By John Nichols – Private Tutor

Most parents I’ve ever met ask me the question “What does my son or daughter need to do to succeed?” I get the distinct impression that most of the rest don’t ask because they feel that they already have the answer. This is hardly news; what parent on the planet does not want the best for their child? So what is to be done to ensure that your children get the best education possible?

In almost all cases the answer is not straightforward. However, it usually comes down to a common factor: the parents themselves. In many different ways, parents are the single greatest indicator of their child’s educational success. Many of the reasons why are obvious, a few are not. It is well known in education, for example, that parental income is one of the strongest indicators of educational success across a variety of measures. Wealthier parents tend to have children who get better grades, go to university more often and, ultimately, tend to get better jobs. Certain cultural groups buck the trend as well; children from a variety of Asian backgrounds tend to do better than others. Of course, the solution for parents is not just to get a better job much less to try and mimic other cultural groups.

The best way to ensure your child’s educational success, no matter what your pay packet or ethnicity, is to identify what it is about these high performing groups in society that causes their children to do so well and to emulate it as best as you can. Of course if you are on an average income paying the fees for a prestigious private school or moving house to live next door to the best state school are not options, but these aren’t really that important. The vast majority of things that help to create educational success are within the power of every parent. Here are some:

  • Encourage your child. Tell them that they can achieve whatever they want in life if they try hard enough – and mean it. They can. The first part is to convince yourself that this is true. Then convince your child. You have to expect the best of them if you want them to be the best, and it needs to be reinforced on a regular basis.
  • Success and intelligence is down to hard work and dedication – not innate ability or born talent. Forget your paper story of some child prodigy, the key to success in the real world is hard work and perseverance. Your child needs to understand this so that they voluntarily put the effort in. There is no point whatsoever in understanding this yourself and trying to impose a Spartan work schedule onto your child. This will destroy their motivation and strain your relationship, neither of which is helpful at all.
  • Encourage curiosity. Constantly try to engage with them about what is happening in the world and encourage them to ask questions. When they do ask questions, do your best to answer them or, if you can’t, encourage them to find out. If they ask the question its because they’ve identified a gap in their knowledge that they want to fill – don’t pass up the opportunity. If they aren’t asking many questions, then stimulate them. Take them out about and anywhere and talk about anything – why is a plane flying? Why is a bird singing? Why are leaves green? Why do we commemorate remembrance day or Christmas?
  • Engage with their education – constantly. Read with them when they are young, or involve them in life’s many decisions such as counting up the cost of the shopping or finding the best deals. Do not just expect the schools to do it all – they will try, but they have many pupils compared to relatively few staff and they don’t have the time to teach 12 year olds how to read or count when the National Curriculum says they should be doing algebra. Focus on core skills and let the schools do the rest.
  • If you need help, encourage your child to try to get it. If your child is really struggling then try to fix it and engage your child in the process. This could be through recruiting the skills of a private tutor, educational psychologist or psychotherapist. Do not just try to impose your fix on the child though – make sure you gain their voluntary consent at a bare minimum. By all means make them aware of what support is available and what to expect but do not force them into it if it can be possibly avoided