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Why do so many seem to assume that early difficulties equal a permanent struggle?

(41 Posts)
Cortina Wed 06-Jul-11 17:13:29

My son got a 2A in maths, he was born on 29th August so very young in the year. He's done well this year and his teacher is good but it's interesting to talk to those that know him in the school & his main class teacher and they say, 'gosh maths is a struggle isn't it' 'not his strongest point' 'a weaker area' 'So tricky for him but he's plodded on and done well through hard work'. They are not being negative but it's as if the decision has been made that come next year this will indeed be his weak area. His genes have clearly made him less strong in this area according to them. He's not got the natural ability that's so highly regarded in their opinion so will only get there through a steady plod, if he gets there at all.

I don't see why come next year he might excel? I fear it's not likely to happen because those around him subconsciously (at best) believe otherwise. He'll be working with other 'strugglers' etc. I'd still think he could excel in time if he'd got a 2B or less and actually that would be a respectable level.

This is why SATS worry me, IMO they barcode children young. I've been reading about those 'low ability' children that go on to do unexpectedly well in SAT tests and it's not thought possible. I know that continuous assessment helps to make things fair but even so parents and teachers seem to accept very early on that their child is quick or slow, bright or dim and so the die is cast.

ASByatt Wed 06-Jul-11 17:18:35

Hmm I do take your point - I think you have posted similar ideas before? - but none of those comments from teachers that you report suggest that they have 'written off' your DS or decided that he will not do well next year, surely they're more an indication of how he has worked up to and achieved his 2A?

IndigoBell Wed 06-Jul-11 17:19:47

If he got a level 2a he won't be working with other strugglers, he'll be working with the other kids who have done very well (if they sit in ability tables....)

2a is a good mark confused

There is absolutely no way he'll be on the lower ability table with a 2A.

Next year's teacher will want him to make 2 sub levels of progress. But she'll be pleased as punch if he starts to take off and makes more progress than that....

EllenJaneisnotmyname Wed 06-Jul-11 17:33:24

Is he in Y2? That's a good result for year 2, better than the level 2B that children are 'expected' to get

Cortina Wed 06-Jul-11 17:37:20

Yes I may have brought up the subject before Indigo smile.

They set for maths and they're large classes, two forms per year. I've no doubt the teacher will be pleased if he makes good progress but these early (largely subconscious) beliefs and labeling could be limiting I fear. They're a fairly able group I think and he's seen as being in the middle and will be set towards the middle next year I imagine.

So he'll be one of those 'middle ability' pupils even though he's just turned 7 years old. I will support and encourage as we all do but 'middle' ability pupils don't become 'high' ability pupils, they can't. You don't have that label rescinded once it's been bestowed, if that's the way things are viewed. Often when high ability pupils don't live up to that early potential excuses are found, they've fallen in with a bad crowd, they don't focus etc. It's very rare we decide that perhaps the judgement wasn't correct in the first place. I'd say this was very entrenched by the end of KS2. I see things in terms of current attainment and believe anything is possible but I'm not the majority.

Snowdropbooks Wed 06-Jul-11 17:43:57

my son got a 2b in maths he was more interested in muddy ditches and ponies in those days, then he got a double first at Cambridge... SATS are poor predictors and robust research has shown they are a poor indicator of A level or degree results. The one good indicator is emotional intelligence and a capacity to defer pleasure.

IndigoBell Wed 06-Jul-11 17:49:57

Oh well, at least you won't have to pay his university fees then grin

neolara Wed 06-Jul-11 17:59:26

My dd is in Year 2. Her birthday is mid July so is very nearly the youngest in her class. This time last year she could barely read words like cat, hot and fish. Last week she made it into the top reading group in a high achieving school. So from my completely unrepresentative sample of one, I agree that early difficulties don't necessarily predict later problems.

I totally agree with you about the danger of labelling, self-labelling and self-fulfilling prophesies.

Cortina Wed 06-Jul-11 18:01:28

I agree Snowdropbrooks but fear that for some the attitudes and scenarios I describe can be limiting. IMO it's very important that educators believe children can get smarter, many don't seem to and the idea that 'you can't get out what God didn't put in' is widespread.

SATS may be a poor predictor but the Government think they should be a good predictor that's perhaps the problem. The Specialist Schools and Academies Trust (SSAT) in 2008 drafted a plan with the DfES to encourage universities to establish links with those children who were in the top 5% in KS2 tests. The Trust's chairman was convinced in 2008 that 'bright eleven year olds' should get three As at A-level and if this didn't happen it was the fault of the schools and the heads should be held accountable. If you fail the 11 plus and go to appeal the panel may look as far back as KS1 to see if you displayed early potential, yes this really happens.

Cortina Wed 06-Jul-11 18:05:41

Pleased for your DD neolara.

Stockley Wed 06-Jul-11 19:27:29

Emotional intelligence and the capacity to defer pleasure?

Really? Fascinating!

How do you quote on here by the way?

flipthefrog Wed 06-Jul-11 19:30:50

2a for a 7 year old isn't bad though confused

my son is taking a while to catch up, but i know i cannot push him anymore he just clicks after a while. maths i dunno though

skybluepearl Wed 06-Jul-11 19:46:24

what we have found in year 3 is that the teachers assess pupils quite a lot through out the year - they then move sets.

neolara Wed 06-Jul-11 19:58:07

Cortina, are you an EP?

