Where did the joy go?

6th June 2003 at 01:00
Constantly measuring young children will not necessarily make them grow any faster, writes George Adamson.

My daughter is nine years old, so you can imagine how disheartened I was to read a file, written by her on my laptop, that included the words "when I get older I don't want to go to university because I am not very clever now".

Year 5, and already she has become a product of the dry, destructive testing regime that sees the demise of so many children within our educational system - Jand this, too, based on such a limited notion of intelligence. Can we really not see beyond our noses into the worlds that really matter?

The idea that creativity, personal and social development, spirituality, cultural and scientific exploration, citizenship and artistry may find a true and meaningful place at the heart of what matters seems so alien to those in power, and we strive onwards (but not necessarily forwards), using whatever sticks or carrots we can invent, generating statistics and league tables that in the real world are of so little significance.

I wonder if we are so blind that we cannot see that the mechanisms we employ to raise standards may also reinforce failure for many:setting, class and homework marks, rewards, test results, remarks by teachers - if not carefully monitored, these can destroy self-esteem, plant seeds of failure, generate unnecessary stress, demotivate and alienate pupils.

For my daughter, being put in a low set for English and maths was enough to give this message about her perceived lack of intelligence. The upward spiral is great if it works that way, but for many the downward spiral can move dangerously fast and become difficult - and perhaps impossible - to stop.

Where this spiral ends is anyone's guess: the murky depths of depression, a painful anxiety-filled existence? Who knows?

Targets are undoubtedly great if you hit them. And many would argue that it is the duty of education to train children to hit achievement targets and for them to practise and practise so that there is no failure.

Of course, we can do this if we want to. But I would rather my daughter enjoyed playing with a ball, laughing with her friends, inventing new games, exploring the world around her, learning to communicate, keeping fit and generally having a great time. Rather that than stand with the ball day after day, developing the narrow skill of throwing it through a hoop.

So what does the future hold for my daughter? Perhaps she will end up at university, and perhaps not. Frankly, that is the least of my concerns. My biggest priority is that she develops her talents and abilities as a person and that she does her best in whatever she attempts.

She will continue with her drama classes, clarinet lessons and going to the Brownies. I will encourage her to mix with her friends and will do my utmost to teach her that the yardstick with which she is being measured at school has huge limitations.

I will teach her that a person does not grow taller simply by being measured, and that all of the conditions must be right in order for anything to survive and flourish.

Whatever becomes of her at school, I will reinforce the caring, sensitive side she shows, and encourage her to develop the skills and attributes that really matter for life. Most of all, I hope that her future brings happiness and contentment and that she finds her true sense of purpose.

In the grand scale of things, who really cares whether our children achieve level 3, 4, or 5? Those of us who recognise the limitations of these results know that in the longer term it really isn't worth worrying about.

What a pity, though, that while she is still so young I should have to work to rescue and enhance my daughter's level of esteem and emotional well-being, which the present regime has done so much to damage.

This situation should never have been.

George Adamson teaches at the Duchess's School, Northumberland. The opinions expressed in this article are entirely personal Ted Wragg, back page

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