The wasted years

I suddenly realised that since ‘coming out’, I could be a little more open about my experiences so far. Obviously, I seek to maintain the privacy and protect the identity of those I teach or have taught, as well as those I work with. However, I do want to bring to your attention something that really opened my eyes last year.

If I go backwards in time to around this time last year I am teaching a class for 3 days a week, in addition to my leadership role. The cohort is not exactly high flying, but we are changing that, dramatically. As you would expect with any group of children, there are those that stand out. Among those special children, a boy springs to mind: he is the son of a couple from Eastern Europe, his father some kind of nuclear physicist who probably works in a role he is way too over-qualified for. This boy is my top mathematician, my top reader and his vocabulary, despite English being his second language, is truly vast. His peers who also have parents from Eastern Europe are also similarly inclined towards all things academic, but he really stands out the most. I watch this boy calculate and I can see him being at ease one day, when he is a man, with calculus – he is surely destined for great things. He does need quite a strong leader to ensure he behaves and concentrates, but it’s fine because I am happy to ensure high standards of behaviour and effort are maintained – even if he thinks I’m not being nice at the time. He will forget me and all that will remain is the knowledge I gave him and that excellent handwriting I insisted he had; that is the way it should be. However, it is when we have our science lessons, or our history lessons, for example, he stands out the most. The sheer amount of knowledge he has already acquired because he is already a fluent reader who reads and has great conversation with his parents – all this knowledge bursts out of his head and he makes those connections effortlessly. This is a boy who knows all about the universe, the wars, ancient kings and queens and oh so much more. His questions cause you to dig deep to make sure that you can give him that knowledge his permanently switched-on mind is so desperate to assimilate.

This boy is just 5 years old.

Abandoned pool from the 1936 Berlin Olympics – I find these sorts of photos fascinating. They represent wasted opportunities and how in the absence of purposeful use, they become dilapidated.

Compare this fine mind to the boy who sits next to him, barely reading, barely talking. The difference in knowledge already acquired and the subsequent ability to make connections with what is taught is truly staggering. Not only does he struggle to access what is being taught and is therefore more likely to default to being silly, he also struggles to communicate and interact with his peers which ultimately affects his ability to make and keep friends.

Is the difference innate? Nope, not really. Genetic differences are small. What is different is their upbringing. Our boy of wonder has simply had many more conversations with his parents and he has had the practice required to finally read fluently and then gain his reading wings, thus launching him into the world of independent learning. He also causes me to look back at the years when my own children were young and caused me to feel so much anguish about how those years were wasted because I was not enough of a purposeful parent for and with them. My sons were reading early, clearly intelligent, but I thought they would just sort of acquire what they needed naturally. I didn’t make as much effort as the parents of our wonder boy and I assumed their primary school would be giving them the same amount of interesting knowledge, as well as that excellent handwriting! Oh, how I was wrong. They did alright because it was a nice school with nice kids. Their SATs results were above average, but that didn’t mean much really.

It’s too late.

They’re doing really well, but I know they could be achieving so much more and more importantly, their minds could be more open, curious, if they had more knowledge with which to make insightful connections.

So, this brings me back to year 1. You know, we could go back even further. My point is that the longer children float along in their own world without that purposeful parenting, or that purposeful, knowledge-rich teaching, the more likely they will eventually end up with closed minds and fewer opportunities. Fundamentally, this is about happiness. Who would want to be mired in the day-to-day dross of life when they could be thinking about the moons and the stars? Why wait till KS2 for a knowledge-rich curriculum? Why not have the same approach, the nod to evidence-informed teaching and learning, even in those earlier years.

These children are capable of so much more.

Who’s with me?


3 thoughts on “The wasted years

  1. Can I suggest you read Robert Plomin’s recently-published book Blueprint? (I am mid-way through it, and will blog about it in due course). It will open your eyes about what may be genetic/heritable about this life. In simple terms, even things that appear to be learned behaviour may in fact be more explained by shared genetic predispositions between parent and child. It is not as insidious as you might expect – and it might provide further insight on this.


  2. “It’s too late.”

    I would be optimistic about chances. At FE (ie further) before the Scottish Govt cut funding to the bone there were kids who I now bump into who had “wasted” many years of education. Yes they were in the bottom of the barrel looking for a way out and they found it not because there was not earlier opportunity but as a result of hard work by teachers.

    It is almost as if the poor parenting is suddenly left behind and the kids are given freedom to find things out which maybe should/could have happened years ago.


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