And what is wrong with that? I actually want even more! I want the best for every child – which is much harder to achieve. “I'm not a pushy parent.” That statement followed by ‘but’ forms part of almost every conversation that I have with a parent who gets in touch with a view to bringing along their child to see me about a boost in their maths or English.
What is it that makes parents feel it is so wrong to be pushy? What, apart from semantics, is the difference between being pushy and wanting the best for your child? We hear the expression Helicopter Dads and Tiger Mums, usually in slightly derogatory tones but aren’t these parents just people who care about their kids?
Perhaps our current generation of helicopter mums is directly equivalent to the parents of half a century ago, who succeeded in helping their child to learn to read and count before they went to school at age five? There was no question then of most children learning in a preschool environment other than at home.
Surely an involved parent is a good parent?
Going back that half century we find some other interesting features too. We observe the imminent demise of a secondary education system that had been specifically set up to try to level the playing field for children. That was the era of many grammar (free) schools that recruited purely on the basis of an 11+ exam that every child could take, regardless of social class. They provided the 25% of children who went there, a strong, academic education and the opportunity to study ‘A’ levels and to go on to university. Apart from those in the fee paying sector, the remaining children went to secondary modern schools. These catered for all abilities, but with more provision for vocational education. ‘A’ levels were not available so secondary modern kids had to go on to college if they were to study further.
Grammar schools were criticised as being attended by, predominately, middle class children, and started to be phased out as the comprehensive system was steadily introduced in the mid ‘70s. The laudable intention, again, was to provide equal opportunities.
How then do we find ourselves now, in the UK, with 40% of our 16 year olds failing to achieve the grade C in GCSE maths and English that is generally recognised as essential to secure their futures as adults?
In seeking to address the problem, this 40% is now required to continue trying for the grade C until they are 19. Just to compound the problem, the funding for post 16s, unlike that for 5-16, is not protected so many small school sixth forms face closure – meaning that the already bulging and under-funded FE colleges are struggling to cope. Current figures show only 1 in 6 of those continuing, actually secure that elusive grade C by age nineteen.
Where does that leave us, other than with a third of our young adults having failed to secure base level qualifications in maths and English?
We find ourselves amidst vaguely organised chaos. Lists of initiatives are “in hand” to try to improve matters. They range from encouraging the establishment of free schools (where did I hear that term before?) to compelling schools that are not classified as “good” to become part of a commercial academy group.
What can the anxious parent do to try to offer extra support to their offspring if they are trapped in the current system? This is, essentially, their one chance. Improvements in a decade will be too late to help!
Many parents find themselves not only struggling to support their children with school work but, especially in these difficult economic times, very short of hours in the day to dedicate to their kids’ education.
Potential help, that can partly answer the question, is actually at hand from a source that has formerly been seen as the province of the wealthy – tutoring! It is still true that traditional one-to-one tutoring from a quality tutor is likely to be prohibitively expensive. £40 per hour is not unusual. There are now, though, much more affordable alternatives. Very carefully structured, individual programmes are on offer and taught in small groups at MagiKats Tuition Centres. Working out from around £15 per week, these provide an environment where children can not only learn maths and English skills but can also grow their confidence, their fine motor skills and their ability to interact with others. Perhaps a levelling of the playing field may actually be on offer from this unexpected source.
It may be tempting to dismiss Mr Tiger, down the road, who takes his kids along for this sort of support as being pushy and Mrs Helicopter, whose children go too, as being over anxious! Perhaps, though, it might be a better option to take a look and then consider when good parenting means becoming involved?
It will be a happy day when our educational system does, genuinely, offer the opportunity for every individual to achieve their full potential. Until that time comes, I intend to help things along.
Author: Jan Lomas, Curriculum Director at MagiKats Maths and English