Cedric Cullingford interviews children about their lives, hopes and fears
It does not require constant testing for children to be aware of their own abilities in comparison with others. Pupils know their status in the class.
The crucial matter is keeping up with the class and producing work that satisfies the teacher. Nothing is clearer than the signal of being kept behind.
"They're jealous of you being the best."
Millie, aged 8
"If they've got difficulties and they get more right than you I feel ashamed. Like they sort of, like, haven't got much, many brains. 'Cos they say if you don't finish it you've got to stay in and do it. And if the person that's not as good as you does it before you, you feel sort of not very good."
Some pupils enter school with a feeling of inadequacy.
"My mum and dad they're quite clever, and my brother's quite clever, so I'd think I'm not the same. I don't like to be the smallest unclever. I like to be thought of as good."
This desire to keep up with others is perpetuated in school. A realistic assessment of one's own abilities is constantly tested against performance.
"I don't really mind if I'm not first but I don't really mind if I'm not last but I hope I'm nearer the first one.My best friend, he might have done it before me and I think I'm going to be really embarrassed."
"I'd like to be at a stage where you're not someone who needs help but someone who's not a brainy but not having difficulties."
The children's names have been changed. Cedric Cullingford is professor of education at Huddersfield University. His book, "The Best years of their Lives? Pupils' experience of school" is published by Kogan Page