The Butterfly Effect of Education

A-level results were recently released letting thousands of nervous teens discover if they have performed well in what can be considered the most difficult academic challenge they’ll ever face. If so they can begin applying to whatever universities they prefer this October. If disappointed, a very possible reaction following this years exams being largely considered presented with confusing and unpredictable structure, they’ll have to resit… next June. Up until this year resits were allowed in January but new changes dictate that these second attempts can only be exercised a full year later, on top of A2 exams, making it even less likely for these students to excel. Although the exceptional are very happy with the way their adult lives are starting out, the average and the below-average are already hit with limits held above them since primary school. They were never meant to succeed.

Throughout their education students are labelled. They’re put on certain tables in primary school according to their ability and placed in sets in high school. They are forced to choose a college that they are actually ‘good enough’ to get into. There is truth behind some of this allocation but when a child realises they aren’t one of the smart kids they don’t have the same kind of motivation to succeed. What is worse is that they aren’t pushed. Everyone simply accepts it. The teachers, the parents, the child themselves. Natural talent isn’t everything but it sure seems that way in education.

[It’s] become the norm that certain kids will do well and certain kids wont no matter how many participation medals you give…

Thus the chain begins. A child who is naturally bright is encouraged by their own ease in understanding and the praise they receive, a combination that allows them to consistently do well in school with feats of mental testing such as their SATs. This allows them to be placed in a high set in secondary school where they will be given high-level work and be around students at a similar level to them which in turn means the teacher has time to support any students having difficulty and the class is disturbed less by disruptive behaviour. Everyone in the class is able to keep up and most remain in the set right up until GCSEs take place and, naturally, the student scores highly. This bags them a place in a good college or Sixth Form studying A-Levels which they continue with until they find themselves getting predictably good grades. What follows is admittance into a ‘University of…’ institution which in turn produces doctors, lawyers, dentists and many other highly trained occupants of complex vocations. The system is designed to react so.

For many students Results day is what points them down the path to their future. For others it holds them squarely in the past...

For many students Results day is what points them down the path to their future. For others it holds them squarely in the past…

A low-level students future is not so bright. They are met with frustration over their lack of understanding. Their teachers and parents try to help but can’t make much progress. The child begins to believe they are ‘stupid’. SATs go poorly and the child pretends they don’t care even though they tried their best. This attitude continues until it becomes a mindset. The teachers try to persevere with this but often give up, as all parties believe it is a lost cause. They remain in the lower sets throughout high school and achieve mediocre GCSE grades, meaning they have no choice but to take a BTEC course or an apprenticeship. This dooms them to be eligible for only the less recognised universities and that is only if they do not simply take a job involving labour in lieu of any further education.

This is not absolute but it isn’t often that a student diverges from their set path. It has become the norm in our education system that certain kids will do well and certain kids wont no matter how many participation medals you give to the lower students. Teachers need to identify strengths in individual students and nurture them; a child who believes they are good at something will take pride in it. Greater emphasis needs to be placed on hard work and no student should be have to sit an exam that they do not feel they have any chance at passing. Students who do well should be rewarded and students who do badly need to realise, either on their own or with the help outside influence. that trying is not negotiable.

That is how we can break the cycle of education.

Header image rights; Bindaas Madhavi
Featured image rights; Central Sussex College

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About the author

Meg Morgan

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Student writer providing a voice for the young people who dropped English after 3 months and so can't articulate their views in a way anyone will take seriously. I don't condone violence so my weapon of choice is wit, which always wins as long as the fights occur online.