A short extract from Ian Gilbert’s Why Do I Need a Teacher When I’ve Got Google that explains his resistance to the apparent goal of ‘A-grades for everyone or else you’re not really trying, love to see children fail, hate reform etc…’
A personal example, if I may, relates to my son. When he entered secondary school I knew he was more than capable of achieving A grades in his work so I began the process of pushing him to achieve these, abetted by his class teachers. But then I stopped myself. I realised that A grades are good for parents and good for teachers but actually weren’t good for him. He had a different goal, namely to not be a ‘boff’. In other words, his number one goal for his school day was to have a circle of friends, something that doing well at school would mitigate against in his view. It wasn’t that he didn’t want to do well, it just wasn’t number one on his list. The deal I struck with him, then, as he approached his GCSEs was one we called the ‘B-Boy’ strategy. In other words, the goal he was to achieve was ‘B grades and a life’. Not ‘all life and no qualifications’ or ‘A grades and no life’. Just Bs and a life. His minimum expected grades, I remember, were Bs right down the line (apart from RE which, in his irrefutable words and given the quality of the teacher I tend to agree, ‘doesn’t count’). We had simply aligned goals, although when he was awarded an A star in his chemistry coursework I grounded him for a week. His actual GCSEs did actually include a number of As but they were there because he wanted them to be, not because I wanted them there.
By the way, I’m not setting myself as the world greatest parent, far from it, but I have children so I may as well experiment.
I mentioned this to a group of teachers in Cornwall and it caused a great deal of heated debate and controversy amongst what was a high achieving academic staff. In the break a lady came up to me, though, and said to me, ‘I was pushed to get A grades but wished I’d got Bs and a life. I won’t be 16 again’.