It's too much to want to be happy;Leading Article;Opinion;News amp; Opinion

19th November 1999 at 00:00
ASKED what is important in a school, parents consistently give priority to children's happiness. Children also speak of wanting to be happy and settled. Performance indicators and exam passes do not loom large. If ministers pay attention to the study they commissioned on pupils' views (page six) they will realise that ethos (to give it a "grown up" description) is the key to improvement. Children want to be well treated, and they do not mean indulgently. They want school work that suits individual needs ("differentiation" is the fancy name). Absolute faith in teachers declines as pupils move through the system, but emphasis on the primacy of the pupil-teacher relationship remains striking.

All this will be strange to ministers if they have spent too much time listening to officials obsessed with measuring and targeting. But the findings from Save the Children's 11 focus groups differ little from what they will have learnt from school visits if they have been keeping their ears open.

The research study is intended to influence the Improvement in Education Bill. Has the Executive opened a Pandora's box? No, because either the outline Bill is amended to give statutory expression to children's concerns - as politically unlikely as it would be impossible to draft - or the get-your-backs-into-it spirit of the Bill will be explained to young people as the only way to ensure that all teachers meet pupils' expectations. The regime of "robust" performance indicators marches on.

Will teachers have time for pupils as individuals, will they have room to be happy, for heaven's sake? Oh, just tell the youngsters that life is not like that.

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