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'Small fish in a big sea' - or the opposite?

(23 Posts)
BlogOnTheTyne Wed 12-Jun-13 10:34:35

What's best for children - to be just one of the average but in an academically selective environment - or one of the top, in a more mediocre school? By 'best' I mean for self-esteem and fitting in, in life beyond school.

I was a very 'big fish' in a tiny pond, at my school and rose to the top, leading me to believe in my abilities and potential. My DCs, on the other hand, are at an academically selective school with some incredible 'competition' from peers who are already 'shining' on a national level, in all kinds of ways, academically and otherwise.

DCs will never be 'top' or 'the best' at this school but probably would have been, at a school like the one I went to. Whilst they know they can't be too thick to have got into this school at all, they do have a sense of being 'average' and 'mediocre' compared to their peers. They're not going to win awards and prizes and they do compare themselves to their peers and 'put themselves down'.

Does this mean that they have a more realisitic view of themselves and life and won't be 'shocked' when the competition increases further at university and beyond - or will they misguidedly consider themselves incompetent, just because they've spent the whole of their school careers comparing themselves to people who are likely to achieve 'great things' in their lives?

StressedandFrazzled Thu 13-Jun-13 09:37:43

Very interested in response to this thread.

HabbaDabbaDoo Thu 13-Jun-13 12:20:45

I gave both my DCs the choice and they both chose to be (slightly above) average in an academic school.

ChewingOnLifesGristle Thu 13-Jun-13 12:25:29

I think I'd go with 'they have a more realisitic view of themselves and life and won't be 'shocked' when the competition increases further at university and beyond'

Because sooner or later that'll be the deal.

MadeOfStarDust Thu 13-Jun-13 12:30:21

mine were given the choice and chose to be in the top groups in secondary... realistically, looking at their peers, they would have been in the lower of the 2 middle groups at grammar....

kids know where they will be happy - some need the challenge of NOT being in the top group to do well, and will coast if left to it.... my girls like to not have the pressure, but still like to do well so I think "we" have chosen wisely..

MadeOfStarDust Thu 13-Jun-13 12:32:11

I realise that post made me sound complacent - "choosing" to be in the top group and all - but we had a fairly good idea they would be... most people know where they "fit" academically.

FlumpsRule Thu 13-Jun-13 13:01:45

I gave my DC choice and am glad she is at a good state secondary in top sets, full of confidence in her ability, enjoying school & receiving glowing reports. I was very able but very average at my independent school at her age & I firmly believe self belief is important to instil & nurture at this age, if that makes sense?

BlogOnTheTyne Thu 13-Jun-13 14:55:48

Very interesting feedback so far. I think I thrived on being top at a less than academic school. The school 'backed me' to aim high and go further and as a result, I was given opportunities that a different kind of school wouldn't have given me, as I'd not have been 'up there' and worth 'backing'.

By contrast, my DCs are not perceived as high flyers within their current peer group - more perceived as 'holding their own', with some limited flashes of achievement beyond that.

However, coming from this kind of school, they won't get the opportunities that I had, as universities will see that they had such a 'good start' that no allowances would be made if they get less than 4 A*s or whatever they'll need by A levels.

They don't at all want to change school but I do now wonder - when it feels 'too late' as they're happily settled and all their friends are with them, how their lives might have been and how they'd have felt about themselves, if they'd kept coming at the top in exams etc, rather than average.

I found it very hard to arrive at university as just one of the thousands of much cleverer people - but because of my innate belief in myself, 'fought my way back' to a decent enough level, if not within the elite. I just don't know if my DCs be able to do this or will they forever feel 'mediocre' just because their peers at school have gone on to become international experts in their own fields? Will they begin to see themselves as 'achievers', in relation to a wider pool of young people of more mixed abilities or will the sense of being 'somewhere in the middle' stay with them for life?

All these things are on my mind at the moment, as they begin to grow up and move up in their school. Did I do the right thing or will I and they regret it?

hardboiled Thu 13-Jun-13 15:14:01

I was the high achiever in an average school, used to win all the writing and art competitions and got the best grades. I was very happy there! College was a bit of a shock...

