Good Schools Guide editor says parents are embroiled in an 'educational arms race' that could harm childrenAlamy


Janette Wallis, senior editor of the Good Schools Guide, said parents have become embroiled in an 'educational arms race' to do everything and anything possible to get their children into the 'best schools' because they have lost faith in the way their children are being taught.

But instead of helping their offspring, Janette believes such pushy parenting may be doing children long-term damage.

In an exclusive interview with Parentdish, Janette said there has been a creeping growth in over-the-top parenting compared to a generation ago. In the past parents barely took an interest in their children's homework, but now she believes they are over-involved in their children's successes and failures.

She said: "Now we have the professionalisation of parenting.

"There has been a growth of everything: parenting classes; books where parents feel they need to obey very detailed strictures on child rearing; the avalanche of activities for children as young as 18 months old; even discussions about emotional intelligence," she said.

"None of these things on their own are bad. It's when they begin to make parents question their own judgment and their own ability to raise their children that they cause harm."

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She said she had heard of parents asking teachers for recommendations for tutors for their THREE-YEAR-OLDS because they wanted them to get into good prep schools.

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"But all the teachers will say is that they might as well burn £10 notes," Janette said.

"It's of no value. But worse than that, what kind of message are you sending your child that you have to pay someone to work with them at that age? You're saying that education is so complex only paying someone can handle it."

Janette said parents have increasingly turned to tutors to give their children an advantage in the 'educational arms race'. But our education obsession is not confined to the wealthy.

She said there were many 'Tiger Mums' who lived their ambitions through their children and quoted one example of a mother who'd told her: 'When my son has an exam, it's my exam'.

"But I think that's a really sad statement. It takes away from the child's achievement," Janette said.

However, she added: "It's too simplistic to blame these Project Mums. It's much wider than that. One of the things we have noticed is that the rise of tutors has grown rapidly and has moved down the socio-economic ladder.

"It used to be well-to-do parents, but now it's parents who struggle to come up with funds for a tutor but they think it is a necessary evil to get into the school they want."

As senior editor of the 27-year-old Good Schools Guide, Janette helps compile a list of 2,000 schools – both state and private - for parents to peruse and compare so that they can draw up a shortlist of schools for their children to attend.

But over the years, she has noticed parents becoming increasingly anxious over their child's educational development.

"it has become an educational arms race," she said. "It starts with that fear in the pit of your stomach when you see that one child in the class is being tutored. It spreads like wildfire in the class. You have to have nerves of steel not to worry about it.

"There are families that have a tick list – have they got the revision books, tick, have they got the independent school, tick. Every single part of the armour is seen as absolutely necessary. Going into battle with this suit of armour to win in the educational battle. That's how a lot of parents view it.

"They think it might not be the best thing but at the end of the day their son or daughter will get into the top university and it will be worth it.

"I don't want to make judgments about what's right but sometimes parents do lose sight of their own child's role in this. Not allowing them to fail, for example.

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There are some children who have never experienced failure. If there is one subject that needs ironing out, they will hire a tutor. They just can't accept a bad mark on the school record. They are mopping up their children at all times. I can't believe that's a good thing for the long term health of the child. It's important that a child learns to deal with failure.

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It is this anxiety, she believes, that has helped spark an 'explosion of tutors'. Many are retired teachers, many are recent graduates. Many become tutors simply to boost their income without any real training in one-to-one tuition.

"Tutors are totally unregulated," said Janette. "Anyone can become a tutor tomorrow. Some tutors don't even know the curriculum of what they're supposed to be covering."

Despite this, she doesn't feel the situation is going to change.

"Parents are always going to worry about doing their best for their children," she said.

However, she does advise that if you are going to turn to tutors, make sure you find the best one for your child.

"The best way to find a tutor is by word of mouth but it is part of the educational arms race that parents keep closed mouths when they find a good tutor – so talk to parents of children who are older than yours. They have already gone through it."

What do you think?