The Australian federal education minister, Brendan Nelson has embarked on an exercise in populist political power by demanding all schools in Australia issue reports ranking students against their class mates.
There is no doubt parents find it hard to understand reports based on multiple competencies. They come back and ask “Is my child doing well or not?” Just give me a sinlge score.

The problem is what does a single score mean? Our goal as educators is to provide the best possible education for every single student. We need to provide a program that challenges students to be the best they can. The methods we need to be able to do this are in direct contradiction to the views of society at large which wants to be able to rank every student in Australia from “best” to “worst”. This regardless of whether the “best” student excels in Physics and the second “best” is an artist!
The pressures for ranking come from the fundamental sense insecurity of our age. As parents, we understandibly want to ensure our children don’t face the same hurdles in life that we did. We want to make the world safe for them. We want to ensure that they get a good education leading to a secure job in which they will be able to live their lives without danger.
We want to be able to identify problems early so we can “fix” them. This leads to parent pushing their three and a half year old children into four-year-old kindergarten programs to “give them a head start in life.”
The problem with all this is that we just can’t determine the direction our children’s lives will take. For one thing, they might want to have a say in it themselves. Life is complicated and messy. Finding out who we each want to be and what we want to do with our few decades on this planet is not easy. But there are no shortcuts.
We need to let our children be children and give them the best opportunities we can without making them responsible to vicariously fix the mistakes we have made in our own lives. It’s not easy. It’s not simple. It’s not A – E. But that’s all we can do.