Q: Sorry to introduce the ‘B’ word, but my son’s secondary school has said that because of Brexit, foreign languages are going to take a secondary place in the school curriculum. Surely this can’t be right?
A: Private school headteachers have the right to manage their curriculum in the way they want, subject to what the Inspectorate demands. They have a lot of flexibility. In my view, any school which reduces, still further, the teaching of foreign languages is not serving its pupils and parents properly. Just consider the reasons for teaching French and Spanish and German. Whatever happens with Brexit, we are still going to be close neighbours. Geography demands that. Languages are taught, not just to generate an ability to talk to the locals when on holiday there, but to understand their culture, their approach to living, their history and their hopes and aspirations. Some in education would say that our diminishing of language teaching is one of the reasons why the European ‘experiment’ for the past 40 years has not resulted in a far better understanding of our European cousins. Language is a key component to human interaction, and if you can’t speak or understand your neighbour, your ability to “ love them as yourself” is going to be limited. You have the right to tell your son’s headmaster that he is making a grave mistake if he limits timetable opportunities for the pupils to study a foreign language. And of course, you can always walk away; that is the ultimate sanction. However, please give the Head a chance to consider your point and respond; don’t be too hasty. He would probably accuse you of being “too European” if you did so.
Q: My daughter goes to a very good state primary school, but I am convinced she is not being stretched enough. Her teachers say she is bright but not exceptional. She has trouble concentrating but can be really focussed in a one-to-one situation. I don’t want to be a pushy parent but I do want her to excel if she is capable of that.
A: You are quite right to be somewhat concerned; what happens in primary school lays the foundations for the whole of her academic career. It is the first building block to her future.
Primary teachers do an amazing job considering class sizes are often around 30. Within each class they have to manage both boys and girls and at least three different learning styles. So, they are juggling with six different learning ‘types’. Creating extension work, whilst not impossible, can prove very difficult, especially if the class does not have adequate teaching support. One to one connection has been shown to be amazingly effective in such cases; this is one reason why tutoring is so popular. From the age of around 8 you can gently offer extension learning, whilst all the time ensuring there is no “pressure”. This is best done by following the particular interests of the youngster, making sure the extra lessons are full of fun and not just seen as “extra class work”. It is also a brilliant time to introduce children to a set of mindfulness exercises in concentration. They can then discover that whatever they give their attention to, they start to love. This is when real development takes place. Their interests expand, they start to make connections between different delightful things in the world around them, and they start to want to learn even more. Importantly, they need to discover in the process that it is fun to make mistakes! This gradually builds what we at Tutor Doctor call a growth mindset. With such an outlook, the youngster is keen to explore all sorts of learning and feels safe to explore new territories without fear. If that can be instilled before the age of 10 it sets up a wonderful foundation for secondary education.
Have a quiet non-threatening word with the teachers at her school and share your concerns. If needs be, supplement her learning with some focussed one to one work. Above all, don’t miss this golden opportunity.
Q This is not a ‘Tommy Cooper’ question, but I have trouble with my Mother in Law! She keeps comparing my children with her other grandchildren, mostly unfavourably, and it is terribly upsetting. When we go to school events, she criticises what she sees and hears and it makes us feel dreadful. Do you have any advice please?
A: I am so sorry to hear this. As a grandparent myself I have come to the view that all my grandchildren’s very best qualities come from their parents, and all their worst ones come from their grandparents! You won’t be able to change your mother-in-law, only your approach and attitude to her. If you can muster the strength, I would try to adopt a compassionate approach to her, rather than a critical one. Something must be making her behave like this and it is almost certainly not something either you, your husband or your children have done. We don’t know other people’s ‘back stories’, even if we are part of the same family. The key thing to watch out for is the reaction of your children. If they are teenagers, you can try to explain that people of different generations have different outlooks; things have changed so much so quickly it is hard for more elderly people to keep up. Better that they too learn to love and be compassionate, even in the face of adversity, rather than critical and divisive. There is too much of that in the world. Above all, good luck and remember, everything does pass, eventually.