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Roger White Responsibility and respect are key words

By Western Daily Press  |  Posted: December 16, 2013

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Could we measure what we value rather than only value what can be measured? This month's OECD report into standards of mathematics, reading and science around the world placed the UK 26th in the league table of nations. It was greeted with shock horror and government statements about the "urgent need" for further reform.

The fact that children in the UK had actually improved in mathematics and reading, and the country remained above average overall was conveniently ignored, as was the fact that Sweden was blaming its system of Free Schools (much praised by Michael Gove), for its poor performance. It would seem that political "spin" is still prevalent and government will readily twist data to justify its policies.

Not only should we ask what exactly was being measured in this international comparison and whether other things are just as important for our children's future like social harmony and environmental sustainability, but will the Government's response take account of any of the advances over the last 50 years in our understanding about how children learn?

Our Secretary of State seems determined to take us back to the 1950s, when we had a system that labelled 80 per cent of children as failures, and capped aspirations at a very low level for many young people. If the Health Minister reinstated the medical practices of the 1950s, his resignation would be demanded next day.

We now know so much more about motivation and how children learn. Our university training departments produce teachers who are skilled in ways that are the envy of most of the world. We understand that "intelligence" has creative, emotional, musical, scientific and physical dimensions, as well as linguistic and mathematical components, and that all children need opportunities to develop these aspects.

On the day the UK was ranked 26th in the world for mathematics, Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra published a report about the impact of children's participation in its "In Harmony" music project. The results have been dramatic. Attendance, motivation, and achievement in mathematics and English have soared. Rather than scour the world for the few grains of evidence that might support a "back to the 1950s" campaign, Michael Gove could save a lot of energy by looking at the lessons from Liverpool.

And two week ago our own city saw the inaugural concert by "Handfuls of Harmony" a new community choir in BS3 that brings together children, staff and parents from neighbouring schools.

In a week when "generosity of spirit" has become much lauded as a human trait, perhaps it is no coincidence that these are schools where "responsibility" and "respect" are key words in their entrance halls.

Dr Roger White is the elected parent-representative on the Children's Services Scrutiny Commission.

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