I woke up last week and just knew it was that time again. School report time. The reek of ambition and parental competitiveness hovering over our usually placid school gave it away. It's a major day in the parenting calendar as a mothers entire years bragging rights can hang in the balance - one mark out of place and that's it - playground pariah here you come. Or something.
Image courtesy of Shutterstock
All joking aside, it isn't really that bad or that serious, most parents are too interested in how well their own kids are doing to care a jot for yours but it can certainly feel like a Very Big Deal in the days running up to the moment they come legging it out with their brown envelopes. Many are the mothers who don't stop to even say hello in their frenzy to tear open the envelope (with teeth) and pour through the grades. That would just be me by the way but I have seen other mothers sitting in cars, on verges and even putting the perennially at hand I-Phones away (gasp!) in order to have a sneaky review (just me again). Waiting till you get home just isn't an option.
In my youth a report basically covered how well we read, whether we could colour between the lines and if we knew that two plus two really did make four. Nowadays, despite media assertions that teachers are all lazy good-for-nothings barely able to write the three r's let alone teach them and that the average child holds the singular ambition of becoming cannon fodder for Simon Cowell's weekly ritual-humiliate-athon, the school report is actually a fairly lengthy and intricate affair, requiring significant instruction to navigate with any level of clarity.
Topics include the obligatory Maths and English and a wider variety of subjects like History, Geography, Art and my personal Waterloo, PSHE, or Personal, Social and Health Education. In other words in addition to academic prowess the child is graded on how popular they are and how much they annoy the dinner ladies.
Why is this an issue for me? I have a child with some additional learning needs. Not so much academically, despite his challenges he is performing well. Sadly the same can't be for the social assessment. Despite being a funny, warm and bright kid, and showing some huge improvements, my boy struggles socially and reading the recent review of his inability to work as part of a team or deal well with conflict bought back some pretty horrendous memories of how socially inept I also was as a child along with how much it hurt when it was pointed out to me.
image sourced from Nicholson Cartoons
Bossy, precocious and unable to integrate were all some of the less kind words used to describe me at varying stages of childhood - statements which have followed me well into adulthood. Lonely and completely unable to understand why people just didn't like me would have been more accurate. My personality wasn't something I could change back then, no matter how hard I tried and my sadness at seeing similar statements for my own child threatened to overwhelm all of the fantastic, positive and great comments also included in the report.
A couple of days R and R have put things back into perspective but I am still irritated at the way in which our education system seems to desire bland uniformity from our children's personality and abilities.
It got me to thinking that perhaps we just put too much sway into how much these issues affect the outcome of our children's upbringing. As an example I am still not a popular girl, but I have a few loyal friends who love me just the way I am and are worth more than an army of hangers-on in my book. With a loving partner, a challenging career and a family I adore, does it matter now that I struggled back then? Only in terms of my self-esteem; those negative messages haunted for a very long time.
Yes, a popular child is a good thing but who wants to bet that Andrew Murray for example, didn't do well as part of a team? That Richard Branson wasn't perhaps the best at taking orders or that Mark Zuckerburg was more interested in technology then running. Doesn't appear to have done them any harm now does it?
Of course if your child is doing poorly in the majority of subjects you need to ask some searching questions about whether or not they need some more support and a report can be a great indicator of your child's strengths but if they aren't flying the 'A' flag across the board I wouldn't suggest that a future career in cleaning shower cubicles at her majesty's leisure (alone whilst all the popular lags party on down to Jailhouse Rock) awaits the child in question.
My advice here probably isn't worth a great deal. With an eight and a three year old I certainly can't claim to be a veteran of the parenting front-line but I wonder if all this box ticking is good for our kids. The temptation to focus on the area of perceived difficulty and try to smooth off the edges of their challenges could lead to the removal of the same traits that will one day see the emergence of the next great sportsman (or woman), entrepreneur or social architect. Whilst reviewing our child's progress academically is important, if we seek to gain an early advantage socially, do we lose later when their true potential is squished in a need to fit in to a world of grey?
If we are going to assess social skills perhaps at the very least it is time to add a new category to the mix. No more teaching children to fit in, be the same and conform. How about we teach them something a bit different - like how to accept one another's differences, or even celebrate them? Now there is a measure of achievement I would be delighted to encourage.