Headmaster: Parents putting too much pressure on kids to perform

Good exam results are important – but not at the expense of mental health, warns Helen Lowe

Good exam results are important – but not at the expense of mental health, warns Helen Lowe

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Some parents are putting academic success above their child's health and happiness, a headteacher has warned.

Mothers and fathers should take the pressure off youngsters and focus on spending time with them, according to Helen Lowe, head of the private Bute House Preparatory School in west London.

In an article for Attain Magazine, she warned of the dangers of signing youngsters up to extra tutoring sessions just because other parents are doing so, arguing that some children are being "corralled" into weekly maths and English classes lasting two to three hours to help them pass school entry exams.

Mrs Lowe said she understood that making sure children are "happy, healthy and successful" is the reason that parents get up in the morning.

But she added: "I, along with other heads and teachers in both prep and senior education, am very worried that the health and happiness of children is too often now at the bottom of that list; being academically successful, no matter what it takes, is firmly at the top for some."

The school leader noted that the 11-plus has just taken place, with other school entrance exams, for children as young as three or four in some cases, throughout the year.

"Such is the concern around achieving success in these, some parents corral their children into weekly two or three-hourly maths and English sessions, in order to prepare them," she wrote.

Mrs Lowe said parents naturally want their child to fulfil their potential, and for many this means that their child will work hard, do their best and be "supported wholeheartedly" at home.

She went on to say: "But for some parents, this is not enough.

"They fear that if they do not give their child extra help, usually in the form of either group or individual tutoring, their child cannot achieve; their reasoning is that, if everyone else is doing that then they must do it too or they are letting their child down in some way."

Mrs Lowe said she "can absolutely sympathise with that view and the pressure they must feel".

But she suggested that parents need to be honest with themselves about why they are doing this, adding "the children are in danger of being given the message that they are not quite making the grade; that their own hard work and efforts are not quite enough".

Sometimes it means that children end up at the wrong schools, she suggested.

Mrs Lowe called for a rethink on the use of tutors, writing: "I know no tutoring is a huge leap from our current status quo, but parents need to be reassured that supporting their child at home and spending time with them is far more powerful than any session with a tutor.

"There is plenty of research about the power of simple things, such as family discussion and shared meal times; it is the duty of schools to help parents to know this and to support them wholeheartedly to ensure the child achieves."

Bute House is an independent day school for girls aged four to 11.