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What's wrong with being a pointy-elbowed middle-class parent? No one wants their child to be a loser

Students celebrating their results
With AS levels in decline, predicted grades have become far more important Credit:  Andrew Hasson/ Getty Images Europe

Welcome to this year’s Pointy Elbowed Parenting exam. No conferring. No texting. No sexting (the house master’s wife is all over his Samsung since last year’s “misunderstanding”). Gouging, biting and moving house to a better catchment area are perfectly legitimate as long as you don’t get caught. Ditto offering the principal access to your wine cellar, Algarve holiday home or pension fund. Just don’t leave an incriminating digital footprint. 

Former chief examiner Tony Breslin has highlighted how the end of AS Levels has made predicted grades much more important in securing pupils’ university offers. As predictions are made by teachers, this has brought the issue of “negotiability" (aka wheedling, persuading and threatening) to the fore. Hence the need for parents to really hone their middle class manipulation skills in the Pointy Elbowed Parenting test.

You can, of course, sod this for a game of soldiers but be aware that your final grade will decide whether your child ends up reading PPE at Christ’s College Cambridge or Love Island studies at the University of Life. Exam conditions apply. Use both sides and any other means necessary. Show your (net) working. You may turn over your paper now. 

Is a pushy parent the same as a pointy-elbowed one? Do helicopter mothers who turn up to university interviews perform better or worse than steamroller fathers who yell dog’s abuse at the referee? Compare and contrast the efficacy of low grade bullying of the class teacher versus bribery on the Felicity Huffman scale of college admission backhanders. Finally; what lengths will you go to in order to beat the competition and propel your child to the front of the queue for absolutely everything that’s going?

Your time is up. Put down your pens. Place your paper in the envelope provided and lodge with your solicitor and deny all knowledge of its existence.

History may be written by the victors but no factor 50 parent wants to admit their offspring couldn’t succeed without their pain-in-the-proverbial intervention. That is one secret we’d all happily take to the grave. This is something of an anomaly because the pointy-elbow brigade normally take great pleasure in recounting how they beat the system to jump the NHS queue or called in a favour with a contact on the council planning committee.

Such admissions will invariably be met with, if not praise and admiration, then a what-else-can-you-do sigh of resignation from their peers. Because what else can we do?

We all know that there are probably (make that definitely) others who are in greater need of hospital appointments and kitchen extensions but who lack the articulacy to state their case or the inside knowledge to circumvent the rules. But their loss is only our gain if we seize the opportunities presented to us. Otherwise it’s surely a lose-lose scenario? And that doesn’t benefit anyone. Especially not us.

All of which begs the question: is slyly stealing a march on other people, particularly other parents, ethical or fair? 

Incidentally those parents whose elbows aren’t sharp enough to skewer the opposition tend, quite rightly, to slope off in disgrace. Then they emerge, having reinvented themselves as laissez-faire bohemians who piously disapprove of their peers’ pushiness even as they are eaten up with envy.

The trouble with this whole vexed subject of middle class mores and morality is that it’s we all want what’s best for our children – but “best” is in short supply, unless you have the wherewithal to pay for a top class education. And even then, that top class education could well count against them in these militantly diverse times when Oxbridge is agonising over quotas and the Russell Group is contorting itself into Gordian knots over student demographics.

That’s not our problem; as parents we are all primed to ensure that it’s our children who succeed, whatever success looks like in our eyes. It could be the latest boxfresh Nike trainers every few months or a front row seat at the Royal Institution Christmas lectures. As Mr Chips might have opined; one parent’s Nintendo Switch is another’s fridge full of organic Pecorino. We all have different life goals.

If paying for extra tutition is no big deal, can it be so very wrong to waterboard the history master with £85 bottles of Tignanello until he predicts your teenager will achieve an effortless A rather than scrape a C?

Mind you, even if he does, what good will it do in the long run if your put-upon teen can barely muster a pass? That’s the thing about the parent-child dynamic; no matter how pointy the elbow, a child’s ingratitude remains sharper than a serpent’s tooth.