When DS had several options for secondary, I had many talks with him about this, as in his primary he was the big fish. He chose the selective school saying that where he stands in comparison with other kids is not important to him. What is important is the school itself.

For some children it will be relevant, less for others.

fenellafitzgerald Thu 13-Jun-13 20:11:24

I am guessing your kids are at RGS BlogontheTyne (going by your nickname)? Interested in your observations as I was in a similar situation when I moved from small girls school to a co-ed grammar sixth form a million years ago and very definitely found myself a very small fish. That said I did well and would never have got to my high in the league tables uni if it had not been for the move.

Swanhilda Thu 13-Jun-13 23:20:04

I was a small fish at an academically selective school. My cousin recently said to me she thought we had both suffered a lot from feeling "stupid" in comparison to peers, when we were both quite clever..blush
I think confidence instilled by teachers is the key. A very good school shouldn't make children reliant on "competition" only, but teach every child for their own sake.

On the other hand, my eldest is at state secondary, and are certainly not top in everything (except singing, he is pretty good at that!) I don't think we should assume that just because our children are at state schools they would be better than everyone else!! State schools are full of clever children just like any other school.

HollyBerryBush Fri 14-Jun-13 06:10:54

I did warn DS2, prepared him, that when he went to grammar school he was going to find it very difficult from being the bright one at primary to very average at grammar. That first year was a shock, but they settle.

He was always middle set - certainly not one of the near genius brilliant ones, but he didn't struggle with anything either. Just brighter than average, a worker but most importantly stretched.

BooksandaCuppa Fri 14-Jun-13 09:21:33


Just lost a massive response I typed to this.

Summary: I found everything very easy at school and all the way through university and think it has given me a really bad work ethic and complete lack of determination.

Ds is either top, middle or bottom of his (top) set depending on the subject and has a much better understanding of the need to work hard to achieve something.

I think he's having the better education.

I think instilling a work ethic is as important as working out how your self-esteem is best cushioned/protected.

poppydoppy Fri 14-Jun-13 09:36:32

I believe confidence is key to a child's success in life.

tungthai Fri 14-Jun-13 09:36:49

Ds is pretty much average in most subjects and above average in Maths and Science. He is at a typical primary school and very happy there. Occasionally he has periods of self doubt when he compares himself to some of his high achieving peers but most of the time he is happy to just be himself.

I have decided against putting him in for the 11+. If he passes and that is a big IF it is likely that he would be in the bottom sets and probably unlikely to shine. I don't think that would be good for his confidence although I know some people would disagree. He wants to go to the local comp and I feel a non selective school where he can be himself is a better fit for him.

Startail Fri 14-Jun-13 10:01:33

DD2 choose not to do the 11+ and is very happy in the top sets at the comp and being chosen for the sports teams.

Give a small rural school that only pushed for SATs and only did sports properly the last six months, I think she would have disappeared at the grammar to some where in the middle.

DD2 needs praise, she needs to be noticed, much as she'd pretend to be embarrassed.

If she went to the Grammar she might be pushed harder, she might get slightly higher grades in MFL and may be maths, but a couple of A* rather than As is a huge price to pay if it means five years of stress instead of 4.5 years of smiles. (Clearly all DCs get stressed at the end of Y11).

Theas18 Fri 14-Jun-13 10:14:51

Gosh it depends so much on the child. Confidence and self belief is vital in life.

How fragile is their self belief and how much is for them defined by academic success? I certainly wouldn't put an under confident "averagely bright" 11yr old into a grammar school pond. It could so easily just crush them.

