Yesterday, in my tutor group, a student remarked that he found success in society was achieved too often by the aristocrats and not often enough by those from lower socio-economic groups.
An astute observation, I’m sure you’d agree. I must point out that the tutee is 13 years old.
After I’d regaled a colleague with this story, our conversation leaned towards one of frustration: “Why can’t all of the kids be so insightful and learned?”
“I bet all the kids at Eton speak like that,” my colleague said.
It’s true. I bet most of the students at Eton do have such conversations with their teachers. I sometimes ask myself: “Why do I keep having to tell students who are 14, 15 or 16 to stop making silly noises with their faces?" Or: "Why is discussing the Trump versus Clinton debate such an arduous task?” The answer, I believe, is: parents.
Teachers work incredibly hard to foster a positive learning environment in their classrooms, to teach concepts and examination methods, and to do their best to harness and stretch intellectual curiosity. The success of this is limited by a lack of learning taking place in many homes across the country, after or before the school bell. Some call it part of the “working-class failure”.
I understand this. Often the parents haven’t excelled in school, they haven’t gone to university, their English is broken, they suffer lower aspirations or they are working night shifts to support their families. Continuing the classroom culture of learning into the home can be tough. However, the learning environment at home is paramount to achieving long-term academic success.
'Parents need to step up'
Parents need to be reading with their younger children at night (especially early years and primary children), discussing what’s been in the news (preferably not The Sun) and quizzing their children on topics that they've learned in class that day.
At some parents’ evenings in the past, I have heard parents echo the lackadaisical dialogue that "kids need to be kids" and need to play Playstation and go on social media. Those parents are under-serving their children.
Teachers are under constant pressure to help students attain the best results. If the above mindset is shared by many parents, then the weight on teachers’ shoulders can only continue to grow.
The belief that knowledge is power must run through the veins of all family members at home. Then we will see many more intellectual conversations taking place between students and teachers in schools. Socio-economic backgrounds should be irrelevant to this.
It doesn’t matter if the child is at Wellington College or Wellington Academy: every home should be building a culture of learning and, crucially, every home can.
Oliver Beach is an inner-London economics teacher, former Teach First graduate and star of BBC series Tough Young Teachers. He tweets as @olivermbeach