‘Not middle ability’

My eldest wasn’t pleased with his most recent school report. His effort grades had slipped a bit from As and Bs to Bs and Cs, and his performance had dropped slightly in a couple of areas. But it had also gone up in many areas too. It wasn’t a bad report in any way and I wasn’t cross or unhappy with it.

He felt it was a bit unjust, but I suspected the effort grades were accurate (they would certainly reflect the effort he puts in at home, in fact they might be a bit generous for the effort he puts in at home!). The school is always clear that a C is the expected effort grade – to get an A or a B is a big thing, it shouldn’t be expected. Plus he’d had the change of teachers for the new school year and maybe the new teachers marked a bit harder than last year’s teachers.

I suspect there’s an element of ‘sailing under the radar’ as kids like my son often do, especially in big schools. He’s not brilliantly clever, he doesn’t excel in anything, but he’s pretty bright. And he’s well behaved. In short, he’s exactly the sort of kid that doesn’t get noticed. And when it comes to writing a report at October half-term, it’s just possible the teachers might not entirely know who they’re writing about when they’re teaching 200-odd kids.

At parents’ evening, his teacher told him it was a good report. Then there was a BUT. It was a good report, but it’s not quite the report she was expecting from him. It’s not a reflection of the boy she sees.

‘Well the problem is, when you’re middle ability… ‘

And she cut him off before he could get any further. She told him straight. He’s NOT middle ability.

He’s a bright boy. He’s articulate. He likes to ask and answer questions in class. He’s interested in current affairs and the world around him. He has a really good general knowledge.

But he has cast himself into a role. He’s found his place and he’s decided he’s the ‘middle ability kid’. He’s quite happy to coast along in the belief he’s middle ability. And it will become a self-fulfilling prophecy. So he will achieve what the middle ability kid achieves – C grades, maybe scrape some Bs if he’s lucky and works hard. Because he’s not clever. He’s just middle ability.

His problem is, he’s spent too many years living in the shadow of his incredibly intelligent brother and his determined and high achieving sister. Having siblings like that has distorted his view of what intelligence really is. He now doesn’t realise that he’s intelligent too. The truth is, his sister is probably no cleverer than him. The only thing that sets them apart is her incredible determination and work ethic.

My son is intelligent. He should be getting As and Bs at GCSEs. Any less won’t be a true reflection of his abilities. He’s in year 9 now and options are just around the corner. It’s time to start working harder and believing in himself, and proving to himself and to all of us that he is not a middle ability kid.

Author: Sarah Mummy

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23 Comments

  1. It’s hard when they have older siblings they feel they have to live up to! No matter how hard we try to convince them otherwise that that is not the case! My oldest is terribly academic, but not sport, my second not academic but a gifted netballer. But she insists that she has to do just as well with the books…..They just have to find their niche….

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    • They certainly do! This is a difficult situation for me because he’s the eldest – he’s living in the shadow of a brother and sister who are younger than him!

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  2. I remember doing this at school and I started benchmarking myself with similar kids when I shouldn’t have. It took a teacher to tell me at school what I was doing. I’m glad you’ve noticed what he’s doing as that’ll hopefully be a massive motivation for him not to Coast it.

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    • It’s a good job your teacher noticed! I’m glad my son’s teacher and I are both on the same page with this as it’s time for him to turn it round!

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  3. I did this at school too. Put myself in as middle ability when I was anything but. I was capable of more and while I did well in my GCSEs with 6 Bs and 4 Cs I put in barely any effort. My mum was pleasantly surprised with the results I got due to lack of effort but with the benefit of hindsight I do wish I had applied myself more and it has taken me until now to realise that I am capable of more than what I have achieved.

    I hope your son begins to believe what you and his teachers tell him. I think belief in yourself is probably more important than the ability itself. x

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    • Thanks very much! My daughter has so much belief in herself that’s she raising herself above what she is naturally capable. It sounds like you did well with no effort and it just proves you could have done even better with a bit of effort! x

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  4. I think the mind has such a strong role to play in achievement, probably the greatest. I didn’t do my near at GCSEs and like your son, I had told myself that I was just average and I ended up with average grades. I failed English Lit or goodness sake! But I also did very little work and my parents didn’t seem to notice. I understand that living with very clever siblings is difficult, my middle daughter is in this position and yes they do craft a role out for themselves which is a shame. I will make sure this doesn’t happen to her, not in a negative way anyway. Eldest has been predicted all As and A*s that’s a difficult act to follow.

