Do you feel a kind of dread when you know it’s parents’ evening? You want your child to be doing well and you definitely don’t want to hear that they’re falling behind! We’re hearing about falling behind a lot at the moment because of the amount of time children spent at home during the lockdowns. Does it concern you that your child would have been doing better had it not been for missing so much time in school?

My question to you is, have you thought about what it is exactly they’re falling behind in? And how that is measured?

Most of the enquiries I get from parents are for 1 to 1 work in Maths and English because they are concerned that their child is not meeting expected targets. They send me complicated looking charts with target statements and various ticks, crosses and coloured boxes.

I must confess they always make me chuckle a little! Not because I don’t empathise with them but because they are so dry and don’t tell me anything about their child and how they learn.

Let’s look at a target on an English assessment sheet: Find and copy a synonym.


Don’t get me wrong, synonyms are useful and a beautiful part of any language, especially if you’re a speaker or writer. The particular child I’m thinking of is marked as red on this target so you might think she doesn’t have a great command of language.

Or that she just doesn’t know what the word synonym means.

I teach her and she is very eloquent for an 8 year old. She’s a great writer so I can only imagine it’s the latter. So perhaps all she needs to do is memorise the meaning of the word synonym.

My next question is that if she does that will it make her a better speaker and writer? Maybe, maybe not and maybe that’s hard to assess.

The National Curriculum is full of assessment statements just like that. They build from the early stages of education in a beautifully linear and progressive manner so we can see which stage every child is at.

The problem is that  learning doesn’t happen like that and there are things that don’t fit into the National Curriculum statements. I have taught another child who is fascinated by the London Underground. He can draw and recite whole sections of the topographical map and plan out journeys from memory. How does that skill fit into a target?

Years ago I taught a 6 year old who’s mental arithmetic was exceptional. He could do complex calculations extremely rapidly in his head but if I asked him to write it down it was as if he knew nothing. So I wasn’t able to give him top marks on his National Curriculum target sheet.

I had no concerns at all about him. His ability to record just wasn’t developing at the same rate as his mental arithmetic. And this is true of pretty much all of us; we just don’t learn in a linear fashion. When I trained as a teacher we learnt about Bruner’s theory of the Spiral Curriculum. In essence we keep coming back to the same content in a different way, maybe because our brain has developed a bit or maybe because we understand it in a different way because we have had other experiences informing us.

The thing is just because your child doesn’t  seem to be meeting “expected targets” doesn’t necessarily mean they are behind anything or anyone else. They are unique and will learn in their own way at their own rate.

So yes, it’s a good idea for schools to have a curriculum and a developmental scheme but I also think it’s essential for us to realise that all children are going to bring their own uniqueness to that and there should be room for that. The vast majority of children will learn the essential skills with very little intervention from adults, so wouldn’t we be better to be fostering engagement in learning, a love of learning and a willingness to learn rather than attempting to fit every child into the same boxes that need to be ticked?

If you’re at all concerned because your child appears to be “falling behind” you can join us in our Facebook groups (Caterpillars Community for primary age and Parents with Teenagers Community for secondary). There’s a wealth of experience in them and you’ll find lots of support and sensible advice.