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Children as young as 4 to be given 'happiness tests' at school

UK Daily Mail | June 4, 2007 
LAURA CLARK

Children as young as four are to take "happiness tests" in a controversial drive to force schools to improve the well-being of pupils, it has emerged.

Thousands of youngsters are expected to be quizzed on whether they are feeling optimistic, confident, loved and interested in other people.

They will be set questionnaires similar to the self-help quizzes found in women's magazines to check they are "feeling good about myself" and "dealing with problems well".

Heads will be expected to tackle influences "likely to lead to poor mental health or mental health disorders".

They will be encouraged to use methods ranging from special programmes to help children make the transition to primary or secondary school to sessions which are part of day-to-day teaching.

Trendy new "emotional literacy" classes have already been introduced in many primary and secondary schools with the aim of teaching children to manage anger and jealousy and develop empathy.

However critics have accused the Government of foisting responsibilities onto schools that are better left with parents, as part of a traditional upbringing.

The well-being assessments are being developed by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (Nice), better known as the NHS drug rationing watchdog. It also has a role in promoting public health.

A document produced by the institute reveals how schools' success in keeping their pupils happy will be measured by "well-being scales".

These have been developed jointly by Warwick and Edinburgh universities and monitor positive attributes such as confidence, resilience, attentiveness and the ability to form good relationships.

Participants are asked to consider 14 statements about their feelings and tick a box disclosing whether it occurs often, rarely, some of the time, all of the time or never.

The quiz is expected to be adapted for use by the youngest pupils, with details due out later in the year.

The guidance is intended for primary schools, which teach children aged four to 11.

Nice's document asserts that poor mental well-being at primary level can affect academic achievement later in a school career.

It claims older children (aged 11 to 16) are at a 12 per cent risk of being diagnosed with a mental disorder, against eight per cent for five to 10-year-olds.

Both primary and secondary schools were put under an explicit duty to promote the well-being of pupils by the Education and Inspections Act 2006.

Head teachers' leaders yesterday warned the well-being checks would come to be known as "happiness tests" and criticised them as further needless bureacracy.

Mick Brookes, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: "Any teacher worth their salt will be able to tell you all about these things, without having to ask pupils how they are feeling against a long checklist.

"Where there are children who are getting a raw deal at home and have problems, we certainly need to help them, but lumbering teachers with a 'happiness test' is a distraction."

The happiness ratings are part of a wider drive to give schools greater responsibilities for aspects of children's development.

The Government's £20million emotional literacy initiative encourages activities such as "worry boxes", where pupils write down their anxieties and post them into a box, and "emotional barometers",

However experts claim there is no evidence such approaches actually work.

Kathryn Ecclestone, a professor of education at Oxford Brookes University, has hit out at the trend, branding it a dangerous fad.

She has warned schools are increasingly employing "life coaches" and highlighted one college which instructed teachers not to write comments on students' work in case it made them feel "vulnerable".

"Inserting a vocabulary of emotional vulnerability, where children are encouraged to feel different or told they have low self-esteem, is likely to encourage the very feelings of depression and hopelessness it is supposed to eradicate" she said.

"If you try to challenge this educational bandwagon, you are accused of being in 'emotional denial'."

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