Why I'm not letting my kids read their report cards

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images 

If there's one thing I want my children to gain from their early years of school, it's a love of learning – a natural curiosity and desire to dig deeper and ask questions. So when the end-of-year report cards for each of my three children flooded into my inbox recently, I browsed them with passing interest, but that was about it.

I noticed my youngest seems to be excelling in maths and PE, while her older brother is better in English and music.

My eldest, who is now halfway through high school, has always leaned towards the creative arts.

But I have no plans to show my younger two children their reports, nor to discuss where they went wrong and how they can improve. My eldest is mature enough to take in the test results and allow it to be the basis of a discussion about what's working and what's not – and how he needs to strategise to get into his university of choice. But I'll be shielding my younger two from report cards for as long as I can.

Why? Well, as humans, we are designed to crave data and to assess our ranking against those around us – that goes for income, test results, how much "stuff" we own. Our measure of success is to be doing a bit better than our peers. Grades are no different.

Grades didn't even exist in education until some genius at Yale College decided to start handing them out in 1785. (We can only assume cheating came along not long after – and then exam stress has been growing exponentially ever since.)

But why do we need children as young as five thinking about assessments or concerned about what will be on a test?

The last thing I want is for my kids to be worried about their school performance or if they're good enough, smart enough, or have done enough work. 

What is more important, in my opinion, is for them to ask "why" and "how" and "what does that mean"?


When their teacher tells them about an important moment in history, I want them to put their hand up and ask, "What happened next?" and "How does that affect us today?", rather than the question many kids ask: "Will this be on the test"?

As adults in the workforce, much of our lives are consumed with function – going to work to earn money so we can care for our families, who we then drive around to various activities on the weekends, only to rinse and repeat.

We don't have the luxury of learning all day, every day. Of being curious and questioning everything. Of wondering whether trees are sentient, or if free will is a myth. We don't do a lot of big-picture thinking, but I think the world would be a better place if we did.

Soon enough, my children will learn that how we measure up in society is important.

They will need good scores if they want to get into uni. They will need good grades if they want to get a good job. They will need good performance reviews if they want to advance in their careers. They will need to convince others around them that they are worthy in order to get what they want and where they want to go.

So just for their early years, for as long as I can, I'd like to encourage them to go to school, listen and ask questions. To love learning and to be curious. The world needs more curious thinkers.