Is it always advisable to keep your child in the “good” class?

How a child evaluates himself determines his motivation in school. Shutterstock

Dominic LaFontaine Liz University And Virginia Dupont, Liz University

Many studies in education science have underlined the impact of the class or school in which children participate in learning.

Based on this research, we generally consider that being in a school or a class at a “good” level has a rather positive effect on both academic performance, academic and career aspirations, and student motivation. Yes, but are things so simple? Other parameters should not be considered?

If the benefits are largely apparent in terms of academic achievement, it differs at the socio-impact level, especially in the way the student perceives his or her abilities and the confidence that results. Many of the school’s self-concept works highlight an important psychological effect called the Big-Fish-Little-Pond-Effect (BFLPE): Fishing in a small pond feels bigger than swimming in a larger pond.

The self-concept for students, like the fish, changes according to its immediate environment. Attending a more or less performing school or class can have a confusing effect on a student’s academic self-concept. And they are relatively little known in the world of education, even if some actors capture them intuitively.


School self-concept, as opposed to self-concept or self-esteem in general, refers to the way a student perceives himself in a given school. This is often measured by the questionnaires: proposals like “I’m good at math”, “I’m one of the best in my class” … are submitted to students, they must indicate how much they agree with them.

To understand this self-concept, the student will compare himself / herself explicitly (when the question is “I am one of the best in my class”) or implicitly (when the question is “I am good at math”). The class or school he attends.

We immediately understand how one’s perception can be influenced by the composition of the groups in which the student’s name is enrolled. Depending on whether the class or school group is more or less strong, whether the group is more or less heterogeneous in terms of qualifications, what the student will compare will be different, self-concept will inevitably be affected.

Take for example two students who averaged 65% on the PISA exam in mathematics (this is just one example, a fact that could be the same as any other exam). One of these students (A) in a class with an average of 80% in the exam, the other student (B) in a class with an average of 50% in the same exam.

It is a safe bet that with equal performance (Student A and B both got 60%), Student A will find himself significantly less mathematically better than Student B. Numerous research studies have shown this in different education systems (Belgium), especially France and Germany). This effect of the reference group on self-perception is strong, universal, and maintained over time.

Sensitivity of students

Academic self-concept is one of the essential elements of inspiration and is well related to the academic outcome of the field. Surprisingly, most successful students have a more positive self-concept, which forces them to invest in learning and, in an honest movement, to become more proficient or so on.

However, as we have just seen, this self-concept not only depends on the level of the student, it is also strongly influenced by the average performance of the student attending the class. Research has also shown that it is the closest circle (class) that has the strongest influence, far more than the students in school.

Children evaluate their own skills by comparing them with their classmates. Shutterstock

Several studies have shown that the effect of class affiliation on self-perception varies according to the student’s qualifications, gender, socio-cultural origins, or even specific personality traits. The main finding is that most students are sensitive to the “small fish in the big pond” effect.

People who are mentally unstable, or have high levels of anxiety and those who are overly anxious tend to be more sensitive to it, while narcissistic, authoritarian or controlling personalities are less sensitive to it. The few studies that have included an analysis by gender of students show that girls are slightly more affected by the performance of their classmates than boys.

International differences

The negative impact of class performance on school self-perception is clearly greater in the middle than in the primary, i.e. when we move into a larger grouping of students on the basis of competence. (Via course or level class). Moreover, some studies show that the effect of “small fish in large ponds” is even more significant when the school system is isolated.

Thus, in the integrated or “broad” school system (Baltic or Scandinavian countries, Canada), i.e. where students are not grouped into different levels of classes or schools, the reference group (schools depending on the class and / or study) qualifies students. The comparisons are relatively similar, and the adverse effects of adverse comparisons with other students in the class will be less.

Conversely, in the segregation system, where students are grouped according to stream or level, the reference framework on which social comparisons depend differs from one class or school to another, multiplying the effect of social comparisons. France, Belgium, Germany, Luxembourg and the Netherlands are in this second situation, at least in secondary education.

To put it simply, the more questions a student chooses or places in the “right” class – the “right” school, the “right” sector or alternative – is a problem in an education system. , Another significant effect of the reference group was observed.

The film was released in 2019 Class struggle The following are just some of the goal setting shareware that you can use.

The “correct” category is not always the best choice

The question of school choice (school, class, course, option) is an undeniable problem in the education system like the French or Belgian system. These choices affect academic achievement (level of knowledge and skills), but also affect the way a student perceives his abilities (self-concept), which affects his motivation, his self-confidence, his perseverance.

In this regard, the relatively little-known studies discussed in this article have clearly shown that it is not always beneficial or desirable to place your child in the “best”, right or wrong perceived class. For a “mediocre” student, a fortune for a student with difficulty, finding oneself every day in a situation where one perceives oneself as less good than others can have a truly negative effect, creating progressive degradation and isolation in school work.

Sometimes the “best” class is one where the student feels confident, motivated, able to succeed, not where the competition is fierce, where it is important to have the best grade and where the student gets systematically low ratings. This is an element that parents in particular should be aware of and weigh against other criteria when it comes to choosing a place for their child in school.

Wanting the best establishment at any cost, the most prestigious course for your child is not always the best choice, and can even be harmful if the student is particularly sensitive to social comparisons (anxious, stressed children, little confidence in power) or relative difficulty at school.Conversation

Dominic LaFontaine, Professor of Educational Sciences, Liz University And Virginia Dupont, a researcher in the science of education, Liz University

This article has been republished from Conversations under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Leave a Comment