Testing times

I’m not at all surprised at today’s newspaper reports that children from poorer backgrounds (are we even still allowed to say that?) are much less likely to go to the ‘better’ universities. ┬áIt seems that without all the relentless parental hovering over their reading as tots, without the improving visits to museums and galleries, without input into GCSE and A level choices, these children come out the other end of school with the wrong qualifications for Russell Group unis (basically, the posh ones). But what about their mental health?

I’m beginning to think they may well be a lot better off than some of my children’s friends.

They choose the subjects they enjoy and go to universities that offer courses they want to do. What’s not to like about that?

Being groomed from birth to fulfil your parents’ expectations is tough, very tough. It can start ludicrously young, with coaching to get into the right pre-prep school at the AGE OF THREE. Seriously. From then, there’s a treadmill which leads to the child being pushed off to Oxbridge, if the parents are lucky, or to Durham, Warwick or another of the institutions judged to be far enough up this year’s list. Subject choices are restricted to the heavies that the top unis like, so it’s all sciences, maths, history, Latin and no isms or ologies in sight. All that would be fair, if exhausting, enough. But now parents are more than willing to bend all available rules to favour their own offspring. When my girls first started at school, it was seen to be something of a badge of shame if your child was singled out as ‘needing learning support’, which was then the new euphemism for dyslexia.

Now, I’m told, parents rush up to Harley Street all the time to get their children tested and certified as educationally needy. This gives them the right to extra time in exams, you see. And extra time basically means an advantage. Particularly if you don’t actually have any special educational needs at all.

A friend I know has this dilemma with her son. The boy is very bright, and has been reading since the age of four. He is not, in any way, dyslexic. He does, however, find the format of one of the GCSE exams he faces in the summer unusually testing. Candidates have to dash off six essay-type questions in one hour. Now, I think we could all agree this is a bit of a stretch, even if you know the syllabus backwards, forwards and sideways. His school, a brilliant and expensive place that turns out lovely polished children, has suggested a test or two might be in order, which might well, it believes, result in extra time for my friend’s lad.

Should she go along with this testing, knowing that her child simply does not have dyslexia at all? Or should she deny her child an opportunity that a lot of other caring parents are seizing with both hands? And what message does it all send to her boy, who is already stressed out at being a) suddenly singled out as needing extra help after a successful school career and b) very confused at whether this is fair or not.

What would you do? Answers on the back of a postcard of Cambridge, please.

Cambridge: how far would you go to get your child a place?
Cambridge: how far would you go to get your child a place?

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