Causes of school failure and solutions for children without physical or environmental predispositions
I will not try to elaborate here an umpteenth definition of school failure, because you will already find many depending on the authors and writers of the web, according to the French Wikipedia page: school failure can designate an educational delay, in all its forms.
A definition that is sufficiently global to be dangerously generalized, but after all, this notion has a meaning directly linked to the representations of each person and isn’t it, for those who have to deal with this problem, the cause that it is above all important to identify in order to find solutions. Here again, many authors list the problems without necessarily proposing any interesting in-depth analysis or easy-to-implement solutions.
So I’m going to remedy this and give you my analysis of the problem, which seems to me, generally speaking, in everything I’ve read, to carefully avoid putting my foot in it in order to ensure that I remain politically correct. Political correctness is a bubble of hypocrisy that prevents us from addressing the problems as they are and therefore prevent us from finding effective solutions.
But between some who define school failure as a “delay” in schooling and OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) stating that it relates to students “who leaves school without qualifications” in its Project description from “OVERCOMING SCHOOL FAILURE: POLICIES THAT WORK”, site and document accessed on November 23, 2021 at: https://www.oecd.org/education/school/45171670.pdf.
In the absence of an official definition and between the two representations of school failure above, the reality is that a majority of children correspond to it, at some point.
For many parents and teachers in the real world, school failure occurs when poor results accumulate, when the child does not catch up and eventually shows a lack of interest in school and school work, in all subjects. This is rare in elementary school, already more frequent in middle school and even more recurrent in high school.
Behind this term lies a very different problem for each parent and student.
It is therefore with a desire for objectivity and realism that I will address the issue of academic failure in order to propose solutions to be implemented for the general public who are interested in this issue and who are grappling with academic failure as it is experienced.
A worrying situation that is not improving
I’ll take the example of France but all countries have approximately the same statistics, so even if numbers are not the same, the problem that emerge is the same. In 2011, according to a government study: “As an order of magnitude, among the 2,700,000 young people aged 15–24 who are no longer in school, i.e. 35% of this age group, 685,000 have no diploma, i.e. 25% on average for metropolitan France. But as we can see with unemployment statistics, this figure is only a value of what is statistically taken into account and does not necessarily reflect the reality on the ground.
Which students are affected by school failure?
According to official reports and the consensual analysis of the situation by many authors and journalists, the victims of school failure are mainly and statistically from disadvantaged populations.
But how are these statistics constructed? According to which selection criteria? With what data and what type of sample? Despite extensive research, I have not been able to find anything about this. It is therefore difficult to make an in-depth analysis.
I am sure that there are many students who fall through the cracks of statistics in privileged environments. Indeed, costly means can be put in place to remedy failure, postpone it over time or ensure that the student will eventually graduate. There are many ways to help parents who are both rich and helpless, including tutoring, academic and student coaching, private schools and boarding schools. And after a High School diploma, if the government considers it a diploma that gets people employment (and it’s not the case with the French equivalent “Bac”), then the difficulties encountered by students are no longer considered academic failure.
And then there can be varied backgrounds with students who will be labeled as failing only for a few years of their schooling, painstakingly finishing up with a degree. This may suggest that the government’s position of looking at academic failure in terms of whether or not they graduate is fairly consistent.
But from there, a student who fails his High School Graduation because in his last year he had personal problems, for example, would be counted in the statistics and would be considered a school failure? This would be inane. In France, this diploma is sanctioned by an end-of-the-year exam, so the student can have all the knowledge needed but could suffer from stress for example on the day of the exam and fail.
We can quickly make a link here with the question of the evaluation of knowledge widely criticized for its lack of unity and homogeneity, this has been proven by scientific research. I leave it to you to look into this on your own, as it would not add anything significant to this reflection.
Without even going too far into detail, we can put together a few key figures to allow us a more accurate assessment of the situation, going beyond the simple statistics for France provided for a specific problem:
19.8% of students not in school, neither employed nor trained among 15/24-year-olds (2016) (OECD).
