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A narrow focus on grades stunts opportunity rather than opening doors.

By Paul Vicars - Birkenhead School at

Grades, SATs, Exam Weeks, League Tables, 11+, Private Tutoring, Verbal Reasoning, Resits, Progress 8, ‘Failure’, Work, Must Try Harder, Work…..Enough!

These are just some of the words that feature in the lives of today’s young children at school…..and at home. Regardless of age, there is pressure to perform, conform, out-perform in so many areas of their lives; an existence so much more complicated, competitive and unavoidable than in previous generations.

It is up to us as educators, but perhaps first and foremost as parents, to reintroduce and indeed replace some of these words with terms and expressions that reflect an appreciation of balance: childhood, love of learning, inspiration, happiness, awe and wonder. The list could go on, and indeed does go on, within schools that actively seek to inspire the whole child, not merely drill them full of facts to satisfy the next examination mark scheme.

Pupils at Birkenhead School

Pupils at Birkenhead School

Throughout my seventeen years teaching, I have yet to meet a parent or guardian who does not wish their son or daughter to be happy and balanced in their interests and outlook on the world. A school’s responsibility is to prepare pupils for their long term future, which includes strong academic attainment in external exams but not to the detriment of all else.

A relentless pursuit of grades to the exclusion of other interests potentially leads to a vacuous CV and a troubled young adult without the skills to time manage and achieve on many fronts. As a parent, school leader and employer, I am looking for those with something different to offer, a CV that suggests resilience, emotional intelligence, an ability to overcome adversity and a sense of perspective and humour rather than a willingness to be micro-managed to pass the next exam.

Tomorrow’s successful and fulfilled citizens will be those who have been given a love of learning at school and frequent opportunity to fail and bounce back. In short, a mindset that remains open to learning new skills and aptitudes to not just survive, but adapt and evolve to make the very most and indeed lead others through contemporary life.

Today’s world offers so much more opportunity, in so many different directions than in years past. One of the great privileges of leading an independent school, is being able to guide a community whose passion is to inspire each individual pupil to both create and seize opportunities within such a rapidly changing world. A narrow focus on grades stunts opportunity rather than opening doors. We must give our pupils the space, role models and framework within which to explore and thrive.