Reality TV takes on test culture

4th January 2008 at 00:00
Channel Five show aims to unearth pupils' gifts that the assessment regime misses.

"Bananas today, girls! Thirty-five pence a pound!" Market trader Nicholas is clearly enjoying himself as he seeks to pull in the punters.

There is an unexpected side to this, however. Nicholas is only 10. "It's brilliant: I can't get told off for shouting," he grins.

A pupil at Rothwell Primary School in Leeds, he has been given a salesmanship challenge to try to improve his public speaking skills for a Channel 5 reality show being screened next week.

Make Your Child Brilliant is a six-part series starting next Thursday, for which the phrase personalised learning could have been invented. The format is simple: pupils whose gifts are believed to have remained undetected by national tests are taken out of the classroom and given intensive coaching to help them achieve a goal.

The conduit is presenter Bernadette Tynan, a prolific author, academic and former teacher who believes in tailoring educational provision to pupils' needs. Anyone expecting a government approach focused on analysing test data and performance targets should think again. Instead, Years 3 to 6 at a selected school each week are set creative tasks such as selling junk at an imaginary bazaar, building a go-kart, putting on a fashion show before an invited audience or making a sales pitch for a new toy to adult executives.

Ms Tynan then identifies which of them is likely to have hidden gifts, selects five for further trials then whittles them down to one.

In the first two programmes, seen by The TES, teachers report that the winning pupils' school work improved dramatically as a result, and that they became more confident.

The series showcases simple "brain-training" techniques, which Ms Tynan has developed and which ashe says are based on the latest research in neuroscience.

A child who has trouble spelling, for example, is identified as a kinaesthetic learner and hunts for plastic letters at the bottom of a swimming pool. Another who needs help planning has to cook a meal, in which preparation is all.

Teachers might also notice that the presenter is not a fan of the assessment regime: the series begins with a swipe at our "exam-crazed education system", which Ms Tynan says is leaving many children's talents unfulfilled.

Speaking to The TES, Ms Tynan said it was time to free teachers' professionalism and to promote creativity in the classroom.

The second programme in the series was shot at Manor Hall Middle School in Brighton. Julie Scott, Manor Hall's acting head, said: "I thought the filming would be a bit of a chaotic experience but it went really well. The children really enjoyed it."

'Make Your Child Brilliant' starts at 9pm on Thursday, January 10'.

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