13% of students leaving school without diplomas (2015) (DEPP—Insee)
24.7% of non-graduates among 15-24-year-olds not attending school (2013) (Insee)
37% of students who do not continue in the field in which they were enrolled at the end of their Bachelor’s degree. (Source Cnesco “Les indicateurs du décrochage scolaire” accessed on 11/25/2021 at: http://www.cnesco.fr/fr/decrochage-scolaire/indicateurs/ and source : Crédoc, « Aider les jeunes à mieux identifier leurs goûts et motivations personnelles : un levier pour améliorer l’orientation », Cnesco, 2018
Of course, with regard to the 37% failure rate in Bachelor’s degrees, we are dealing here with a statistic that is not considered in the context of the study to be academic failure, but rather an orientation error.
Depending on how we define academic failure and admitting the inevitably limiting aspect of taking into account students according to the criteria of academic failure statistics and the fact that obtaining a diploma is indeed a criterion for identifying academic failure and that the Bachelor’s degree is not a final diploma of an academic pathway that rarely allows one to exercise a profession, given the competition on the labor market, then we would be in the presence of a percentage range of failing school students that would be in the order of 20/25% to over 37%.
We are probably facing a problem that affects between 1 in 4 to 1 in 3 students!
A deafening reality for which most actors are still looking for solutions.
In order to reflect on education and this problem of school failure, it is essential to take into account student pathways to identify additional reasons and add them to the long list of solutions to be found.
The question of where the problem lies is central, but the national education system has a lot of trouble looking at its own navel and when it does, the changes attempted at the highest level are rarely reflected at the bottom of the ladder at the level of teachers or school directors, we only have to take the example of gifted students support in primary, middle and high schools, which is a disaster without a name despite the beauty of the texts on the national education website and the countless resources available to teachers. This is a subject that I will deal with next time, but it is important to be lucid about the speeches, the reforms, the will of the executive and the real changes that can be seen concretely at the level of teachers and school principals.
Failure in School and Failure in Life
There are many articles on the web dealing with the causes of academic failure that are not worth quoting here and from which few lessons are learned. That said, one element frequently emerges: multiple authors try to make a clear difference between school failure and life failure, indicating that there is no connection.
Obviously, this would be a frightening parallel.
It is not a question of sensationalism, we are sufficiently stimulated at this level by the media, but it depends on how one considers the notion of “succeeding in life” and whether it is linked or not to the individual’s feeling of having a (fulfilling) job, each person will replace the word in brackets with the one that suits him or her and corresponds to his or her representation of success. We all know how much time a job takes up in our daily lives and how it can affect our personal lives.
If we take the question from the angle of the learning system set up and developed by the national education system, which should therefore be the case if we seek to understand the limits of the system and the origin of the real problems, then, let us not be fooled, school failure is identified and measured by grades, grades influence the school path, career orientation, and then, if success in life is measured by the type of training followed and the profession to which the individual has been able to gain access, the two are invariably linked.
Without good grades, the educational pathway is influenced or blocked, which does not give access to high-level training and the individual therefore ends up doing jobs that he certainly did not choose and that are not very qualified, which would help explain the statistics presented.
Within the learning and grading system set up by the national education system to generate student success, failure at school and failure in life are directly linked. Conceptually and philosophically, on the other hand, these two notions are “a priori” decorrelated, even if it were necessary to work on a more in-depth definition of them, free of any representational bias, at least.
Causes and solutions to school failure
I distinguish two main groups of causes:
1. Exogenous causes
2. Endogenous causes
I have made this distinction in order to define what is internal or external to the individual, what can be changed and what cannot be changed, and I have simply grouped them in this way.
I can’t propose a solution for all cases, if your case is not specified, it doesn’t mean that there is no solution. As far as possible solutions are concerned, they depend directly on the group to which they belong. Solutions that are quick and easy to implement exist for endogenous causes, which is not the case for exogenous causes that require a global and cumulative support and that may never be totally solved. In other words, there are no solutions to certain exogenous causes.
We have the first group of exogenous causes such as learning difficulties or difficulties in adapting to all types of learning (Gifted, Dyslexia, etc.), illnesses, physical deficits (sight, hearing), intellectual deficits, socio-cultural level, type of education of the family, the school system in place, etc. They must be taken into account for the evaluation and, of course, for the planning of solutions and care. The accumulation of these factors will only make the interest of an accompaniment in the search for solutions more complicated and even illusory. There are, of course, solutions to exogenous causes, but these cannot be generalized and must be defined on a case-by-case basis, so I prefer not to attempt generalized solutions.
