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Hilary Wilce Headshot

The Real Secret of School Success

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CHILD AT SCHOOL
Klaus Vedfelt via Getty Images

Here's the honest truth about school -- almost all children could do better there.

I know this for certain after spending my life as an education correspondent, visiting schools all over the world, sitting in on hundreds of lessons and talking to thousands of school students, teachers, principals, helpers and mentors.

Many, many children could up their grades, and almost all children could enjoy learning more and explore their own unique gifts and interests more deeply.

But the person who can most help them to that is -- sorry -- you.

It's a message none of us ever wants to hear. We all want our child to go to a "fantastic" nursery, and then on to a "brilliant" school where kindly, wise and authoritative teachers will nurture their amazing talents into full and glorious bloom.

But it's not like that. Not ever. Because education is, and always will be, a flawed human endeavor.

Schools are run by people, and people are varied and fallible. As your child goes through school they will meet dozens of teachers. These teachers will be tall, short, fat, thin. Some, I regret to tell you, will have body odor issues. Others will be struggling with unresolved anger or low self-esteem or a desperate need for approval, which will inevitably seep into their teaching style. A few will be great at their job, many will be average, and one or two will be completely useless. In addition, your child will click with some on a personal level and with others not at all.

The same with classmates. If your child is lucky, they will be in what schools call 'a good year,' and have lots of happy, bright, well-motivated children to be friends with -- although even then some charismatically wayward peers may send them off track. If they are unlucky, they will be in a roomful of apathetic dozers and chronic attention-seekers.

Then there are a host of other things. No matter how earnestly you believe your child's school is the best for miles, it will still have deficiencies. It might be better at science than sports, or foster creativity at the expense of math. It might not have enough money to offer the small classes and extra support that it would like to, or its brilliant leader might move on and be replaced by someone far less charismatic. No school in the world is without problems.

At the same time your child will be going through all sorts of personal changes. They might hit a time of ill health, or endure a friendship crisis, or have a run-in with the class bully. Maybe they'll have a sudden spurt in confidence as they realize their capabilities, or a plunge into doubt when they find themselves struggling. And, as the teen years kick in, they will almost certainly be consumed by all sorts of things that are nothing at all to do with classroom learning.

In short, the journey through school is a long and winding road, and the only consistent thing along the way is you -- their loving, attentive, often long-suffering parent.

From you they will acquire the attitudes towards life and learning that will help them to do their best in school -- or not.

They will learn whether to be open and up for all life has to offer, or to be timid, perfectionist and perennial anxious about their performance. They'll learn whether to give up in the face of difficulties, or to be resilient in the face of setbacks. And whether to be self-motivated in pursuit of their goals, or to always look to someone else to sort out their problems.

They'll learn other lessons from you too. Lots and lots of them. Hopefully good ones. They'll learn how to be healthy and look after their well-being, without being neurotic about every mouthful of food they swallow. They'll learn how to build warm, respectful relationships with both children and adults, without investing their whole sense of who they are in how others see them. And they'll learn how to use their time well, make sound choices and set good priorities.

And with these lessons being fostered at home, they'll be able to make the absolute most of their years of school, no matter how many ups and downs they encounter on the way.