That's not emotional literacy, it's true blue Tory gumption

22nd May 2009 at 01:00
Educationists struggle to find right words to persuade future Conservative government to back 'ghastly' SEAL programme

Question: How do you sell the idea of teaching emotional literacy in schools to the Conservative party? Answer: rebrand it as "gumption".

Many educationists will be pondering the difficulties of securing funding to continue initiatives favoured by New Labour as the prospect of a Tory government becomes increasingly likely.

Sonia Sodha, of the Demos think-tank, thinks she has a solution. She believes language is the key to crossing the political divide.

Speaking at a seminar on emotional intelligence this month, the senior researcher in education said: "It has been a big issue for the Labour government, but I think if there is a Conservative government there is going to be less keenness around this agenda."

That is putting it mildly. Shadow education ministers have described the SEAL (social and emotional aspects of learning) programme as "ghastly".

But all is not lost, according to Ms Sodha. "The responsibility lies with us as practitioners and policy-makers and lobbyists in this area to think about the language we use to talk about these things," she said.

"When we think about the self-motivation, maybe we need to talk about gumption. When we think about impulsiveness, maybe we need to think about personal responsibility and the ability to control behaviour."

Surviving a change in the ruling party is something Demos has clearly given some thought to already. Earlier this month, it emerged that the centre-left think-tank, which helped to create New Labour and the Cool Britannia brand, had appointed David Willetts, Conservative shadow secretary for innovation, universities and skills, and George Osborne, shadow chancellor, to its board.

But Ms Sodha's idea might not prove quite so effective. Nick Gibb, Tory shadow schools minister, said: "Redefining the idea in this way only makes views on it stronger.

"If you are talking about gumption and personal responsibility, you can also talk about teamwork. They are all things that are best taught in the real world rather than in the classroom."

Research from Cambridge Assessment, which organised the seminar, suggests emotional intelligence can improve pupils' academic achievement in most subjects.

The study of GCSE pupils found that self-motivation and low levels of impulsiveness were the most important elements of emotional intelligence for exam success.

Professor John Bynner, of London University's Institute of Education, said it was important to treat those qualities as skills that could be acquired rather than personality traits.


TES columnist Mike Kent offers a personal view of how some current education jargon could be changed to suit a Conservative government.

- Assessment for Learning: "Checking that your classroom has got rulers and pencils"

- Personalised learning: "Noticing that all the children in your class are different"

- Differentiation: "Noticing that all the children in your class are different"

- Risk assessment: "The basic use of basic common sense"

- Child with challenging tendencies: "Pupil who could do with a quick slap"

Mr Kent, headteacher of Comber Grove Primary School in Camberwell, south London, describes himself as a socialist with a healthy distrust of all politicians.

See page 36.

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