School's Out - Now Stop Handing Out The Certificates

This week my son graduated. He wore a mortar board (or a funny squarish black hat as he calls it) shook hands with lots of important people and was told he and 59 other pupils should be very proud of themselves. Proud? He can barely spell it.

My son, J, is seven. The hat was made of black sugar paper with a bit of wool attached to it, and the important people were the head teachers. But J wasn't just moving classrooms. Oh no, he was 'graduating.'

For crying out loud. It's not graduation. It's obligatory education. He's just going from infants to juniors - to a building which is less than 100 metres away from the one he's in now and which even shares the same playing field.

Yet this momentous moment in my son's life was marked by an historic assembly, in which parents blubbed and kids looked mainly indifferent.

Like most of his mates, J, didn't really get the significance of the occasion. He yawned his way through the speeches, waved at me through the songs and shook hands with the head teacher with the wrong hand.

Congratulations? He was just moving up to year three - what was all the fuss about?

If anyone deserves congratulations it should be me - for getting him through the school gates on time (most) mornings, for cajoling him into doing his homework (usually) and trying to stay awake while he read scintillating texts like ''Astrosaurs: Day of the Dino-droids.'' Congratulations, your son had an attendance rate of 96 percent (despite a few unauthorised absences).

Yet determined to congratulate a bunch of six and seven year olds for turning up to school because they had to, parents and grandparents were invited into a sweltering hall, to sit on chairs which no-one who weighs more than five stone should ever really sit on. But sit on them we did, as kids sang, recited (or in some cases, forgot) their lines, before being solemnly presented with a Bible each.

Unfortunately, a couple of children's names were missed off the list, resulting in Biblical floods of tears.

Meanwhile, the younger pupils who were also summoned to observe this whole ceremony, presumably to give them something to aspire to, were occasionally chastised for fidgeting. And I struggled to stop my shoulders from shaking when one of them let out a comedy fart.

At the end of it, the graduates were allowed to stay behind so proud parents could take photographs. Again, J saw this largely as an opportunity to pull silly faces.

He doesn't care that he's graduated. Because quite frankly, he hasn't. In six weeks' time he'll be doing spelling tests and numeracy tasks just like before, only a bit harder. He's not aware of any milestone, he's just happy it's the school holidays and he gets to watch Pokemon in the morning without me nagging at him to clean his teeth and put his school shoes on. And I'm just relieved I don't need to get three kids (and myself) dressed by 8am.

So isn't all this certificate waving, just a little out of control? When I was at school, you got a certificate when you could swim 10 metres and another if you came first at sports day and that was about it. I didn't graduate from anything until I was 22. That was the first and only time I wore one of those funny hats.

These days, kids barely have to walk through the school gates to get a commendation, or at the very least a sticker. There are awards for everything - reading 100 words, reading another 100 words, star of the day, star of the week, special helper, even finishing their lunch. Congratulations - you polished off some butterscotch tart.

Soon they'll be awarding babies just for being born. ''Congratulations, you made it out of a vagina.'' Except that would be unfair on the Caesarean babies, so they'd have to make it more PC. ''Congratulations, you're no longer a foetus.''

Why does every step our children take need to be accompanied by something that will only end up in the recycling bin? What's more, doesn't rewarding them for the small stuff, actually diminish those real and independent achievements?

Yes certificates have a place, when well-deserved and earned, and not just handed out ubiquitously. But surely, children need to learn to take pride in themselves, to feel good about themselves, without needing a piece of paper to justify their place in the world.

And for those children who really do graduate one day, will the occasion still be meaningful, or will it just be a re-run of something they've been doing since they were wearing Clarks shoes and dragging book bags to school?

If my son ever makes it through University, I'll be there with bells on. (If he doesn't I'll love him just as much.) Until then, I'll reserve my enthusiasm for the things he really cares about, like hand stands in the garden and making a snake out of loom bands.

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