Emotional health key to happiness, says inquiry

6th February 2009 at 00:00
Good Childhood report tells schools to drop Sats and focus on social as well as academic progress

League tables should be scrapped, but assessment should stay and be widened to encompass children's emotional development, the controversial Good Childhood Inquiry recommended this week.

Commissioned by the Children's Society, it blames adult selfishness for threatening children's happiness. Its final report, A Good Childhood, based on evidence from 30,000 people over three years, calls for a "change of heart" in society.

One finding stands out: the proportion of children with significant emotional problems jumped from 8 per cent in 1974 to 16 per cent in 1999 and has remained at that level.

It concludes that adults should demonstrate respect, honesty and kindness - and all teachers should be trained in promoting social and emotional behaviour.

For schools, it recommends that Sats tests be replaced with an annual assessment aimed at monitoring progress - a sample of results could provide national benchmark data - teachers in deprived areas should be paid significantly more and personal, social and health education in secondaries should be taught by specialists.

It also proposes a standard assessment of emotional development at 5, 11 and 14. This could be used to judge how individual children and the school are doing, and would be a way of ensuring a focus on social, as well as academic, progress.

Such assessments are already carried out at five, when a "good" level of development is defined as being sensitive to other people's feelings and being able to form good relationships with adults and children - more than four out of five children could do this last year.

Sue Palmer, author of Toxic Childhood, welcomed the call to end Sats but was concerned about assessing emotional development. "I think it is dangerous idea," she said. "Schools can't teach emotional development: it is caught, not taught. To assess a school's capacity in social and emotional development look at what it provides, and what the take-up is, in the way of sport, outdoor activities, art, drama, philosophy, charity work and involvement in the community.

"Assessing individuals' social and emotional development reduces people's personal relationships to something to do with tick boxes."

Chris Davis, a spokesman for National Primary Headteachers, also expressed doubts: "Assessing emotional development is clearly problematic. It would have to be carefully formulated. It should be a developmental ladder rather than one built into a year group structure, then it may be acceptable."

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