Are young people being stretched? – The tragedy of low expectations

I have been indulging in one of my favourite activities in the last couple of days – speaking to parents about the progress of their children. We spoke about how they felt the revision help their sons and daughters received from us in preparing for their GCSE and A-level exams had gone. For me, it is what I enjoy doing and I am fortunate enough to be quite knowledgeable about secondary and higher education in Britain due to extensive experience over the last 30 years or so.

Despite the joy I feel when speaking to parents, as a parent first and a professional second it continues to sadden me how widespread low expectations are among teachers and schools. Below are a couple of quotes from my conversations with two parents over the weekend.

Mrs O’

“At Joseph’s regular school they never give any homework and that is why I always ring you to ask for extra homework for Joseph, especially on weekends when he misses your Saturday school due to illness or football commitments…One day, Joseph came back from school and said to me that “our English teacher said that everyone in my class is so good and we should all get a C grade. Joseph was disappointed and I am furious too about this lack of ambition on the part of his teacher.”

My own view

Having taught Joseph  myself, he is a very bright student for whom obtaining less than a B grade in the core subjects will be an utter disappointment.

Mrs S

“We are still battling with the school about getting them to enter my son for Double science (additional Science). He is now working at A / A* in his Core Science (Single). By the way, Mr Mustapha, do you remember that before I brought Kenny and his younger brother to you in February, he was actually placed on a BTech course. He has now been moved up onto GCSE and his performance is at the top of the class. I don’t know why the school has not taken that extra step of moving him to Double Science.

My own view

Kenny is a student who should be taking, not just double but Triple Science as he is very bright. Somehow the school has placed him three levels below his real ability. This bright young man has been categorised at the fourth tier of education for his age group. The rule of thumb is that the brightest take triple science, the vast majority take double and the weaker students take single science. B-Tech is for the least academic students who have very little chance of passing GCSE. Read more on this in my next blog.

I strongly believe that low expectations are extremely damaging for young people. In the vast majority of cases, students do not achieve higher grade than what the teacher expects of them. There are many reasons for this, one of them being that if the teacher does not expect much from a student, they do not teach them the materials they need to master to reach a high level. Back in my heyday in mainstream schools, I preferred to ignore staffroom gossip about a particular student and instead adopt a fresh approach, based on the presumption of innocence until proven guilty! As a teacher I make a conscious effort to engage with the individual student and make my own assessment without prejudging them. The reality is that it is almost impossible for a young person to exceed expectations of what his or her teacher thinks of them. There are the odd occasions when a determined student will achieve a higher grade than what is expected of them. However, this is the exception and not the rule.

The issues that I will be tackling in my blogs over the next few weeks include:

  • Various qualifications and options at GCSE level
  • O’Llvel or GCSE – which way forward
  • How young people should make the best use of their time between now and September
  • A guide for AS students as they prepare for A2 next year

I will start next week by exploring various qualifications at GCSE level and the consequences of taking each of them in turn. I will also look at the issue of bringing back O’level.

We have a list of Helpful Hints and Key Facts relating to each specific level or year group at secondary school. Please feel free to contact us if you would like to receive one of these by post. Some of this advice and the issues raised in Key Facts can make a vital difference to the next stage of your child education.