15 Nov 2022

The Scourge of the School Bore

Pity the child-free guest who is unlucky enough to be seated next to the out-and-out school bore. They can look forward to an evening of relentless monologues on the subject closest to the doting parent’s heart: school admissions policies, waiting lists, league tables, SATs, A Levels vs Baccalaureates, university admissions, and so on…ad infinitum.

There’s no bore like a school bore. As soon as the child is reasonably sentient (and sometimes long before) the obsession kicks in. Agonising examinations of the comparative merits of various schools, endless note-swapping with fellow bores, sudden ‘conversions’ to eccentric religions (well worth it if the child can gain admission to superior faith schools) – the list goes on. And like all bores, the school bore is blissfully unaware of the magnitude of the preoccupation. Despite all signs to the contrary, school bores assume that everyone else shares their fixation on all things educational. They blithely expect that their fellow human beings are equally riveted by academic travails and triumphs and can think of no finer conversational subject than little Charlie’s SATS scores, Rebecca’s private tuition or Jemima’s GCSE grades.  

School bores should remember that many people do not have children at all, and others have happily put the whole business of education behind them. Dwelling on the subject at social gatherings is therefore of absolutely no interest or relevance to them and should be avoided because it breaks one of the fundamental rules of social intercourse – find a subject that engages everyone present. 

They should also be aware that many parents of school-age children do not share their passion; certainly, they want their kids to do well, but they have a relaxed attitude to schools, and a blithe confidence that their children will make their own way successfully. Rather than pushing their children academically, they have concentrated on nurturing their relationship with their kids, encouraging interests outside the school, and building their sense of self-confidence and self-motivation, secure in the knowledge that these are the traits that will stand their children in good stead as they make the transition to adulthood. Parents like this will find the bore’s endless musings on admissions, exams, results, grades and streams troublingly pushy, single-minded and competitive.

Of course, it must be noted that the school bore evolves from the finest, and most laudable, of motives. Their abiding passion is to obtain the best possible education for their children. This is undoubtedly a praiseworthy aspiration, but somewhere along the line, the parental ambitions are blown out of all sense of proportion.

Re-mortgaging your house to fund the ‘best’ private education for your child or moving house to access a better school certainly shows an extraordinary commitment. But before you take such a drastic step, it might be a good idea to pause and examine your own motivations. Are you seeing your child as an extension of yourself and mapping out their future stellar academic career because you seek an antidote to your own sense of academic mediocrity and under-achievement? Are you looking at the might-have-beens and could-have-done-betters in your own life and redressing your own personal history? 

You may well argue that you are seeking to equip your child with essential survival tools in a very challenging world, but if your drive, ambition and angst become excessive, you might simply be passing on your neurosis to your child, instilling a lifetime of performance anxiety, or creating a stubborn refusal to cooperate. Faced with relentless parental ambitions, it is scarcely surprising that many children simply dig their heels in and choose to opt out.

If you sense a nascent preoccupation with all things educational, take a long, hard look at yourself. While it might be hard to purge your obsession, you can make a start by keeping it to yourself. Make a point of not hanging around the playground quizzing other parents about their child’s grades, curriculum gripes or extra-curricular efforts. On the days when GCSE and A level results are announced, stay shtum – resist the temptation of buttonholing other parents and asking about their children’s grades and, no matter how proud and even vindicated you may feel, ensure that you do not boast about your own child’s achievements. Practice answering polite social enquiries about your child’s progress succinctly – “he/she seems to be doing fine, thank you” – rather than launching into a detailed monologue about your educational trials and tribulations.

If you cannot control your obsession, your best policy is to befriend some fellow educational bores. There are plenty of them around, and you can while away many a happy hour animatedly discussing the comparative merits of your children’s schools. Just don’t inflict it on the rest of us…

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