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Lucy Clark challenges the status quo

Lucy Clark is Senior Editor at the Guardian Australia following 31 years of experience in newspapers magazine. She is also a caring intelligent parent.  Her book Beautiful Failures is about her experience as one parent watching her daughter not fit into mainstream school, and used that experience to start asking questions for many other parents and children. 

"Every day of my daughter’s high school life was a struggle… she did flee class many times but mercifully she was determined to finish whatever her outcomes. Dropping out, she said, would make her feel even more like a loser.

She described her deeply personal journey. It had the strength of a story that had a much greater story for all of us. It was an elucidation of a feeling that there was something much bigger going wrong for kids in schools and something much going wrong on a societal level.

I wanted to get hold of these wriggly concepts of success and failure.

I ended up asking larger questions about education and how it informs a society we live in about the madness of this pressure, and where it comes from and what it is for.

What I learned changed me as a parent and changed me as a thinker.

The system judged my daughter to be a failure but in reality she had achieved something monumental. She did something that was very difficult for her every day for 13 years and so for us was a great success. It was actually an extraordinary feat of courage.

I became fixated by the idea that we have to redefine the way we think success in schools.

Is it success if you are getting straight As and you are crying yourself to sleep each night? Is it success if you have obtained the perfect ATAR but don't want to do anything with it because frankly the stress of school has put you off the idea of further education?

I wanted to systematically track down the source of pressure on kids. There is something deeply disturbing going on with our kids, suffering anxiety and depression. School stress is one of the greatest sources of anxiety. Children will find their pressure valves, they will control their calorie intake, they will vomit from anxiety, or they will pluck out their eyelashes. They will self medicate and risk take.

So many are suffering in this quest for success.  It is not only those children who fail suffer, the children who succeed are suffering too.

I also wanted to challenge all the platitudes and accepted wisdoms that came my way when my daughter was struggling.

An overarching desire to unpick what school is for and what education should be.

We have such a narrow view of success in school that so many kids fall outside that view, and they don't get the chance to find out what their strengths are because they are pre-occupied with what their faults and trying to fit in.

Competition, most parents naturally believe that competition is part of education while most academics said the opposite. It is an interesting gap in thinking.

The ranking of individuals, grading kids, putting them into ability groups has enjoyed a largely unquestioned role in education. There are educators looking at other ways to establish the ability of kids without reaching for the easy handle of letters and numbers that obviously cannot adequately describe a child.

We really need to talk about keeping our kids in the bubble of childhood for a little bit longer.

A system that demands uniformity and conformity. Many children felt like they were in the frame of a problem.

Teacher- children relationships are absolutely vital, and we are talking about compassion. Teachers are under pressure and sometimes it can take time to find that compassion. Good teaching, like good parenting, is about being responsive.

But the system makes it difficult for teachers to be supportive.

There has been a shift, the stakes have been raised and a lot of parents don't understand it or why it has happened.

Systemically the idea of getting ahead is perpetuated by NAPLAN which makes children sick with worry, puts pressure on teachers and is delivered with great deal of inconsistency between schools.

Education has become a race. We talk about education only in terms of outcomes. We all grab on to the easy handles of grades and rankings Engagement, creative thinking and original thinking, we talk about the outcome and not the process.

The pure joy of learning falls by the wayside."