What is a good outcome for students leaving school?
A good outcome for a student involves achieving their very best possible set of results at GSCE or A level, right?
Well, I was that student.
Now, I’m a teacher. And I think we’re missing something more important.
I hope my own personal story can inspire teachers and educational leaders to think differently about this question and the purpose of school… Here we go…
Having struggled with shyness, I left school feeling unable to cope with the next steps and I certainly did not feel ready to be an adult. I gained straight A/A* grades for my A Levels, yet I didn’t apply for University entry. I hadn’t studied the subject I wanted to pursue at a higher level, largely due to anxiety and confidence issues. As someone who could barely speak up in class, and whose mental health had slowly deteriorated during my later teenage years, I felt unable to go out into the real world.
None of this was picked up by my school. I wasn’t queried about my absence of applications to University and unfortunately – as a very quiet student who was achieving high grades – I slipped through the net (and I know I’m not alone). I left school and stayed at home for the following year, not in education and not working, struggling with my mental health and feeling unable to see a way of succeeding in life as an extremely shy 18 year old.
Thankfully, things eventually turned around for me (a story for another day!), but would you say that this was a good outcome of my schooling? As far as my school was concerned, I was a great statistic in terms of my GCSE and A Level results, but shouldn’t school be about so much more than this?
So what would I like schools to consider as a good outcome?
Putting students’ wellbeing first
For me, I believe I would have been better off getting a few less A grades and having more time invested in me as a person, developing my confidence and supporting my mental health, so I could leave school in a position to take the next steps. I needed someone to notice my struggle and to look beyond my academic success to see the person underneath who needed support moving forwards.
A good outcome – in my eyes – is when a student is able to go on to do whatever they would like to pursue, whether that involves going to University, getting an apprenticeship, a job, etc. This inevitably requires a good set of exam results, but also calls for a certain level of confidence. For some students, academic support may be more important, but for other students, pastoral support could make all the difference in their long term prospects as an adult.
No doubt some students may need professional, outside help when it comes to shyness and social anxiety. However, I believe it’s wrong to say that schools should not be equally prioritising a student’s mental health. Especially as regards to shyness and social anxiety, confidence cannot be developed without safe and supported exposure to social situations, and school is surely the most prominent social situation in a young person’s life! School is the place where they most likely experience much of their anxiety, and is also the place where change can begin to take place with the right support.
Let’s end the obsession with perfect exam statistics, and begin to see students as individuals who have individual needs and require an individual approach to achieve a good outcome.