Numbering Children

Schools are very practised at numbering children, but does that really help?

I’m about to go to my youngest child’s parents meeting. He’s in Year 6, so his teacher is going to tell me his ‘level’, compare it to the level all the other children in his year up and down the country will be expected to achieve and then talk to me about why it’s important he works harder before the SATs.

To say I’m not looking forward to it is an understatement. As a class teacher I found the process of numbering children uncomfortable and as a parent I feel even more out of sorts when my bright, innovative, articulate child is ranked according to what he writes on a piece of paper or whether he solves a maths question correctly. When in reality it is important to know, as Professor Chris Tienken puts it, how he’s growing in “creativity, innovation, strategizing, problem-solving, compassion, empathy, cooperation skills, cultural literacy, persistence & resilience (and) other traits that transcend subjects and time”.

If these are the skills my son needs to be a caring and innovative global citizen then surely these are the talents we should be informed on. I want to hear that he’s “…built on his natural ability to make people laugh by drawing those on the edge into discussions” or that when posed with a problem he “…drew together a team that designed and costed a solution which they presented with clarity to the class”. That makes a parent’s meeting worthwhile!

Currently there are a few schools in the States and here who are beginning to recognise the importance of these other qualities in children’s development. The ’40 Developmental Assets’ released by the Search Institute in 1990 is one framework being used by Atherton Community School, enabling them to highlight strengths and weaknesses of children in their care and build on those accordingly.

If more schools used such a system, instead of just numbering children, teachers could reassure parents that their child is being treated as an individual, and that the school is drawing the best out of them in their formative years.