Educational Platitudes #1: “Kayleigh wants to do well”

Kayleigh's (Yr 9) behaviour and attitude has nose dived since the start of the academic year. Once a bright eyed, hard working and enthusiastic Year 7 Kayleigh has metamorphosed into the archetypal stroppy teen – always late, comatose in class, addicted to socialising in the girls bathroom, the lip piercing, troweled on make up and her accompanying odour of cigarettes and hairspray have attracted the attention of the dysfunctional boys. Kayleigh is addicted to social hierarchy and petty feuding. Any attempt by an adult to interfere with this is met with defiance and aggression.

And so it comes to pass that after failed report cards, endless meetings with the school quack and frustrated teachers on the wrong end of a 'fuck off' that Kayleigh and her mother (along with a young step sibling – there is always a step sibling) are summoned to a meeting with SLT. If SLT were the living descendants of Ghengis Khan then there would be room for optimism here but they are not. As ever weak SLT, when confronted with the inconvenient reality of life outside the office walls, choose the path of least resistance and this is to extract a confession from Kayleigh that 'she wants to do well'. This confession is then presented to the baying hordes of the staffroom as a triumph, as evidence of SLT's heightened emotional intelligence and as justification for no further action on their part; you see Kayleigh 'wants to do well' and it follows that the questionable attitudes of her teachers are the reason she isn't.

Bullshit. So 'Kayleigh wants to do well'? Show me a child who doesn't want to do well! If one accepts that the overwhelming majority of children want to do well then the vapidness of the questioning becomes clear. Extracting a meaningful dialouge from an underachieving child begins with putting thier desire to achieve to one side and focusing on whether the child wants to put in the effort required to make it happen. Like many an adult who wants be thinner but doesn't want to lay off the cake Kayleigh wants a string of good grades without making the sacrifices required to achieve them.

And what sacrifices! Kayleigh needs to swap the soap opera of petty feuds and the instant, cheap, gratification that comes with the attention of her friends for listening to teachers, revision clubs and evenings in studying with the family that are ignoring her. But of course this will never happen because making it happen requires the adults in Kayleigh's life to show her the way, have tough conversations where necessary and show a willingness to confront low expectations in all its forms. Sadly for the adults in the best position to provide these things it is enough for Kayleigh to 'want to do well'.



4 Comments on “Educational Platitudes #1: “Kayleigh wants to do well””

  1. […] What prompted me to recall these lines? Firstly, Leonard James’ recent excellent blogpost “Kayleigh Wants To Do Well“: […]

  2. […] Educational Platitudes #1: 'Kayliegh wants to do well' […]

  3. […] I am sure all teachers have been in that student disciplinary meeting that suddenly goes all Kafkaesque in a manner reminiscent of the conference described by Clive James above: what begins as a formal gathering to address the many difficulties created by the student, challenge the obfuscations and untruths put in place by the student, and alleviate the problems fomented by the student; suddenly and inexplicably, often at SLT’s behest, turns to passing resolutions in conformity with the wishes of the student. For example, Kayleigh gets to come off Red Report and SLT will have a serious chat with her teachers about their “questionable attitudes towards her” because, after all, “Kayleigh wants to do well“. […]

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