The nonsense of average

    10 April

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    “Do you realise that over 99 per cent of Belgians have more than the average number of legs? When you stop to think about it, the explanation of this apparent absurdity is perfectly straightforward. For while it is true that the overwhelming majority of Belgians have two legs, and none has three, an unfortunate few have lost one or both, bringing the average number possessed by the general population fractionally down.” (Tom Utley – Journalist) In education the dominant comparator we must use according to the government is ‘average’. We have to compare our performance at GCSE or A Level with the average which in most cases is a similar school. Except the government cannot define a similar school. The underlying measuring system is based around – “Be the same, only better!” The relentless focus on one-dimensional rankings compels schools to behave in a uniform manner to avoid risk and to focus upon the production of grades. The principle pervades everything, down to the individual student – every student should do what the average students does, be the same as everyone else only better. We perpetuate an education system built for a different era. The system is broken, and yet, even though we know it is we continue to perpetuate the myth. I lead a selective school, albeit only 70% of our intake is selected, but we compete with schools with 100% selection. Who is to deem a child above or below average at the tender age of 11 when they embark on to the next stage of their educational journey? When handed textbooks that are ‘age appropriate’, are we telling our students that they need only know a certain amount of information at this stage in their lives? Or do we feed their curiosity and encourage them to become individuals Children progress at different rates and as such, when it comes to the decision of choosing a school, parents who are being told to judge schools on averages, will naturally want to select the ‘above average school.’ This premise is false, students are individuals they are not an average, nor can they be sorted through rankings. How do you separate a talented student from an untalented student? I was taught to always do my best. When I do I am always pleased, encouraged and filled with energy. Then I might be told, ‘Robert you are average’ and I am deflated. I value my ability and my student’s ability to be themselves as individuals and not simply conform to the system. The bright future begins where the average ends. Is now the time for the government to end the nonsense of averages?