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We could (and probably do) all tie ourselves in knots about the contradictions inherent in drinking. Doctors will tell you (often before you’ve even asked) that if alcohol were discovered today, it would be instantly banned worldwide as one of the most lethal substances ever invented. Something that tastes fantastic, makes you feel great and then, ultimately, does a wonderful job in killing you – what’s not to dislike?

In June, the government announced that so-called safe drinking limits should be lowered to almost nothing. Not surprising, when you’ve got the Royal College of Physicians pointing out that alcohol is classified as a class 1 cancer triggering substance. Open another bottle and let’s toast the news.

So where do schools stand on all this? Their policies, as you’d expect, make no bones about just how heinous a crime it is for pupils to turn up drunk, bring alcohol into school or attempt to flog or give it to other pupils. Stiff talks, suspension and exclusion. It’s clear they take their duties very seriously indeed.

And quite right, too, parents might think. Except that this isn’t quite the whole story.

Look at what’s actually allowed in many schools, under official supervision, and the picture is rather different.

One school’s alcohol policy stresses that pupils are ‘prohibited from bringing alcohol [into school] … being impaired by alcohol …or bringing the school into disrepute for any reason associated with alcohol.’

Firm stuff. In the same school’s sixth form, however, there’s a rather different approach. Alcohol may be served to over 18s (with staff supervision) at functions or school trips abroad and parents have to opt out, rather than opt in, if they object.

Another school covers alcohol in junior PSHE (the next topic on the list is ‘who am I?’ – an issue that many of us could have used some help with after an overly diligent evening at the pub). But make it through to the sixth form and pupils are positively encouraged to visit a specially created café, which, says the school, provides a welcome retreat for students (upper sixth only) to ‘relax with a drink and a snack…’ To make it that much easier, a timetable spells out the hours when alcohol and food are available (three hours on Saturday evenings).

There’s no question that schools are operating quite legally and, arguably, sensibly. Illicit drinking at school has long been a tradition, as indeed has licit (sixth form) drinking (hands up who went to the pub with their teachers?) We’re sure our readers have a few stories – now tinged with nostalgia rather than nausea – of their own. Making it open and official has to be an improvement, surely?

Perhaps. Except that still more government research has found, apparently, that the children of the middle classes are more likely to become alcoholics than those from less well to do backgrounds if they are offered the chance to try drinks in a social setting. What we all thought was a gentle dip into the pleasures of a glass of wine is, apparently, a headlong plunge into lifelong addiction.

Yes, it’s time for parents who thought they were doing the right thing to rend their clothes and apologise to their kids and society for getting another aspect of child-rearing wrong. Again.

And schools, particularly when acting in loco (bad) parentis, are presumably also to blame. So when young people in the UK are drinking less and a fifth of those aged between 16-24 say they avoid alcohol altogether, is it time to ask whether all schools should also become alcohol-free zones?


The perilous path of the pushy parent

Experienced Good Schools Guide editors can spot a pushy parent at 20 paces.

Gimlet eyes ready to take a sneaky peek inside the book bags of their children’s friends. Why? To check which reading level they’re on, of course. A constant (and very vocal) presence on the touchline at sports matches, bellowing bossy instructions every step of the way. A habit of quizzing every single teacher (and the head) for half an hour at parents’ evenings, even though they’ve only been allotted five minutes.

Yes, we all have ambitions for our children but some take it to extremes. There’s a massive difference between encouraging our offspring to fulfil their potential and pushing them too hard. Why do some parents go too far? Could it possibly be that they want their children to become academic and sporting superstars to make up for their own thwarted ambitions?

But being a pushy parent is a high-risk strategy. Some children rebel and others recoil with embarrassment at their parents’ behaviour. Some, wanting to please, put too much pressure on themselves and crash and burn. Indeed, a new study by the University of Reading says that parents who aim too high for their children at school may have a negative impact on their academic performance.

The researchers point out (very sensibly in our view) that parental aspirations only help children if they are realistic. Otherwise they actually risk damaging our sons’ and daughters’ academic achievements.

“Nations need a skilled workforce to compete in a globalised economy – top grades can open doors to higher education and boost job prospects,” explained Dr Kou Murayama, who led the study. “It’s therefore vital we understand how parents can best support their children to achieve their full potential at secondary school.”

During their research Dr Murayama and his colleagues analysed data from a longitudinal study of more than 3,500 secondary school pupils and their parents in Bavaria. The pupils took annual maths achievement tests over five school years while their parents filled in questionnaires about their aspirations and expectations at the end of every academic year.

“The results were striking,” said Dr Murayama. “Children of parents with higher hopes achieved statistically better test scores compared to those who aspired less. This is consistent with previous findings that high parental aspiration is good for children.

“However, when we examined the parents whose aspiration exceeded realistic expectation, children’s academic performance was damaged. This could be due to children experiencing anxiety, low confidence and frustration brought on by pressure from overbearing parents.”


The Good Schools Guide team would like to wish you a Happy Christmas and best wishes for 2016.

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