If they are averagely bright but actually their confidence comes from being a sporting success etc then being middle of the class might well be grand. Same with the lucky child who just is happy to do what hey can and not pitch themselves against heir peers all the time but I've yet to really find one of them- DS used to be but now he's pitching himself against the uni standards for his course- stuff his peers LOL

I went to a bog standard comp and revelled in being a big fish. I also learnt that I didn't have to try too hard to excel, so completely rested on my laurels. University was a big shock, I was suddenly below average instead of being in the top 2 or 3. I was also a jack of all trades, master of none type. These days I still don't like to work too hard. blush

My DSs all go to/will go to a comp as well. My DS1 loves being top of the top set for maths and being considered a 'boff' when he was bottom set for literacy in his high achieving primary school. He's second set for English, definitely not a jack of all trades, but his confidence has been boosted tremendously. He may have scraped into grammar with his strong maths but would probably have struggled with arts subjects and his confidence would have been rock bottom. A comprehensive school that sets for each subject individually, has been exactly right for him.

My DS3 passed for grammar school, his maths is also very strong but his literacy is also fairly good, but he really wanted to go with his brothers to a comprehensive. I'm yet to find out if this was the best choice for him, but I like the social mix that a comprehensive provides as well, so as a life beyond school choice, I prefer a comp.

gobbin Mon 17-Jun-13 17:40:30

'What's best for children'?
To consider themselves neither a big nor a small fish but to be entirely happy with the size of fish that they are.

I have a very chilled fish who is completely aware of his strengths and weaknesses academically and enjoys excelling in cricket amongst other things. You wouldn't know it though apart from a smile when he's hit yet another 50 in a match. He doesn't care how the other fish are swimming, but he knows his own stream and where it's flowing.

schoolnurse Mon 17-Jun-13 18:00:27

It so depends on the child but my DN was top of a fairly selective indie and frankly thought he was rather clever. He has had a bit of a shock now he's gone onto Oxford and he's just discovered that some are seriously bright, what this means in terms of his chosen degree subject and that he's not seriously bright. A friends DS has also recently moved from a very good comp where he was considered to be extraordinarily able and top for everything to a super selective indie and is now bottom for everything despite working 10 times harder than a few who are not only top for everything but doing the bare minimum of work. Both my friend and her DS were so smug excited about getting the place at the school but now 18 months down the road regret it.

bcellsfan Mon 17-Jun-13 23:19:07

Have nc to try to avoid total outing but may not be successful
I have several dc and initially all attended the best school in the area (by miles), a huge selective independent. The eldest i think thought for ages that they were thick as they were in the bottom 1/3 in some subjects (mainly due to lack of application but there you go), only gradually realising now at uni that they are not thick at all.
Next child was initially placed on G and T register at top school but over time was performing very badly and unhappy so we moved them to a very small, basically non selective indi. They really flourished there and have been the absolute biggest fish of them all with very shiny scales.
Next ones were given the option of moving, have chosen to stay. one is happy as a medium sized fish and loves the huge range of opportunities at giant pond school, although i do hear mutterings of "i am thick", whereas actually last one looks like they might end up as big fish in the big pond.
IMO it is a very hard balancing act between the two, and it was a massive gamble re moving the child, albeit ultimately a really successful one as tiny pond schools results are not that good, not that surprising though if you look at it's cohort.
Gobbin yes of course the dc have to be happy with the size of fish that they are, but for some that is easier in a different sized pond.

ICanTotallyDance Tue 18-Jun-13 07:40:00

It depends on the children and school, of course. If the kids aren't being given the same opportunities as the the "high fliers" than it is a problem. If it is noticeably damaging their self-esteem it is a problem.

If the children are happy and being well-educated there is no problem.

Consider the "middling" children at your non-academic school. How ell did they do? Sometimes the work ethic instilled in children who are constantly pushing themselves just to keep up with their peer group at school means they excel at university. Other times they burn out or consider themselves stupid.

All that being said, being the big fish is very nice and I would heartily recommend it, rude awakening later in life or not. grin

That last paragraph being from a short term emotional not long term educational point of view, of course.

Lonecatwithkitten Tue 18-Jun-13 08:14:51

I think this really depends on the child and their personality. My DD needs competition currently she is the big fish in a small pond and is coasting. So I am looking for a bigger pond. There are other children who need that smaller more nurturing pond I don't think there is a one size fits all approach.

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