For all the students who do not present the above problems, these are endogenous causes that can be resolved much more quickly and easily.
I cannot propose a solution for all cases, if your case is not specified, it does not mean that there is no solution, you can contact me even if you do not manage to implement the proposed solutions so that I can help you.
Here is a non-exhaustive list of the main direct or consequential endogenous causes of school failure and their solutions, of course, without knowledge of the specific situation, it is not possible to list all possible solutions:
- Difficult adolescence
Very often, there is an antecedent that does not help, ordeals, unspoken words, reproaches (possibly unacknowledged), a difficulty in accepting or understanding certain behaviors of the parents, whatever the communication problems, if the situation becomes unbearable, trying a real discussion and making a contract together can help; otherwise family therapy can be a solution.
- Episodic absenteeism
This can be the effect of many different things, from an addiction to video games that makes the student play all night and skip school the next morning, to learning abilities that make the student think that it is not necessary to go to class, there can be an enormous range of reasons, depending on the stage of the student’s education (high school, preparatory class, university). It is necessary to go deeper to define if this is the real cause of academic failure, that said, it is commonly accepted by pedagogues that 50% of the learning work is done during active listening to the course. Remedying this through dialogue and a contract of trust between parent and child, without introducing a reward system, is often the most judicious approach.
- Repeating a year is not well accepted
Repeating a year can be the source of many emotions, it is increasingly rare, but despite this, it is sometimes carried out without the student being truly aware of the reasons and without any support to help him/her change the behaviors that caused what is experienced as a punishment, sometimes a regression. Offering the student a few sessions of discussion with a specialist, coach or psychologist in order to take stock of his or her emotions, the situation and their cause, can help promote acceptance and put the student in a good state of mind.
Bereavement always has an impact on school results. A psychological follow-up to help the student overcome this ordeal seems to me to be the first intelligent solution to consider.
Realization of the gap between what is taught and the applications in daily life/lack of interest in what is called general knowledge. A general knowledge that is not updated.
It is rare that parents take the time to do what most teachers don’t do, explain the importance of learning this or that. Why do we have to learn in 2021, all these dates of the 14–18 war? Where is the sense? This also has a link with the question of general culture, its use and interest, and the explanation provided. Helping the student to find meaning in what he has to do every day at school in all subjects should be done as early as possible, it would create a structure to the elaboration of meaning to generate investment. Also, help them to question themselves to make sense of it so that they become autonomous and can create a motivational lever.
- Peer abuse/victim of bullying
The frantic race towards more and more violent and shocking images, which seems to be the only way to capture and keep the viewer’s attention through the screens, poses many problems, as it appears earlier and earlier in the life of children. It is generally the result of parents who are not very available, vigilant or aware, who want to please, find comfort solutions or even through the intermediary of older brothers and sisters who watch certain programs that are not for their age. This combined with the fact that many teachers and supervisors spend more time chatting than accompanying and educating, and you end up with violence according to age groups that has multiplied in recent years with more and more silly and dangerous games in schoolyards. A psychological follow-up, a change of school and an essential work on self-assertion before this change of school seem to me to be the first measures to put in place.
- Lack of education, training and implementation of critical thinking within the classroom and the family.
Of course, this cannot be the only cause of school failure, but I felt it was important to mention it, because it conditions the establishment of the premises of proper thinking and questioning. Learning to think about oneself, to criticize one’s actions, one’s thoughts, one’s values, everything that defines who one is, or, which one wants to become and why. Self-criticism is a tremendous lever for improvement. Reflect and identify yourself, the origin of a bad grade, a failure, a lack of work, a lack of motivation. Criticize what we learn, not to give ourselves an excuse to do nothing, but to go deeper, as in history where many things are not updated in the books. Many parents do not take the time to explain to them certain concepts and values of the relationship to the other and to society, their origin and their interest, the criticisms and the limits of these values, but also the chain consequences of some of their behaviors or lack of attention. This requires a certain level of education on the part of the parents, of course, and a lot of time, as it is necessary to take breaks during the discussions, which are sometimes long, to discuss with the child rather than with the other adults in the house. This has, I think, become more and more essential given the evolution of our environment. And when the adult feels a little disarmed on certain concepts, he can go and get information and show the child that the parent also continues throughout his life to learn and that it is essential.
