When did you last sit down and think about what you want for your child? If you had to pick one attribute that they could begin adult life with, what would you value most for them?
Happiness? Success? Fulfillment?
I work in school entrance preparation, so when I first meet parents I often have conversations like the below.
“What do you want for your child?” “We’re thinking about _______.” “Why’s that?”
“Oh, it’s the best school.”
“And what do you mean by the best?”
“Well it tops the league tables every year… ”
These questions need to go deeper – much deeper. If we don’t know what we want our children to get out of life, how can we know what we want from their school, let alone what school will best achieve that.
Do we want our children to be happy? Of course we do. And we want them to be successful too.
It seems so simple, but there can be tricky trade-offs between happiness and success.
Success at what cost? Happiness in what sense?
We could put academic success above all else. Perhaps we then push our children to a clean-sweep of A* grades, but might they grow to resent their studies, or rely upon spoon-feeding… potentially we incubate poor work-life balances that can remain for their adult lives.
Likewise, perhaps we could place happiness too highly. We may shield our children from the realities of the world, from the hard-work it takes to get ahead. Yet doing so would under-prepare our children for the challenges that they’re bound to face in years to come.
These examples are cliché, but there are truths behind them. Two of the world’s leading education systems, Singapore and Finland, employ diametrically opposed teaching philosophies that, in crude terms, over- emphasize success or happiness respectively.
Singapore ‘tops the league table’ in so many subjects, yet is near rock-bottom on student satisfaction and well-being. Finnish education rears happy and content children into adults, but their results do not compare to the success that Singapore enjoys.
So when I hear a school ‘tops the league tables’ and this makes it the best, I question that. The selection process that pupils go through for these schools is ferocious. If pupils left with anything other than blanket A*s, then that really would be shocking. The league table tells me nothing about what a school can bring to my child.
If success is what you – and crucially your child as well – value most, then such schools can bring great value. They are intense and high-pressure, and smart pupils who are self-motivated, self-confident and resilient will thrive in such institutions. In fact, some such pupils might need the environment to succeed, finding a lower-pressure environment unstimulating.
But if success is not the highest value, or motivation and confidence is not coming internally from your child, then these environments are not the best for them.
Perhaps happiness is your most important value, and there are hundreds of schools that produce happy and content young adults. Or maybe you value something entirely different; religion or culture, music or drama, sportsmanship or camaraderie. There are schools that will emphasize your values, so these will be best for your child.
This is why it is crucial to think deeply about what is valued most, about what we really want for our children.
Personally I value fulfilment, which I see as balanced. Working hard to achieve full potential and aiming at success, but not at the expense of well-being or sacrificing other things of value: moral and mental strength, and an enriched
familial and social life. I inculcate that value through all the educational work myself and my company do, and it underpins our approach to tuition.
Now I would recommend fulfilment as a value, but what’s far more important is that you (and your child) think hard when making decisions about school choice; what do you value most? What do you really want for your child?
Ranulph Tees is managing director of Cavendish Milton, London’s leading tutoring agency for school entrance exams, including the 11+ and 13+.
Contact Cavendish Milton at email@example.com or call 020 7637 8865.