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Ability to learn declines with age

As children go through school, creativity, curiosity and relationships with teachers suffer, study suggests. Helen Ward reports.

CHILDREN lose some of their ability to learn as they go through school, researchers have found.

A Bristol university team assessed 2,000 people aged seven to 25 in skills such as creativity, curiosity and persistence.

The study, directed by Professor Patricia Broadfoot and Dr Ruth Deakin-Crick, found older children and adults were less able learners than primary children.

Dr Ruth Deakin-Crick, who also worked on an earlier review of the effect of testing on pupils' motivation, said: "It seemed that, as children progressed through school, they got worse at learning."

The Effective Lifelong Learning Inventory project, funded by the Lifelong Learning Foundation, has identified six aspects of learning: confidence that you can progress; the ability to make connections; curiosity; creativity; the ability to relate to a teacher; and ability to talk about learning.

Dr Deakin-Crick said: "The mean score for key stage 3 pupils was statistically significantly lower than... for... KS2. There was no significant difference between KS3 and KS4, except for creativity which was lower."

The team used questionnaires to create a profile for each child based on the different aspects of learning.

It has now started work with four schools to improve learning.

Dr Deakin-Crick said there was no single solution to helping pupils learn.

Instead, the profile allowed teachers to think creatively and find ways of helping pupils.

Dr Deakin-Crick said: "One problem was that children didn't have the language to talk about learning. Some interventions helped with this.

"The most important thing across the board appeared to be the quality of the learning relationship with the teacher."

Last month, the Government announced that it would ease the high-stakes testing culture, by trialling less intrusive tests for seven-year-olds and allowing schools to set their own targets for 11-year-olds, instead of imposing a goal from above.

* A survey by the Secondary Heads Association has found that reforms to A-levels forced almost a third of schools to cut teaching time per subject.

Curriculum 2000 was intended to encourage students to undertake a broader range of studies after 16.

But the survey of 764 schools and colleges found 30 per cent had been forced to cut time for each AS subject and 15 per cent had reduced A2 teaching time in order to fit everything in.

* Testing for 11 and 14-year-olds in Wales may be abolished within the next two years.

Jane Davidson, Welsh Assembly minister for education and lifelong learning, has announced a review of testing at KS2 and 3 to begin before the summer recess, and which should be completed by early 2004.

Professor Richard Daugherty, of the University of Wales, Aberystwyth, will chair the reference and review group, which will examine the suitability of current tests.

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