Education Quandary

'My daughter, in Year One, is bright but only brings home one easy reading book a week. Shouldn't she be more stretched by the teacher?'
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Hilary's Advice

Hilary's Advice

There are many pushy parents about, behaving in ways that beggar belief. They complain if their children lose marks in a test; insist they be in sports teams or school plays; and challenge any classroom reprimand.

Asking for your five-year-old to be given books that engage and stimulate her does not turn you into one of these.

The difference between you and them is simple, but important, and something all parents need to have clear in their minds. You want your child to work at the cutting edge of her abilities, making progress and enjoying her capacity to learn. Pushy parents want to thrust their child to the top, irrespective of their talents and needs.

Problems arise when teachers can't distinguish between the two, and unfortunately this happens far more than it should - usually because a teacher feels insecure about dealing with parents, and resentful of what they see as a challenge to their professional competence. This is particularly likely when parents seem to be better educated and more articulate than a teacher, or when a young teacher is intimidated by older parents.

So talk to your daughter's teacher about this, but do it as delicately as if you were negotiating a peace treaty in the Middle East. Explain what is on your mind, and what you see at home. If your daughter whistles through Tommy the Tortoise in five seconds flat then tosses it into a corner shouting "Stupid baby book!", say so. Then ask for help in finding a solution. Does the teacher think more books, and slightly harder ones would keep her interested? What sort of books would be good? And can she be helped to find books of the right level?

If none of this goes anywhere, take it higher. Every parent has a crucial part to play in helping their child make the most of school, and that certainly includes pointing out if the work they are doing is so easily within their capabilities they are in danger of switching off.

Readers' Advice

It is never OK to let a child work within their limits. Unless they are challenged, they will become bored, disillusioned and disruptive. Teachers now have specific targets to meet, and they see it as more important to reach these for the many while the few lose out. Challenge your daughter yourself - your local library should have the facilities.

As a child, my parents had to move on from the local village library to the town one when I had read all of the books in the village. This appetite for reading hasn't left me yet, and it has stood me in very good stead in my higher education, through university and beyond into the real world.
Kirsty Johns, West Sussex

Perhaps it would help to ask to see the teacher responsible for the school's reading development scheme and children's progress targets.

I would also advise taking the child to her local library each day when she picks her up after school and, as a special treat, visiting their best bookshop on Saturday. With some sympathetic guidance from the librarian and her mother, she will discover an Aladdin's Cave of reading in both places. If, however, the child is being pushed too hard, it will soon be evident by her lack of interest in these visits.
Honor Brown, Twickenham

This just seems to be a matter of common sense. If a child has read a book she should be able to get another - end of story, or rather, beginning of a new one!
Helen Albans, Sheffield

Next week's quandary

Until recently I thought I wanted to aim for a headship. I am a good teacher, and think I would make a good manager. I'm organised and get on well with people. But I'm really frightened by the financial side. I've no experience with budgets, or head for figures, and don't know how I would cope. Can you be a head these days without this expertise?

Send your letters or quandaries to Hilary Wilce, to reach her by next Monday, 8 November, 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 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