How to prevent your child from falling behind

Little boy with hand up
All parents know the anxiety that accompanies a child’s progress through school but few realise just how significant they can be in helping, writes teacher Mike Walton. Here’s his step-by-step guide to supporting a struggling child.

Step one: define what you mean

If you believe your child is ‘falling behind’, the first thing to do is to check what you actually mean by the statement. It’s pretty obvious that not all children will learn and develop at the same rate and that each individual pupil – like each individual adult – will have their own strengths and weaknesses. So you have to be clear that the term ‘falling behind’ is about your child’s own progress, not measured by the progress of other children, but measured by what is agreed to be their potential rate of progress.

Step two: identify the problem

The second thing to do is to try to identify exactly where they are lagging behind. Is it across the whole curriculum? Or is it especially in one or two areas? Can you identify these? And if so, how fundamental are they in relation to the rest of their work? For example, if they are still having problems writing coherent sentences in well-organised paragraphs by the time they’re in year 6, this would be a fundamental weakness to be carrying forward into secondary school.

Step three: speak to the teacher

Arrange to see your child’s teacher, especially if the routine parents evening is not in the very near future. Spell out your anxieties clearly, concentrate on what you feel are the main issues, and see how the teacher responds.

Most schools these days use some form of individualised, personalised learning system, coupled with pupil-tracking systems, which will help the staff to respond to your worries from the basis of factual knowledge. So at the conclusion of the conversation you should know whether or not you were justified in being worried. You should be given clear information on the levels being achieved by your child, on what can be expected from them at this stage, and on what the school are doing to move them towards those targets.

Step four: the practical strategy

Ask your child’s teacher what you might be able to do with your child at home to help them to progress. One very simple measure is for you to make sure that all your child’s homework is done promptly, handed in punctually, and carried out conscientiously. Some schools have systems by which you can find out what homework your child has on any given night – on their website, or via a homework information hotline. The fact that you are showing this degree of interest will act as a strong motivator for your child. And the link between school and home will be reinforced – your child will no longer see them as two entirely separate sectors of their life.

Once you’ve spoken with the teacher, if they agree your child needs some extra help, you should discuss a joint strategy. Will there be some extra communications from them about homework set, class work covered, and issues arising? What response are they looking for from you? Be prepared to discuss what you feel you are able to contribute to the joint working of the strategy.