Barack self-belief helps pupils achieve more

1st May 2009 at 01:00
Adopting the can-do attitude of the US president could boost children's wellbeing, says academic

Teachers need to adopt Barack Obama's "Yes we can" attitude to lift Welsh pupils out of poverty, according to a leading academic.

David Egan, professor of education at UWIC, Cardiff's Metropolitan University, cited the catchy campaign slogan that helped Mr Obama, America's first black President, win the US elections last year as an example of what positive thinking could achieve.

Speaking at a conference on children's wellbeing in Cardiff last week, Professor Egan said: "If teachers in disadvantaged circumstances actually believe they can give the best possible chances, they are likely to succeed. If they say their kids are from broken homes and not that interested, that's what they'll get."

His comments came as York University research ranked the UK 24th out of 29 for child wellbeing.

Professor Egan said schools had a "moral purpose" to challenge the link between child poverty and low attainment. In particular, teachers should tackle the sudden dip in aspiration among some children at the end of primary school, he said.

"There are children who believe nobody does well in their family, but why is it that we can't get part of our population to buy into the fact that education is a way out of poverty? We need to bring this potential out of people," he said.

But Professor Egan acknowledged that the concept of wellbeing was still unclear to many teachers.

"It's difficult to come up with a snappy definition," he said. "We start off by saying there's more to educating a child than the national curriculum and exam results . But we've got to harden up these concepts if they're going to have the rigour we want them to have."

Teacher critics of campaigns to promote pupil wellbeing in both England and Wales said this should not be at the expense of teaching.

Last year, the Assembly government published its first report on young people's wellbeing, measuring dozens of factors including achievement at school, health, family background and whether children have access to play facilities.

But Professor Egan warned that schemes to improve wellbeing would be under attack as public sector budgets decreased.

"Resources are diminishing for broader children's services," he said. "If we're not careful, concepts such as wellbeing and emotional intelligence - which some people already criticise as being `therapeutic' approaches to education - will suffer."

Professor Egan said tried and tested approaches, such as initiatives to improve literacy, offered value for money. "There's an incredibly strong association between child poverty and low educational attainment," he said. "There is a very strong case for prioritising expenditure on literacy."

Keith Towler, the children's commissioner for Wales, also spoke at the conference. He called for less policy talk and a more practical approach to tackling child poverty.

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