IndigoBell Wed 06-Jul-11 20:03:38

Capacity to Delay Pleasure

The Stanford Marshmallow Experiment (1972) indicates that good impulse control might be psychologically important for academic achievement and for success in adult life

To test the theory of a person’s ability to delay gratification, the Stanford Marshmallow Experiment (1972), conducted by Prof. Walter Mischel, at Stanford University, California, studied a group of four-year-old children, each of whom was given one marshmallow, but promised two on condition that he or she wait twenty minutes, before eating the first marshmallow. Some children were able to wait the twenty minutes, and some were unable to wait. Furthermore, the university researchers then studied the developmental progress of each participant child into adolescence, and reported that children able to delay gratification (wait) were psychologically better adjusted, more dependable persons, and, as high school students, scored significantly greater grades in the collegiate Scholastic Aptitude Test.

erebus Wed 06-Jul-11 20:35:42

Didn't Prof Winston use a similar test in Child Of Our Times?

I replied to a remark you made, OP on another thread here, about 'labelling'. I still don't see acknowledging difficulty as 'labelling' or being 'self-fulfilling'. In fact, taken to its extreme, it's where the 'school failed me/ It's not my fault' argument gets spouted when the lower IQ'ed DC who'd been told throughout life that everything they did, however average, was truly marvellous- suddenly comes up against RL.

ragged Wed 06-Jul-11 20:45:09

parents and teachers seem to accept very early on that their child is quick or slow
OP generalising just as much as the folk she criticises for generalising too readily confused

I've had teachers say to me "Your DS is much better at X than his SAT scores suggest" so doesn't seem like either of us (parent or teacher) were welded to what test score said. Can only speak to my experience, of course. Suddenly DS was on the top table for everything in y3 (I don't think he was before y3).

Gawd that's a bit depressing about the impulse control, though, DS2 quite poor on that front (sigh).

Stockley Thu 07-Jul-11 12:16:40

Yes it was on Child of our Time - I remember it v well. I must have missed the bit about how it was the predictor of all future success though!

I have one DD who has been extremely good at this all her life, and one who is Rubbish. I will be monitoring their progress closely....

Cortina Thu 07-Jul-11 12:40:08

To PP a growth mindset will also help bring success and the good news is this can be taught. The principles discussed within Dweck's 'Mindset' have entirely changed my life for the better, I've achieved more than I ever thought possible in a comparatively short space of time. I get upset when I see educators with fixed mindsets especially.

KATTT Thu 07-Jul-11 12:47:58


There was this wonderful study some psychologists did (sorry can't remember where, I think it was Oregon). They went into a school, did an intelligence test on a class and randomly picked 3 children and told the teacher that these three children had done brilliantly well. They also told the children and the children's parents.

They came back a year later. You can guess the first part. The children had done much better over the year, their grades had shot up. But here's the really interesting part. They repeated the intelligence tests - these three children did much better, they had actually become more intelligent, just because everyone thought they were.

Expectations matter.

Cortina Thu 07-Jul-11 12:53:07

I know KATT. Children that are treated as if they are more intelligent become so in this sense. There have been recent developments too in cognitive science that show 'cells that glow together, grow together' in other words practice makes perfect and we can all get smarter.

IndigoBell Thu 07-Jul-11 12:58:07

Yes - but all children in the class have the same target - (for example) 2 sub levels of progress. So teachers already expect all children to do well.

They don't say 'well he's on the bottom table, I only expect him to make 1 sub level'

And, if kids don't make that kind of progress the HT will be asking the teacher why.

In the UK system, all teachers have to have high expectations of all students, otherwise they get in trouble.

Obv not all kids can be on the 'top table' (if you have one). By defn. But that doesn't mean teachers have low expectations.

suntanlotion Thu 07-Jul-11 13:07:46

Cortina - this is so true.

My son has been reported by school as progressing well all year despite being unable to write and is nearly at the end of year one. Now that the school have received an IQ report from his Educational Psychologist they tell us he needs individual help daily to catch up and is at least one level behind!!!!!

Am quite sure if the IQ report had stated he was of average ability they would continue to say he was progressing well and there would be no IEP.

KATTT Thu 07-Jul-11 13:08:11


"In the UK system, all teachers have to have high expectations of all students, otherwise they get in trouble."

And that's why results are getting better, employers and universities are happy with standards of literacy, 1 in 10 children don't leave primary school unable to read. It's why we're soaring up the international league tables and there are no people on mumsnet worried to death about their kids' educational needs being ignored... oh no wait

suntanlotion Thu 07-Jul-11 13:18:48

Indigo - Is the expectation therefore for a child who is behind from the outset to remain behind.

For example a child like mine who started school still unable to decide which was his dominant hand and having refused to ever try colouring or drawing because he felt the result was not perfect enough might have already been 2 years behind on fine motor skills. Even progresing by the recommended 2 sub levels a year he would remain far behind.

In my experience teachers have very different expectations of each child and no one would know if they had the right expectation for each child.

I know based on my experience that if they are told a child has an IQ for example in the top 1% then their expectations change dramatically. I find that quite scary as I am convinced my son would have left primary without any intervention without the IQ report.

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