Achieving success in school – Nature or Nurture?

Doing the right thing plays a bigger part in young people’s success to achieve high examination grades than intelligence. If a young person is provided with the guidance and support they require, their chance of success is very high irrespective of how high their IQ is or which socio- economic background they come from.

Over the last 20 years or so, I’ve seen a lot of very bright young people coasting through the education system and ending up just scraping a string of C grades or below at GCSE and E and D grades at A-level. On the other hand, I have also seen students who are not necessarily bright sparks achieving A or even A* grades at both GCSE and A-level. Below are some of the factors I have identified as playing a crucial role in helping a young person to succeed in education as they navigate their way through the cobwebs of the education system:

a. Having the right home environment which guides and supports them

b. Being at a school which places academic success above most other issues

c. How much a child is influenced by the friends they keep – this is more important in teenage years

d. Ability of both the parent and the school to motivate and get the best out of the child.

Every single one of the above four points has many facets to it and a detailed analysis of it is beyond the scope of this discussion. Over the next four weeks I will tackle each of the above points one by one, starting this week with the effect of home environment.

In my two decades of teaching, I happen to be one of those teachers who look forward to parent evenings. I don’t know if I am in the minority or not and I’m not sure if it is something one should say with too much enthusiasm in the staffroom either!

Having a supportive parent(s) who actively ensures that the child attends the right school, monitors progress, seeks information and uses knowledge gained to guide and direct their child is vital. Education is a big issue, which always dominates the news in every country of the world and Britain is no exception. What I think is different in this country, relative to other parts of the world, is the discrepancy between examination results getting better while at the same time the country is sliding down in the international education league table.

Two of the major issues that parents find puzzling are the complexity of the examination system and the constant change in the curriculum by governments. These make it difficult for parents to help their children or to find the correct support for them in order to boost their performance. It means parents have to work extra hard to find extra provision to support the education of their offspring.

Having the right home environment centres on the parent(s) and has many aspects to it. Some of those are: parent(s) reading to their children at an early age; finding the right school and supporting and cooperating with the school but at the same time asking serious questions from the school when necessary. Evidence from research conducted in the last two to three decades has strongly backed the effect of parental support as a powerful force in enabling a child to achieve highly. It has been shown that parental income is less important and it is the actual support that they provided which matters most. Quoting from a research report published by the Department for Education and Skills:

“Parents who are more involved in their adolescents’ schooling, regardless of parents’ gender or educational level, have offspring who do better in school, irrespective of the child’s gender, ethnicity or family structure’ (p.729). Parental involvement works for everyone.

I must stress that I have seen some young people, who came from a home that can be described as being rather chaotic going on to achieve high examination results and in many cases have succeeded in life. However, this is the exception and not the rule.

As parents, we all go through the emotion of feeling guilty; questioning ourselves and wondering if we are spending enough time with our sons and daughters and thinking if we could have done better. It is important that we spend time with our children but it is more important what we do in the time we spend with them. Considering we have to work to pay for their upkeep, getting the balance right is extremely difficult and most parents struggle with this. In my second blog, next week, I will be exploring the effect of the school a child attends can have on their examination results and possibly success in later life. Below are links to blogs that I have written in the past on related issues and also to material parents may find informative.

Some useful resources for parents:

Links to past blogs on related issues




Links to more resources: