Happiness is..?

16th June 2000 at 01:00
THE TRUISM that a happy child is a learning child stands at the forefront of primary education. The HMIs' finding that personal and social development is good in almost all schools (page six) suggests that children are happy in their surroundings and therefore in their work. If such a conclusion could not be drawn from a report on PSD, it would not say much for that part of the primary curriculum. PSD by definition entails attention to individual children, and whatever the debate about areas of learning handed over to PSD (citizenship? enterprise education?), at its heart is the progress being made by everyone in the class.

The HMIs' praise is unstinting, surprisingly so in view of the criticisms usually woven through thematic reports. School ethos also gets a blessing, linked as it so closely is with the wellbeing of all pupils. Fewer than 5 per cent of schools had any important weakness here.

The shortcoings that are identified by the HMI include concern lest vulnerable pupils slip through the net. Not everyone has a smiling face, and even superficial contentedness in a child may hide problems.

A more general drawback is the lack of structured assessment of PSD. Here, teachers probably differ from the inspectors. Leaving aside worries about the general burden of assessment, they may ask whether personal care in its many guises should be assessed in the same way as language or mathematics. There is a difference between having a programme to ensure that all aspects of PSD are covered, and ticking off boxes or giving marks.

Another danger of too enveloping a programme is that by including all the desiderata - citizenship, enterprise, social inclusion - the need to cover ground distracts attention from individual pupil needs. Then the main purpose, and the focus of HMI commendation, would be lost.

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