'Emotion as well as exams'

21st November 1997 at 00:00
Education is not simply about exam results, and high-flying youngsters with top grades could pay for their academic success in later life, says a report published today, writes Clare Dean.

It warns that high-achieving children might not be able to connect to their feelings or to communicate with others and calls on schools to look look after the emotional welfare of their pupils.

"No school can achieve excellence without first attending to the emotional development of its children and young people," said Antidote, a forum set up two years ago to promote the concept of emotional literacy.

Antidote's report, Realising the Potential. Emotional Education for All, comes in the week that the Government published its league tables of exam results, putting pressure on schools to measure up. And with school often providing the only stability in a child's life, Antidote has called for an education system that enables young people to process their experiences of "flux, change and uncertainty".

The organisation believes that the curriculum should be redesigned to help young people understand their feelings, and it has urged recognition of the fact that high-quality teaching can only take place in the context of good relationships between pupils and teachers.

"It is by pupils being helped to know themselves, to communicate with others and to establish open and collaborative relationships, that the knowledge a school seeks to impart can become meaningful, and the skills it seeks to foster can acquire real value," the report says .

But it is not only pupils who have emotional needs, Antidote points out. Teachers must have support if they are to feel valued by society. They have had almost constant change thrust on them and the pressure has been communicated to pupils.

"The process of transformation threw everyone back upon their emotional resources, and yet without a compensating move to ensure that teachers and young people had the skills necessary to ensure that they could support each other."

The Government is now talking about developing children as rounded, active members of the community.

Antidote, whose core group includes Susie Orbach, author of Fat is a Feminist Issue, counts barrister Helena Kennedy and MP Patricia Hewitt among its founders, which might augur well for its ideas under Labour.

Ms Orbach said she remembered school days with pain, where learning was merely ingesting and regurgitating facts and "where one was always in trouble, usually for asking why".

She said: "As a psychotherapist I see daily the cost of emotional damage in terms of individuals' inability to harness their resources, develop their talents, believe in themselves, receive or give support, take or give feedback, and so on.

"Educators are charged with making society for the next generation . . . The emotional climate of school can mark us for a lifetime."

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