Education Quandary

How can you make a teacher accept that a child is exceptionally bright and needs more challenging work? My eight-year-old is bored stiff in her primary class, but all her teacher will say is that she is doing 'appropriate' work for her level
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The Independent Online

HILARY'S ADVICE

HILARY'S ADVICE

Ah, "appropriate". Don't you love it? Along with "benchmarks", "facilitate", "empower", "deliver" and all the rest...

Education is so full of jargon these days that students are now asked to write "extended constructed responses" instead of essays, and it's possible to spend whole days at conferences barely understanding a word that anyone says as participants debate how to "deliver objectives" according to "national curriculum guidelines" while also dealing with "challenging issues around behaviour".

Not that there is anything wrong with jargon in itself. Most professions use some form of shorthand. The danger comes when it seeps out of the language and into the thinking, so that teachers are no longer focused ("focused" - there's a good one) on how they can best teach and their pupils learn, but on how to "extend good practice" in a way that will "add value" to "baseline assessments" and "facilitate progress".

In short, this teacher's statement to you is utterly meaningless unless he or she sits down and explains exactly what is meant by "appropriate" and "level"; how these judgements have been come by; and why he or she thinks that a child whom you say is bored is being perfectly adequately challenged.

You, in turn, need to make your case as strongly as you know how, not in an aggressive and confrontational way, but with a detailed description of exactly why you feel your child needs harder work, and what signs you see at home of her boredom and disaffection.

This is something that comes up again and again in schools that causes wealthy parents to flee into the private system, fed up with the tatty pieces of homework returned with mistakes uncorrected and "Good work!" scrawled at the bottom. Others see the low classroom standards held up to their children as "normal".

It is hard for teachers. They have a vast range of abilities to cater for and providing the right work for every different level (or "differentiating", as they call it) is difficult. They also, at times, have to deal with parents who are convinced their children are geniuses against all evidence to the contrary, and it not easy to have to explain to a devoted mum and dad that little Joshy Genius can barely manage long division without help, even though they are convinced he is the next Fred Hoyle.

But many, many more parents don't consider their children exceptionally gifted, just bright enough to need more rigorous work than they are getting, and they have every right to expect this from schools.

All teachers are now supposed to "differentiate" in their teaching, and a good one will always be concerned to hear a pupil is bored, and want to listen to what you have to say and then think about what needs to be done.

If this teacher is not a good one, go to the head, and then, if you are still getting nowhere, talk to a parent governor and to the LEA.

If all that still gets you nowhere, and in a poor school it might, you will have to take matters into your own hands. Give her books and search the internet for educational websites she might enjoy. See if there are local clubs, societies or tutorial sessions you could enrol her in. Take her to concerts, exhibitions and movies. And consider whether a completely new challenge - starting Spanish, playing the guitar, taking up a new sport - would help keep her engaged. For further help, contact the National Association for Gifted Children ( www.nagc.org).

READERS' ADVICE

The parent of the eight-year old girl who is "bored" at primary school and needs more challenging work should ensure that the school has a policy on meeting the needs of gifted pupils - and ask for a copy. It is mandatory.

Plus, the school budget includes funds to resource any extracurricular activities that will enhance these children's learning experience. She or he could also contact the local education authority and ask for advice.
Ann Nee, Kent

It is very difficult. The teachers know that your child is bright, but spend their time and energy on the less able to get better league table results. For the same reason they won't fast-track your child by moving her up a year - she is there to bring up the average.

We took our daughter to a Saturday tutorial school, where she was taught in a small class by bright students. It cost £20 a week, but she thrived. The down side, however, was that she became more reluctant to join in at school for fear of further alienation. The other alternatives are to change schools (though the likelihood is that other schools in the same catchment area are no more helpful), move, or school your child at home. We decided to provide as much help and opportunity for our daughter as we could - which the school should provide but could, or would, not. We hope our children will have their needs better met in the secondary sector.
Name withheld on request, Leeds

The main focus of primary schools today is the number of children they can get to level four or five in the Year 6 SATs. If it appears that your daughter is going to achieve level four or five easily, there is no incentive for her school to spend extra time with her or to give her different work. All the extra effort will go towards those children who might drag down the school's position in the league tables. Find your daughter lots of extracurricular interests, encourage her to join clubs or learn a musical instrument. I have resigned myself to the fact that in many schools this is the best a bright child can hope for.
Susan Taylor, Leeds

Both our children went through the hands of a Year 4 teacher who seemed to hate any child showing signs of "getting above themselves". When we asked for the younger one to be given something more to get his teeth into, she lectured us on how it was bad to push children faster than they were ready to go. We were made to feel so bad that we left it. But when the same thing happened again we weren't prepared to stand back. We tried to pursue it with the school, but they were more interested in the strugglers than the high-flyers. So we searched for alternatives, and the children now go to a primary school that seems to have no trouble keeping them interested.
Lorna Marshall, Southampton

NEXT WEEK'S QUANDARY

Homework causes misery in our house, especially on these light evenings. I try to insist that our son gets it done, but I understand why he wants to be outside kicking a ball around with his friends. He's 12 and not at all organised. What can I do to avoid these battles, and how much does it actually matter if his homework isn't finished?

Send your letters or quandaries to Hilary Wilce, to reach her by next Monday, 24 May, at The Independent, Education Desk, Second Floor, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS; or fax 020-7005 2143; or send e-mails to h.wilce@btinternet.com. Please include details of your postal address. Readers whose letters are printed will receive a Berol Combi Pack containing a cartridge pen, handwriting pen and ink eraser

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