- Lack of learning to be autonomous.
All parents should make their child independent as soon as possible. And it is never too late. Autonomy does not mean disinterest or disaffection. Brushing their teeth, tying their shoes, doing their homework in the first grade, or writing their CV and cover letter for them in their last year of high school is not doing them any favors. Autonomy in work allows you to project yourself and understand the long-term consequences, find solutions, set a goal and stick to it. Autonomy needs to be put in place immediately, even outside of a situation of academic failure, with a small moral contract, without micromanaging or constantly checking; otherwise the meaning collapses.
- Lack of objective, of projection into the future
Work for work’s sake is no longer enough, the student does not know why he works and what meaning it has for him. Orientation, this life objective that must be defined to benefit from the only healthy motivation to work and learn, must be chosen. To give meaning to one’s actions, orientation coaching with a qualified professional is today the only relevant solution.
- An orientation or a path imposed by the parents
When you define your child’s life path, it makes sense to you, it makes sense to him/her, but it can only hold in the short term. The individual must find what makes sense for him. This is exactly why you will find so many personal development books on these issues. No one can find what makes sense to you. The concept of “leaving as many doors open as possible” is something I criticize in my books, because it does more harm than good. When faced with your child’s lack of ideas or thinking, you should not help him by thinking for him, it would be doing the opposite of what is good for him. You must give him the desire and the means to think for himself in order to make informed choices and therefore offer him a method that will help him identify and question his desires in order to make an intelligent choice. Of course, I am talking about orientation coaching…
- Reward system for results put in place by parents
Motivation is artificially supported by parents through a reward system based on results, whether these are distributed continuously or by trimester, or even at the end of the year. This only validates and reinforces the student’s feeling and ideas that he is not working for himself, but for the parents or to get the promised rewards. A palliative with perverse effects that helps no one. The solution is of course to stop this type of motivation by explaining the mistake made and by making the student accountable. Expect a momentary drop in results or attempts at blackmail, including emotional blackmail. After all, why work for yourself when you can work for gifts?
- Lack of deep motivation
This is, of course, linked to the previous point and all those concerning motivation, the visible effects of which can take different forms and be cumulative. The way the school system works, creating competition between students through grades, always ends up being conceptualized by the student and then it no longer motivates. This lure created to make students accept the feeding of their brains is no longer an illusion in the face of the flaws, inconsistencies and injustices of this grading system, the loss of faith and confidence in the system no longer allowing students to invest themselves. Who has never been out of his mind with incomprehension in front of a grade? Research has proven the high degree of subjectivity in teachers’ grades. I’ll let you type in your favorite search engine “research subjectivity rating grades teachers” when you have ten hours to spare to look into the matter, which will surely be the subject of an article one day. So, how do you recreate a healthy motivation? As previously explained, the fact of defining a precise objective and finally working for oneself in complete autonomy is sufficient in the majority of the simplest cases. (By the simplest, I mean those that don’t accumulate too many elements).
- Relational difficulties or social overinvestment
The emotional sphere takes precedence over everything else and upsets the hierarchy of priorities.
Social relationship issues and heart problems monopolize the student’s time and attention to the point that he is no longer able to think about anything else. This can be amplified by the abuse of social networking or texting and can be temporary or more permanent. A rehab treatment based on the suppression of the means of communication by a moral contract can be sufficient in many cases following a calm and objective discussion. Otherwise, a psychological follow-up can be beneficial. In any case, the objective will be to work on the realization and management of priorities within a balanced student life. Coaching can sometimes be sufficient, its effectiveness can be measured in fewer than 2 sessions.
