School is a happier place to be

A survey by Matthew Boyle into whether the course had improved pupils' approaches to learning came up with some remarkable findings.

Mr Boyle analysed responses from 14 pupils who had been on the course and 28 who had not, inviting them to consider if a series of statements were "very like me" or "definitely not like me". The results revealed that: * School enjoyment in the taught group rose to 14 per cent above those who were not involved.

* Enjoyment of learning with others was 25 per cent better.

* Persistence when the work gets tough, measured by two statements, was 14-18 per cent ahead.

* The incidence of resistance to peer pressure over "swotiness" was 11 per cent better.

* Dislike of study had been reduced by 29 per cent.

* Appreciation of praise was 18 per cent higher.

In comments that will be music to the Education Minister's ears as he tries to persuade schools about the advantages of target-setting, Mr Boyle highlights the improved enjoyment of schools. "This seems to me to be at the root of what we are trying to achieve. If students perceive themselves to be non-academic, then they have no stake in what is still the main business of a school.

"It is important that we make them become active learners, setting and attaining their own targets. Then and only then will all learners feel ownership of the school and its academic mission. The students who are currently on the learning skills course have a glimpse of how they can actively take control of their school experience."

But Mr Boyle believes that drive is present in all pupils, pointing to the response to the statement "Tim really wants to do well at school" which more than 80 per cent of all first-year pupils saw as being like themselves.

"It is surely our duty, therefore, not merely to categorise them as bright or thick and feel that it is a job well done," he says.

Mr Boyle says pupils who give in easily should not be dismissed as thick. Teachers should see an opportunity to demonstrate problem-solving skills when pupils are stuck. They should be shown how to tackle difficulties, encouraged to believe targets can be achieved and have their success celebrated.

"How many schools can say this is built into the fabric of their curriculum? Without it, we only reinforce the winners and losers perceptions," Mr Boyle says.

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