School reports can be very revealing, inspiring or demoralising. Many of us may have received one such report or are currently trying to help our children who have received one.
by Tim Middleton
There is the child who has not achieved positive results, who has found himself in trouble, who has not responded to any incentive or impetus, who has been written off, dismissed, considered at a very early age to fail to meet the expected standards. What happens to such folk?
One man’s report stated bluntly that “He will either go to prison or become a millionaire.” That man left school without any qualifications whatsoever yet he has become more than a millionaire through his Virgin companies world-wide — this was Sir Richard Branson, the well-known entrepreneur. Another man was advised in his school report that he was “Certainly on the road to failure… hopeless… rather a clown in class… wasting other pupils’ time.” That man was John Lennon, one of the legendary Beatles band. A young lady received a report that included: “Jilly has set herself an extremely low standard which she has failed to maintain”. This was the report for the lady who went on to become a hugely popular novelist, Jilly Cooper. Another school report read that “The boy is every inch a fool, but luckily for him he’s not very tall.” What happened to this young boy? He became a well-loved actor and comedian in the 1960s, Norman Wisdom, playing the fool to great effect in numerous films and television programmes.
Clearly the teachers of these pupils did not think much of them or hold out much hope for them, yet they all rose up to achieve great things and to make a mockery of the gloomy predictions their teachers made about them. Interestingly, they have fulfilled the biblical prophecy that “the foolish will shame the wise” which in more modern terminology might be translated as “the C streamers end up employing the A streamers.” They have shown again in a physical way that “the first shall be last and the last shall be first.”
That is also one of the messages of Christmas — a child born into the most unlikely scenario succeeds where no-one else has achieved before; a child whose start in life looked far from ideal with few present to recognise or witness the potential in the youngster; a child who was ignored and kicked out, whose claims were dismissed and ridiculed, but went on to change the world.
Walt Disney knew extraordinary success through his films and theme parks yet he was a man who was fired from his job at a local newspaper because he lacked imagination and had no original ideas. Abraham Lincoln lost eight presidential elections before finally being elected, more than anyone else. Many novels that have become classics were initially rejected by publishers, in some cases numerous publishers — they did not see what was hidden in the pages that would be of interest.
We might do well to pause and reflect on this; the weak will shame the strong, the lowly will shame the high-flyers, the tortoise will beat the hare, the quiet ones will silence the loud ones.
We need to remember that “the race is not to the swift or the battle to the strong”. Of course, we do not encourage pupils to aim low, nor should we reward those pupils who do badly. However, the best mark may not be the highest mark, the greatest performance may not be a victory, the wisest may not be the loudest. We would all do well to take up golf as golf is the one game where the winner is the one who scores the least, not the most. The least does not mean the last — the least shall be first and the first shall be least.
Every child must be given hope; every child must be given time and an opportunity to fulfil their potential, gifting and calling. So the message of Christmas is to some degree the message of the classroom. There is always hope for those who start poorly. Just as “the stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone”, so the child seemingly rejected at school can become a powerful force in the world. Every child needs a parent who recognises that, who releases them and who reaffirms that truth. Just as with Christ, where it was mere shepherds who saw what that baby could achieve (admittedly they had a bit of help), so it may be ordinary people who may see the massive potential in young children and believe in them. Fortunately, reports do not always come true!
Tim Middleton is the executive director of the Association of Trust Schools and author of the book on “failure” called Failing to Win.