- Lack of encouragement from teachers and parents (Pygmalion effect)
This cause alone cannot explain academic failure, but it is important to emphasize that it can contribute to it, because it is rarely known by parents and implemented automatically in the classroom. The Pygmalion effect refers to the effects of expectations projected and made explicit to the individual on the student’s performance. In other words, the more the parent and teacher encourage the student by showing that they are sure he will succeed, the more success is increased. The opposite is also true, repeating to a child every day that he sucks and that he won’t succeed can devalue him, demotivate him and encourage him to try to save the image that we have of him by his results. This phenomenon is associated with the extra motivation and performance that can be seen when a student has an affinity with one of his teachers who particularly inspire him. Encourage your children and let them know that you know they can and will succeed!
- Lack of parental attention or disinterest (little interest in what the child or teen is thinking, experiencing or doing)
Some parents think they are giving their child time and attention, but in reality this is very limited. Extensive work schedules that take precedence over personal time, combined with the management of the household, explain this phenomenon in part, but they simply do not have the time for it. It is not the quantity that counts, but quality, and the child feels it. Sometimes the parent has little interest in the homework, the work done in class, the child’s social life and the child’s academic performance. This can also be associated with principled praise, insincere for results that only deserve encouragement to do better. All this is conceptualized by the child, over the years, he has the diffuse feeling of being neglected. If he doesn’t work for himself and he doesn’t work for his parents, then what is he working for? Of course, this cause alone cannot explain a school failure. The solution is to start taking a sincere interest.
- Lack of accountability and micromanagement of homework by parents
Homework micromanagement means constantly being behind the child, pushing him, checking every night what he has to do and what he has done, including the quality of his production and monitoring the progress of the work he has to hand in. In short, not allowing him any possibility of initiative and reducing his autonomy to nothing on the issue of school work. This ends up taking up all the space in the family relationship, generating endless conflicts. Putting autonomy and responsibility back into the process of managing the student’s school work and trusting him is imperative. Unfortunately, this also involves the inevitable experience of failure. Remember, individuals learn as much from their failures as from their successes. Failures are indispensable.
Of course, endogenous causes are also cumulative, including exogenous causes, some of which are linked, even redundant.
I encourage you to go deeper into all these points on your own if you feel the need, because it would be too long for this article to detail all these elements, since books have probably been written on each of these issues.
There are many other parameters such as the daily time spent in front of the television since the first grade, the student’s friends, his various activities, the training, the professionalism or the personality of the teacher(s), the learning methods, the lack of differentiation and I forget many.
It is important to remember that a situation of academic failure, even if it is momentary and could be resolved without support, must be evaluated as a whole in order to propose solutions that make sense.
What solutions to academic failure can coaching bring?
This is only an introduction to the services I can offer to young students who are failing at school. Please consult the site menu for more information about my training, my profile and my skills.
School failure due to endogenous causes is by no means a fatality and sometimes all it takes is a click, an awareness, a little projection to get out of it.
Coaching, which is nothing more than a problem-solving method involving introspection, reflection, questioning and the search for solutions, can help your child change, define a goal and reach it. While parents try to be their child’s first “coach”, they don’t always have, despite their love and good will, the distance, the listening skills and a complete understanding of the situation, as well as the ability to make their child express himself, who may very well hold back a lot of information in order not to create a fuss. School failure means and reflects something different for each individual and as we have seen, the causes are multiple, sometimes delicate to discern, in children or adolescents who often refuse to dialogue.
Recourse to outside help can prove invaluable in order to better understand the real nature of the difficulties (lack of interest, stress, poor time management, risky behavior, friendships…). A very personalized approach is needed, adapted to each case, and the psychological approach is not always the most relevant or the most accepted. Moreover, it does not work on the same level as coaching, which focuses on concrete elements by encouraging questioning and the search for and implementation of solutions.
The coach is not there to teach young people to “do their homework”. The coach’s objective is to understand the obstacles, to make the young person aware of their existence and of their impact on his life and on his academic behavior, and then to accompany him so that he has a real appreciation of the situation, of his capacities and of the stakes, so that his behavior evolves and that he approaches his studies again in a positive perspective.
Going to see a “shrink” is something that often provokes reluctance in young people, which is less the case with coaches. Especially when they are aware that they are in a space of work and dialogue to find concrete solutions to their problem and not to evoke the potential causes of these problems indefinitely.