What children really want

17th February 2006 at 00:00
When the Government began consultations on the embryonic Every Child Matters policies, it asked children to rank seven public services in order of importance to them: health, leisure, achievement, crime, environment, families and communities.

By massive majorities, children ranked leisure first: primary children wanted "more activities" and "more parks" most; secondary children put "more places to go" first. Overall, 81 per cent of children said they needed more leisure facilities. The category "better education" was placed by both groups as a rather poor fifth.

Hardly surprising, says Adrian Voce, of the Children's Play Council, since play is so desperately important to children.

What was surprising was the Government's final published summary of what supposedly "mattered most" to children.

The list of categories by this time was rather different. It included headings such as "participation and citizenship" and "responsibility" and the single category "enjoyment and achievement' - ie two of the original priorities merged into one. Unsurprisingly, the last of these was ranked first.

And that, says Mr Voce was how one of the five outcomes in Every Child Matters came to be "enjoy and achieve". For a while, until a rearguard campaign by play lobbyists, the phrase "enjoying achieving" even came into official currency.

"I tell people about this because every time you hear a minister or a civil servant talking about these blessed five outcomes, you hear them say this is what children and young people told us was most important to them.

"And that would be fine, if they gave true weight to enjoyment. But four-and-a-half of the five outcomes are about education. Enjoyment has virtually no place in inspection criteria or targets. It was the top priority for children and young people, and hardly gets a look-in."


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