Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Helping Parents to Let Their Children Fly Free

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Helping Parents to Let Their Children Fly Free

Article excerpt

Raising aspirations is a key concern for all teachers, but how far should you intervene when a pupil's family is blocking the way?

Let me tell you the story of Emma. She is a bright, talented and conscientious young woman who loves Greek tragedy, Gothic literature and writing her own short stories. I have not taught many students who are as committed to their studies as Emma and her no doubt impressive A-level grades will be well-deserved.

But, unlike other students, Emma will not be using these grades to access university. Her father has forbidden her. Instead, he has forced her to apply for an apprenticeship at a popular fast food chain and she will begin working there in the summer. Why? Because no one in Emma's family has ever been to university and their employment is not secured on the basis of higher education. Emma is expected to earn money so that she can support herself, rather than saddle her family with a frighteningly large debt.

Emma's story is an example of a family being afraid of a child wanting a life that is radically different from their own. Her parents do not share her aspirations and are encouraging her to remain at the same level of education and employment as them. Cases such as this pose a real difficulty for teachers: how can you ensure that your students are aspirational when their families, backgrounds and even cultures are working against you?

War of the worlds

In education, we talk a lot about aspirations and how to raise them, but what does that actually mean? For me, it is about making someone want more for themselves (or others) and from themselves (or others). However, this is an incredibly loaded statement. Alongside an idealistic notion about enabling every learner to "be someone", it contains the implicit assumption that who they already are is not good enough.

There are also different levels of aspiration and we should always value an ambition in light of what the individual is able to achieve. For some young people, an apprenticeship at a fast food chain is a fantastic opportunity that will bring personal fulfilment and success. Not every student we teach is suitable for university - nor is a degree the only signifier of achievement. The notion of being the best that you can be allows for multiple interpretations, based on the individual in question.

However, university is the appropriate aspiration for Emma. I am devastated by the idea of her wasting her talents and being unhappy in her apprenticeship.

But let's look at it another way. Emma will be in sound employment by the end of the summer, whereas many of her peers will be taking out loans of several thousand pounds to pay university fees. …

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