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Partner and Head of Family Law, Rugby
Well it’s that time of year again when a lot of young people will be embarking on the next stage of their journey through the education system. Depending on their exam results, either GCSEs or A Levels, they will now have a better idea of what the near future might hold. Will they be able to stay and take the A Levels they have chosen or will they be moving to another establishment? Can they get into the university of their choice or will they have to accept a place at a less favoured uni? Will there be feelings of excitement and optimism or feelings of disappointment and helplessness?
It can be a difficult time for young people and their families and it is really important that parents can offer the support and encouragement that their children need as they manage the next stage in their life, if this support is given in conjunction with the school’s representatives it can have very positive outcomes.
I have just seen an article published in an American paper suggesting that children who have experienced family breakdown may face a bias from teachers and other school personnel. According to the article the research suggests that this bias can impact on teaching staff’s expectations regarding a student’s academic, social and emotional functioning. This idea saddens me somewhat, as it is challenging enough for those young people who have to navigate all the changes and challenges that parental separation brings, without them having to manage any prejudice from their teachers. Yes, young people need support and understanding from those in loco parentis in the school environment, especially if they are going through some radical changes at home, but should family breakdown invite a change in the way that teachers perceive that young person in the context of their academic performance? Is the article suggesting that because the young person is experiencing major changes within the family system that they should be deemed less able to achieve the same results they were predicted prior to parental split?
I guess it is a difficult one to measure as undoubtedly parental separation is life changing for children and it could be argued that motivation and concentration relating to exams could be affected when kids go through this. But equally young people are amazingly resilient and can manage major changes in their lives particularly when they are given the right sort of support from those around them.
So I very much want to stick with my idea that good schools provide excellent pastoral care for their students and recognise when they need to refer a pupil for additional support, whatever that might be. I don’t want to think of teachers as writing a student off academically, emotionally or socially because their parents have chosen to end an unhappy, maybe unhealthy relationship. Living in a home where there is regular parental conflict and/or no warmth or love between parents is hardly the best environment to encourage academic prowess, maybe a young person’s chances of achieving their desired exam results are optimised in some cases when Dad and Mum separate.