Friday, 8 November 2013

Setting Children up to Fail

This article is taken from the NUT Magazine The Teacher, November December edition.

Government assessment plans risk stigmatising young people, warns Kate Fallon.

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg announced in July the launch of a consultation on plans to reform the way schools are held to account and pupils are assessed.

Under the proposals, a pupil’s performance will be compared with those of peers across the country in what the Government claims is an effort to ensure young people are ready for secondary school, but which in reality could result in enormous problems.

The question raised by the Government’s plan is a simple one: how does it help a child for him/her to know that he/she is in the bottom 10 per cent of pupils in their academic year? How will a young person who has worked hard feel when they find their hard work wasn’t perceived as good enough and they were banded in a low percentile?

It is more unlikely than likely that this initiative will help them do better and it could damage their potentially fragile self-esteem – in summary, it could easily backfire. It could become a path to the stigmatisation of some pupils and the demotivation of others who are actually working hard and making progress.

Labelling a child as ‘behind’ is setting that child up to fail and instilling a fear of learning.

While the idea that pupils, and their parents, should know where they stand and how they are progressing is to be encouraged, comparing 11-year-olds’ performances to their peers is certainly not the most effective way to achieve that outcome.

Once at secondary level, it could widen the gap between those labelled ‘able’ and the rest, resulting in a form of pre-streaming that sees pupils categorised in ‘lower level’ groups remaining in those groups as a result of feeling marginalised.

This will not only damage a pupil’s confidence, sense of self-worth, and motivation to achieve, it will also directly affect that pupil’s ability to develop and succeed in their education. Transition from primary to secondary school can be a daunting experience for any pupil. The proposals being presented here show a real lack of understanding of the emotional and psychological wellbeing of our children.

Kate Fallon is the General Secretary of the Association of Educational Psychologists, the professional association and trade union for educational psychologists in the UK

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