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    • It’s weird for us because he’s the eldest, so he shouldn’t really be living in anyone’s shadow. It’s surprising how many other people do this or have done it.
      You’re right about the importance of the mind – my daughter’s attitude is the complete opposite to my son’s and she will go far if she keeps that attitude!
      Very well to your daughter on her predictions!

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  5. I have seen this time and time again as a teacher. It is hard to make them realise that if they work a little harder they can do so well. Lots of children coast. I don’t have the answers on how to get him to change though. It must be hard with a talented sibling too. Hopefully he will start seeing that he is more than a middle of the road child soon x

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    • Thanks very much, really interesting to hear a teacher’s perspective. I really hope he will see it, but he’s quite resistant at the moment. He’s one of these who looks down on people who work hard and calls them ‘boffins’ and ‘geeks’ and thinks it isn’t cool to be like them 🙁

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  6. Oh I love your education ones! I had a similar conversation today at my school. I teach the bottom set year 7. And quite frankly? They have just given up. They know they are bottom set. So they choose to not try and have just resided themselves to this. And it makes me fume. I want to push my kids and make them achieve what they can. It is easy to be middle ability and I was at school. But hopefully your boy can push through this as he clearly is a light brighter than he gives himself credit for! x

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    • Thanks very much. I always like to hear your perspective as a teacher (and you will always read a fair few education posts from me!). It’s a shame that kids write themselves off at such a young age. All I want for my kids is that they achieve their own potential. And their potential happens to be pretty good! x

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  7. Really interesting post Sarah. I’m the eldest of two and I think it was always thought that I was the clever one – in fact, my sister is far more successful than me. I definitely had more confidence and drive though at a young age (some of it got lost somewhere!) and I think that’s what created a perception which wasn’t necessarily accurate. I think a lot of it about self-fulfilling prophecies too. You’ve got me thinking about my two now – although all this is in the future! Thanks for the post x

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    • Thanks very much. I think you’ve done pretty well yourself! And haven’t we all lost a bit of confidence as we’ve had kids? My husband was similar to my son at school and he’s actually pretty successful now, but it was a longer path to get there. x

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  8. This is really interesting for me to read. Looking ahead, I can see a similar thing happening with my boys. My oldest is bright, but he can be a bit lazy at times and likes to take the easy route. His younger brother is very bright and very motivated. It will be interesting to see how that dynamic develops.

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    • Growing up, I always thought the middle kids were the lower achievers, but it seems like a lot of them actually do well and it’s the eldest who tends towards laziness. I hope your boys both achieve their potential.

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  9. I have bright boys but one in infant school is already being told he is capable of getting into the hardest school around here for secondary, and is trying so hard to learn, learn, learn. Whilst one at secondary is just being normal and messing about and stuff, not quite making it into his older brother’s school. I am sure all your kids will do amazingly for their GCSEs but if you find out any strategies for making them all appreciate their abilities I would love to know. I hope that makes sense lol. x

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    • It does make sense! And I will let you know! As parents, I think we need to see the differences in all of our children and accept them for what they are, but I’m not happy to watch him accept less than he’s capable of. I haven’t quite found the answer yet!
      And very well done to your boys, they are doing brilliantly. It’s amazing that your little one’s teachers think that already, but they are probably right! I knew which school my younger son was destined for from 18 months and he proved me right!

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  10. I’m going through a similar situation with my 13YO son. It breaks my heart as I think most kids are incredibly capable and bright. Really interesting insights from Louise and Kiran.

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    • Thanks very much. It’s interesting that it’s happening with your 13yo son too. Maybe it’s just an age thing? I hope it’s just a phase and they come through it quickly!

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  11. He’ll be just fine. I’m sure with a lot of positive coaching he’ll see the potential he can reach. Does he have a goal or ambition, that seems to be what has kept my son focused. I think it’s hard for kids to understand that what happens with school can effect the direction of their life, I’ve always been honest with my son about how competitive the world is and to acheive his dreams will take some serious dedication. So far it seems to have worked zx

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    • That’s good to hear! I’ve done the same with my son, but the messages don’t seem to be getting through! Although we’re not rich, we have a comfortable life and I don’t think he thinks that will ever change. I don’t think he realises that when he leaves home he’ll be on his own and he won’t have a nice house to live in unless he works hard to provide it for himself – and that work needs to start with GCSEs! I’m keeping my fingers crossed he turns it around in the next year or so. Thanks. x

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