How to support academic high flyers

There is a lot of advice out there about how to support children who are falling behind, or who need a push to achieve their academic potential. However, what about those students who are already working ahead, and whose needs are not met by the national curriculum? This can raise all kinds of fresh challenges that aren’t often talked about. If that’s something you or your child are experiencing then do keep all these things in mind and get in touch if we can help further:


1.Combating the level of stress high achievers are often placed under

High achieving students are often placed (and place themselves!) under huge amounts of pressure and that’s often not healthy or sustainable. I loved school but it got to a point during GCSE’s and A-levels where I thought anything other than an A* (or a Grade 9 in new money) was a disaster. This is absolutely not the case and something that educational professionals need to be careful to change their language around. Small changes like asking students what they are learning about, or if they’re enjoying their studies, rather than just asking what grades they’re getting, makes a massive difference. There’s a worrying trend that suggests to students their grades are all that matter. For high achievers, the difference between Grade 8 and 9 can feel like changing, but there are many different routes to getting where you want to go. It’s so important to remember (and regularly talk about!) the bigger picture to get things into a sense of perspective.


2. Beating boredom in the class when they’re working ahead

Regardless of the age of the student, the boredom factor can be a real problem if they are working ahead of their peers. This needs to be a cross- collaborative solution between parents, teachers and tutors. Parents are often best placed to know exactly where their child is working and it’s not unreasonable to ask if there’s anything the school can do to stretch and challenge them. Sometimes, this can be tricky in a classroom setting and that should always be an honest conversation. If you know someone who’s working ahead of the curve then having the right tutor can be a great way to beat boredom, stimulate their love of learning and keep them pushing their potential forward.


3. Preventing potential poor behaviour as a result of this boredom

Some children have a tendency to act out when they’re bored because… well, they’ve finished the work and don’t have much else to do. That’s totally understandable but is not helpful to their learning, or that of other students. The easiest way to get ahead of this is to aim to ensure that that boredom factor never kicks in. Academic high flyers need stimulation as much as anyone else does, possibly even more. There’s an increasing acknowledgement that work should be differentiated for students that struggle and that’s true at the top end as well. Again, this is something for all educational professionals to collaborate on: teachers, families and tutors.


4. Ensuring students are stretched and challenged further

This may take many different forms depending on their child. Some children are great across the curriculum and need to be shown work at a higher level across the board, to keep them engaged and challenged with their work. More commonly, students excel in some areas and find others trickier to master. That means that they need exposure to higher level work, perhaps in science, but need to review their English skills to keep them functioning at that high level. Many teachers do their best to support this development in the classroom, but more work can always be done outside as well. This could be as simple as finding time to take students to museums, concerts or talks that may fire their imagination. Or, it could be finding a tutor who’s a specialist in the right area and can prepare them for the next stage in their academic journey.


5. Comparing with the top/ outside of a small class environment so they still feel challenged

This final step is something that needs to be done carefully, as you don’t want to simply step up the pressure I referred to in step one. However, showing students where they could be headed and providing a healthy dose of competition can really help with some students. I’ve worked with some students who are top of their class and, therefore, become demotivated to push themselves further. If the class overall isn’t performing at the best though, that can give a slightly skewed sense of success. Providing new role models, context for accomplishments and a broader perspective on academic targets is really motivating for some students. Showing them that they may be able to achieve more in the long term and offering a clear goal that they can work towards can make a big difference to high achievers.