Skip to main content

‘Let’s focus primary education on the happiness of pupils: not drilling them for university’

Surely it is misguided to encourage kids to think about uni even before they’ve got to secondary school, writes a philosopher

News article image

Surely it is misguided to encourage kids to think about uni even before they’ve got to secondary school, writes a philosopher

Last week an article referring to Teach First findings suggested that more primary school children need to be thinking about university.

Children from poorer backgrounds are apparently less likely to get in to the top universities because they’re not preparing for it from a young enough age.

UCAS findings from earlier in the year mentioned in the same and in a separate article suggested that children who know that they want to do a degree when they are aged 10 or younger were more likely to get in to selective universities.

So if young people want to have the best chances of having a good education after their A-levels, they need to be thinking about it and preparing for it as young as possible.

But what is a good education? Is it really helpful to be thinking so far in to the future from such a young age?

What is a successful adult?

There’s a lot emphasis being put on the idea of continuing formal education straight after compulsory education is done. This year the number of young people securing university places after receiving their A-level results has gone up yet again, in spite of the notably high fees and removal of grants, indicative of soaring amounts of debt for the next generation of graduates.

It seems like there’s an obvious trend and belief that in order to become a successful adult you must go to university, and preferably a good one. But who is to say what is a successful adult?  How do you know if you’ve become one? And is university really the most important thing you need to get there?

It seems fair and natural that people want to feel safe and happy. It seems natural that parents, teachers, carers want to make sure that the children they look after are protected and secured both now and in their futures.

But, can happiness and safety be secured in a world where things are always changing and uncertain? Looking after children can drift into the realm of moulding and shaping their lives, and with this comes an element of control.

Adults often like to remind children that they know what’s best for them, and perhaps they often do. But when it comes to things they can’t be certain about, like the future, can anyone really say they know what is best?

Some children want things and wish for things that they might never have: becoming a world class footballer, rapper, pop star. In a world of uncertainty, we never know for sure what is going to happen, and some children will get their wish.

Yet as carers for these children we might think it better to make sure they focus on getting their good education first, by chipping away at their dreams and putting them on to the ‘safer’ route by telling them to think more about getting on with their studies and extra-curricular activities which will get them in to the best university.

We don't always know what's best

We have an opportunity as carers to support our children, especially while they are at primary school. We can invest our energies in listening to them and letting them show us how and what they think about the world and their futures. We can admit that we don’t always know what’s best and we don’t know for sure what will happen as they get older.

We should be careful of letting our attempts to care for our children creep into an attempt to control their unknowable futures. Let’s move the focus to enhancing their happiness now and watch them flourish.

Joe Tyler is schools’ philosopher and project manager at the Philosophy Foundation.

Want to keep up with the latest education news and opinion? Follow TES on Twitter and like TES on Facebook

Log in or register for FREE to continue reading.

It only takes a moment and you'll get access to more news, plus courses, jobs and teaching resources tailored to you