Monday, 2 February 2009

A mixture of sentimentality and panic?

What would be a good way of describing a report on children which reckoned that kids today were worse off than in the days when they were 'seen and not heard', or when child labour was rife; one that sought to insulate youngsters from the world into which they were likely to become adults by not testing them or publishing the results?

The Archbishop of Canterbury, in a foreword to today's report from the Children's Society, puts it well: "a climate where the mixture of sentimentalism and panic makes discussion of children's issues so difficult." But he wasn't talking about this latest publication; he was apparently endorsing its tone and prescriptions.

To be fair, the report does have some good ideas. The idea of civil birth ceremonies is not a bad idea. Nor is the endorsement for better paid teachers in deprived areas. But the overall tone of the report's launch plays into a general idea that young people have never had it so bad and have never been so unhappy with their lot.

In explaining why they concluded that young people are allegedly so much more unhappy today, one of the report's authors, Richard Layard told the Today programme that it was because so many of them had 'psychiatric problems.' Hence the report's recommendation that we train 1000 more psychological therapists. But do they really? Or are we just relabelling lots of things that would previously have been treated as a normal part of growing up?

And, well done to the Children's minister Beverley Hughes, quoted in yesterday's Observer, for nailing the canard that testing is making youngsters unhappy.
Children needed some stresses and challenges to develop the necessary resilience for adult life, she said. "I think that largely the impact on children of doing tests can be mediated by parents and schools," she added."I have always felt that being tested is a part of life that you have to get used to and for a child you can make that something to be scared of or you can do it in a way that normalises it."

This blog has been picked up by the Teachers' TV website.

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