Why we should focus on well-rounded young people – not exceptional grades

Earlier this week the headteacher of Lady Eleanor Holles School, Heather Hanbury, launched an attack at the state of the current education system and its focus on the attainment of high grade test results.

For a headteacher, to say that a C grade is perfectly acceptable is not only brave, but something which has been needed to be said for a long time.

Before Ofsted begin to circle her like vultures, it should be stated that I thoroughly doubt Mrs Hanbury intended her comment to mean gifted students should stop working hard. Instead, the message is that academic achievement should not be the be-all and end-all of schooling. She has raised a very important issue that hasn’t been fully explored as yet.

As the current system stands, grades below a B are considered by some to be fairly irrelevant. This of course reduces a grade’s significance as a way of determining ability levels. This pursuit of perfection can also mean that other traits are excluded, as there simply isn’t time for anything else.

Therefore, we see a generation of children who may be able to score 90 per cent in a maths or English exam, yet have very little understanding of how to adapt to life outside the classroom, or even, outside school. Long-term this is no benefit to anyone, least of all the child.

Instead, there needs to be a balancing act between academia and developing essential traits crucial in the real world. They say knowledge is power but what use is knowledge if children haven’t developed their character in a way which allows them to actually use their knowledge successfully?

There are countless small actions acquired through extra-curricular activity which can make a huge impact to a child’s life. Simple character skills such as teamwork, how to bounce back from disappointment or criticism, developing resilience, drive and grit, are just as valuable as scoring say a grade higher at school.

To give an analogy, it would be ludicrous to judge the ability of a footballer by their ability to do keepy uppys. There is far more to a footballer than that one set skill. In the same way, a student should be able to do more than pass tests if they are to continue to succeed once their days of formal education come to an end.

I, for one, would much rather see students achieve a C grade, but also take part in a sports team, play an instrument or join a cadet’s corps than achieve elite scores in an academic bubble.

If we are to avoid further developing a production line of exam-passing robots then serious consideration must be given to a more balanced education experience. Yes, children should be pushed in the classroom, but they should also be pushed as hard outside of it.

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