The article above touched my heart. As a Headteacher, I’m part of a system that continually strives for better results but I also place a great emphasis on the happiness of a child. It is my firm belief that children learn more when they are relaxed and involved in their own learning. All children are too young to allow exams to dictate their well being. Surely what we need are a variety of skills that are not always focussed on academic results?
Those people that know me will understand that my DIY skills would require a grading of requiring special measures. I’m in awe and full of admiration for the skills pupils demonstrate yet Schools are measured on their success in the core subjects of language, Maths and Science. I realise the importance of these subjects however do we not need carpenters, mechanics, plumbers, artists, designers, builders? Would not the well being of pupils be improved simply by acknowledging that we are all different and to celebrate their talents and abilities inexactly the same way as if they achieved an A* in a core subject? Children need to feel valued, they need to believe their skills are relevant otherwise they become disenfranchised with the whole system of education.
It is no different within the Primary setting. I do not wish any child in my care to feel as if they are a failure. They can all make mistakes and they need to accept that this is a natural process. Ultimately we all learn from our mistakes yet when pupils are given a test that is a simple snapshot on a certain day of their ability, a mistake can lead to a different score. What impact does this have on a child? During the recent tests at my school, we had the opportunity to work with Taccle3 and the pupils not sitting the tests were able to develop their ICT skills. They were totally engaged in a variety of activities and when their turn came to sit the test, they were relaxed.
Being a worrier, I realise that worry leads to greater worries that can develop into fears. It is the cycle of uncertainty and negativity that is difficult to break. Many pupils react in this manner and often our job is to support the child to realise their worth and that it is a fact that they will worry but it is how we deal with the worry that allows us to overcome these difficulties. Dr S Peters, has written about this by describing ‘The Chimp Paradox’. Many pupils wish for things to be different or better yet very often the reality is very different. Based on the Chimp Paradox, if we accept that it is a fact that we will get some questions wrong, then perhaps the well being of a child would be more settled rather than having a panic over not knowing an answer to a question. If we can reduce the barriers to success for each child then we have to begin with their fears and concerns. We have to build strong foundations that builds pillars of strength as they grow and develop.
The greatest Paradox is that children sit their most important exams at a time when their emotional state is at its most vulnerable. Teenagers have a whole volcano of emotions ready to explode and during this emotional turmoil, we ask them to sit exams.
We do not wish to have a generation of pupils that deem themselves as failures. We certainly need to address this in terms of these feelings leading to stress that can then lead to a fatal decision. Surely, on the road to their future careers, we need to be supporting a diversity of talent. If pupils feel the pressure of expectations then we must ask from where does this come? I believe that often, through comparing with siblings, peers or parental expectations, children can find the pressure too great and no matter how a pressure is diffused, a child places an enormous amount of pressure on their own shoulders. Reassurance is key for any carer or parent that has a child feeling this way.
I have gone slightly astray from the title but ultimately, it is all about the well being of a child. Many questionnaires are available that can be used as a tracking tool for measuring a child’s well being however often it is by simply observing how they behave that you can truly have an insight into their well being. Observation is key to making sure that we are ready to respond to the need of a child.
If a child suddenly changes behaviour, there is always an underlying reason. One of the most powerful tools that we use in my School is the opportunity for pupils to discuss their feelings with a trained member of staff. ELSA (Emotional literacy support assistant) have a crucial role to play in supporting the well being of the most vulnerable pupils. Through observation, talking and most importantly listening, we will and are able to respond to the needs of the pupils. However, it is also the ethos created within the classroom and the whole school that allows us to tap in to the individual needs of the pupils.
Pupils need to feel valued, they need to feel that they are a part of the system rather than a product of a system. I think that every Headteacher, Principal and Education Minister have a crucial role to play in encouraging and developing a focus on responding to emotional needs and not simply academic success. In my opinion, greater academic success will be achieved by putting a clear focus on the well being of a child.