Clarissa Farr, head of St Paul’s Girls’ School in west London, made the front page of The Times this weekend with her accusation that many parents have a “frenetic anxiety” surrounding achievement and put undue pressure on schools to ensure their own children’s success.
During a workshop at the Girls’ Schools Association conference she said that parents were so concerned their children’s failure would reflect badly on them that they refuse to accept them coming second and are rendering them incapable of coping with failure.
These ‘snowplough parents’ overprotect their children, clearing any obstacles from their path so that “when they do come up against some failure or difficulty they don’t have the equipment to deal with it.” Said Mrs Farr.
Parenting pastiches do the rounds on social media – from the snowploughers to the tiger mothers (demanding excellence and results driven), and helicopter parents (hovering anxiously, literally and metaphorically). You’ll find these parents leaning on the school gates at both state and private, single sex and co-ed, rural and urban schools.
Each stereotypical parenting model assumes that protecting a child from reality by obscuring problems and praising mediocrity will somehow negate failure. The result? Children lack resilience. And what could be more detrimental to success than an expectation of perfection?
“It can often be the duty of good schools to persuade parents that children thrive all the more when taking controlled risks; when the mistakes they make help them far more towards understanding than being protected from ever failing.” says Dr Steve Bailey, head of Twyford School in Hampshire. On Mrs Farr’s comment that the urban environment intensified competitive instincts among parents, Dr Bailey agrees, “It does help to be out in the countryside without a snowplough parent in sight!”
But the fear of failure-by-proxy doesn’t stop at Zone 6. Many parents across the UK equate excellent exam results with success and so focus on getting grades to the detriment of social and personal achievement, or the child’s enjoyment of the school system.
“Schools rely greatly on the partnership they have with their children’s parents. Sometimes the school’s role is to help families see the ‘bigger picture’: that values such as respect, kindness, friendship, honesty and responsibility need to come first. Says Dr Bailey.
Amen to that.
Do you feel curriculum results are the be-all and end-all of your son’s education? Do you think your child’s school shares your expectations as to academic success?