 17, 2015 at 2:46 pm

      Trouble is that there’s no guarantee there would be any jobs in something they like and are good at – I think that’s the cause of all the panic from the parents and it’s why the teenagers aren’t rebelling against all this nonsense like we would have done! It’s a very sad insecure world we’re grooming them for 🙁

  • Family Affairs March 17, 2015 at 1:34 pm

    Just about to write a post on the same subject….it’s ludicrous what they have to go through these days. I’ve had two at private school and my last one is now at a state school – so seen it from all sides. Really don’t know what the answer is but do know there are a lot of unhappy, confused and stressed children out there!

    • Dulwich Divorcee March 17, 2015 at 2:47 pm

      Nightmare, isn’t it? I’d love to read which you think worked better for your kids. I would say that the kids at private schools do tend to appear to have bags of (often misplaced) confidence which does help once they’re out there in the bad old world.

  • janerowena March 20, 2015 at 3:41 pm

    My son turned down an extremely prestigious university because they didn’t do the exact course he wanted. I couldn’t see the point in pushing him, he wouldn’t have been at all motivated, I certainly wasn’t when my parents pushed me into doing something I didn’t want to do, I couldn’t wait to get out. So, purely coincidentally, he has ended up in the same city, but in the university of his choice, and loves it – and is still able to see quite a few of his friends! I have noticed that his father gets a little hot under the collar when people ask which uni he is at, though. 😀

    We have friends with three children all still living at home, all went to Oxford, all now work in the pub down the road and have done so for up to six years for the eldest. None of them have a clue what they would like to do with their lovely classical educations.