Hello tests, farewell fun

2nd February 2007 at 00:00
School days are the happiest of your life - until you're 10, when exams grind pupils down

SCHOOL IS a time of laughter, joy, carefree innocence and simple pleasures.

Until you hit the age of 10. After that it's all downhill.

Year 5, the penultimate year of primary education, is the happiest point of pupils' school careers, a survey has found.

Levels of happiness then decline steadily, reaching a nadir of school misery in Year 10. Educational charity Antidote claims that well-being peaks in primary school because there is less formal testing and pupils can build a meaningful relationship with a single classroom teacher.

Pupils are significantly more eager to praise their teachers in primary schools. Three quarters of Year 5 pupils are positive about their teachers, compared with only half in Year 10.

James Park, director of Antidote, said: "Pupils need someone who knows them, who understands them, with whom they spend time each day.

"Of course, at secondary you need the best people teaching a topic. But pupils need relationships as well. Schools need to find a way to get that balance."

Chris Davis, of the National Primary Headteachers' Associ-ation, said: "The level of care and concern for children is never quite the same after primary."

More than 8,000 pupils in 25 primaries and secondaries were interviewed for the Antidote study. Researchers asked them whether they felt they were listened to at school and whether they felt free to be themselves.

Pupils also commented on how safe and included they felt in school and whether they felt there was a genuine desire to help them reach their potential.

In Year 5, 82 per cent of pupils responded positively. By contrast, only 58 per cent of Year 10 pupils said they felt listened to, safe and accepted at school.

Contrary to expectations, the drop in well-being between Years 6 and 7, when pupils transfer to secondary school, is not particularly sharp. Mr Park believes that pupils are buoyed up initially by the excitement of starting a new school and making new friends.

He attributes the decline in hapiness to the introduction of formal testing, beginning in Year 6. "As young people are seeking to become more independent, the system becomes more narrow. That leads to a decline in their well-being," he said.

Last year, Anthony Seldon, head of the pound;22,000-a-year Wellington college, and biographer of Tony Blair, introduced lessons in happiness and positive psychology, because he wanted pupils to avoid measuring their success solely in terms of academic achievement.

Ofsted, the schools' inspectorate, looks at the safety and enjoyment levels of pupils when it measures a school's success.

But child psychologist Nicholas Tucker said such measures are fruitless.

"It's not exactly news that adolescents become negative about things," he said. "It's a time for sorting yourself out and being acutely self-conscious. Are you popular? Are you attractive? Do people think you're thick? Exams are an extra worry, but adolescence is difficult anyway."

Andrew Fell, deputy head of Chantry high, Ipswich, Suffolk, said: "It's hard to say whether it's the system, or just a normal aspect of being a teenager."

* www.antidote.org.uk

Anthony Seldon, page 25

LESSONS IN HAPPINESS

APPOINT a learning guide so pupils have at least one person who knows them, meets them regularly to review their work, and can act as an advocate on their behalf.

GIVE pupils choice. They feel more engaged in learning if they have some degree of control over how they learn.

BE approachable. Pupils want to talk to teachers about their learning.

INTRODUCE group work, and allow pupils to help each other. Address conflicts and assist pupils in resolving problems.

SOCIAL networks are important to pupils. Help them to meet new people and to communicate with one another.

DO not focus exclusively on reading and writing. Highlight a broad range of skills and knowledge.

(Source: Antidote)

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