TARGETS, PROGRESS GRADES AND THE STATISTIC ‘STIFLERS‘!
Today my son’s progress grades and targets came home and with it a two page letter explaining what all the digits mean. Now as a family we don’t really buy into all this grade based, paper pushing, extrinsic target setting business that schools push with such glee nowadays preferring a much more holistic approach to education. Hearing 7 year olds discuss SATs outcomes is ridiculous and yet there are many out there and it breaks my heart and paves a dangerous pathway forward! However, when you get confronted with a two page letter trying to explain a system that is so complicated that it has failed to be self-explanatory, it not only confirms that belief but also challenges you to reassess the whole strategy once again in favour of a system that benefits your child more fruitfully.
At the end of the day, the idea behind target setting should be to provide a focus and thus help develop motivation to achieve an end result. But if that system is so complicated that it needs minute breakdown then, surely there are few teenagers who will actually find this a helpful resource and as such it fails from the outset. When that system too, is an adult monitored, adult maintained resource it also fails to drive autonomy and growth and thus is unlikely to produce successful outcomes in the longer term.
So often it starts with a computer generated profile that is manipulated by a teacher who operates under their own threatening subjective parameters of delivering their own performance set targets reducing the validity of these markers in terms of benefit to the child. The only place therefore for such targets is the bin for children’s educational outcomes need to be predicated on much broader, deeper premises than a page full of meaningless numbers! They need to be replaced by tangible goals, aspirations and ambitions that are truly centred on helping the child fulfil their true and unique potential and more critically developed WITH the child, BY the child, FOR the child (only).
The key thing that has been lost in education in recent years is the drive to make education enjoyable. The focus for children to do their best and that is good enough has been devoured by league tables, performance management targets, this and that statistics, that are churned out by schools and governments in self-perpetuating motion. Children are no longer developing humans but more so statistics in the schools of today here in the UK and therefore it comes as no surprise that the English Education system has slipped down the ranks. Children have been demeaned to numbers, percentages, grades and the more academic the establishment it appears the more this becomes true as these places try and maintain their kudos in an ever competitive, demanding world. However, as adults we have a duty to embrace the education of our children holistically in arenas that does not subscribe the child to the monotony of the number game but more so to developing a love for learning.
GOING FOR GOALS
Now there is nothing wrong about a child having a target but it needs to be simply aspirational, it needs to inspire them and critically it needs to be child-centric, ie. one that the child buys into based on their beliefs. Goals instil focus, focus instils motivation and motivation encourages determination. But for younger children the goal needs to be on aiming to do their best and to put in their best effort. To reiterate it needs to be a simple, child led and child-centric on effort. The work hard to enjoy the fruits of your labour where the aim is hard work to get out the best fruits – the best fruits being a full, purposeful and enjoyable life post school.
Goals need to assess the child’s actual reality – where they are at present, where they want to get to, the presenting issues, challenges and distance from the final post. They need to identify the obstacles that are in the path of achievement and the options for overcoming those obstacles and finally they need to be matched with a clearly mapped pathway forward. Each of those points needs to be understood by the child and the progress en-route needs to be aimed at helping the child achieve their vision extrapolating the positive. Overall they need to be based on substance that has meaning not numbers. So a child’s goal might be to do x, achieve y or focus on z where x, y or z is much more than a simple grade at the end of a state inferred examination process. The exams should be part of the process but not the goal for when all is said and done at school, examinations are not life outcomes – for example, they are not the career although they are part of achieving it and so the aims of education are masked in the system that we currently have. A school may have the aim to produce a cohort of children with 8 or 10 good GCSE grades but the child needs to have the aim to leave school ready to live as a contributing citizen to society albeit equipped with the resources to do so. Children need to be encouraged to look beyond the classroom to their future – to be visionary. If that sounds idealistic – stop and think where we would be without those who focus on the ideal – those visionaries in life that have forged ahead to improve the world we live in.
PUT JOY INTO LEARNING
But why is a focus on grades and numbers unhelpful? If a child is doing their best, with good teaching they will improve. The rate at which they will improve then will be therefore be determined on the standard of teaching and the amount that they connect with that teacher/subject. If they connect and enjoy the lesson they will learn more and the teaching point will be retained. If they don’t connect and don’t enjoy the lesson they will be more focussed on the clock and the time it will take until they can leave the room and the teacher/subject behind. Nothing will inspire a child to work hard, put in their all if there is no joy.
Joy is central to learning. Without joy, the learning experience is dead. And if the learning experience is dead then the child will not focus, will not have motivation and will not be determined. Very simply they will have no drive to do their best, to put their best foot forward and to thrive! Without joy, there can be no (or at least very little) constructive retentive learning.
The goal therefore for a child is going to have a much greater validity if it is focusses on the effort to achieve whatever the final outcome will be. For example, a 14 year old known to us knows that as they approach their GCSE years that they want to head for a university education to procure a job that pays them well at the end to enjoy everything that life has to offer with as little financial constraint as possible. So their goal at present is to get to university. Later on that might emanate to be job specific but at the present time university is the end plan (GOAL). (Worthy of note here is that this doesn’t mean university is the only way to secure a good outcome – it is just the choice of the example we are drawing on here). The reality is that he needs x number of good GCSEs and a handful of A Levels. This year he has to pick options and he wants to be sure that he gets the options he is aiming for and therefore part of the process of will be to set himself up in a good position to secure those options. To this end, he knows he needs to put in maximum effort where it is needed. That isn’t to say that he needs to slack elsewhere but his focus is now building towards the subjects he will take for GCSE and thereon to A Level in order to maximise his chances of success and thus the university place he wants. It is a simple tick list. So options are therefore a short term focus, GCSE’s his mid term plan and his place at university is his long term GOAL (or target) He doesn’t need to spend time drilling down into the minutia of where he is on the curriculum scales because he knows that if he puts in 100% then supported by the pretty good teaching that he is fortunate enough to get (on the whole) at his school, he can be assured that he will maximise his potential. If the teaching isn’t good enough, or a teacher brings their own issues into the classroom affecting the correlation between effort and grade that is for the school’s management to address and not something that should concern the child – the child in question can only do their best.
And so GOALS should be the important business in education these days. Child-centric goals that look beyond the wall of statistics and beyond the mere scope of subject grades. Growing up is not about numbers, it is about developing a holistic, purposeful, determined autonomy that above everything else is enjoyable and fun! I mean who wants to look back at their teenage years and think “Oh yes – I ‘was’ a 6b student of an 8a student” – much better to look back and think I did my best, I achieved my potential and I hit my goals and I had fun on the way!
Setting goals is all part of the coaching ethos that many proactive schools are now engaging in. Why not ask your school what provision they have for coaching your children or engage a coach to help them achieve their potential. Coaching methodologies embraces a much broader, deeper spectrum than career counselling – they are a tried and tested yet revolutionary approach that brings children to take responsibility for their own lives helping them achieve and deliver far past the classroom. If your school doesn’t employ a coach or coaching team – maybe it’s something they should be challenged to consider.