Not Saussure

March 14, 2007

Arithmomania…

Filed under: Education — notsaussure @ 2:32 am

… is, according to dictionary.com,

A compulsive desire to count objects and to make calculations; such as,
counting paces when walking, steps in a staircase, etc. A common
symptom in obsessive-compulsive disorder.

In his summary, at Blairwatch, of the second part of Adam Curtis’ The Trap, Davide Simonetti notes, as an example of the lunatic extent to which this government has assigned numerical values to everything it can think of,

The Treasury under Gordon Brown started creating a vast mathematical system and started putting numerical values to things people had thought impossible to measure previously – hunger in sub Saharan Africa to be reduced to below 48 percent, world conflict to be reduced by six percent. All towns and villages in Britain were to be measured for a “community vibrancy index”. Even the amount of birdsong there should be in the countryside was quantified.

However, misapplied human ingenuity knows no limits; The Guardian reports:

Babies will be assessed on their gurgling, babbling and toe-playing abilities when they are a few months old under a legally enforced national curriculum for children from birth to five published by the government yesterday.Every nursery, childminder and reception class in Britain will have to monitor children’s progress towards a set of 69 government-set “early learning goals”, recording them against more than 500 development milestones as they go.

At five, each child will be assessed against 13 scales based on the learning goals and their score, called an early years profile, must be passed to the Department for Education and Skills.

The report continues,

The Department for Education and Skills’s framework immediately came under attack from the National Confederation of Parent Teacher Associations (NCPTA) and from the Tories for taking an excessively prescriptive approach and targeting children far too young.

Margaret Morrissey of the NCPTA said: “I think it’s really sad that we have reached the point now where instead of reducing children’s stress we have increased it … It worries me that we are expecting children to reach these targets when they have not even had their first birthday.”

Nevertheless, the DfES is keen to defend the initiative;

The DfES says the framework is a means of ensuring high standards of early education and care that will reassure parents that their child’s development is being supported, no matter what form of childcare or pre-school education they use.

Beverley Hughes, the children’s minister, denied the goals would lead to a “tickbox approach” to assessing children, though she acknowledged this had happened under the previous system. She rejected suggestions that a 92-page set of practice guidance featuring 513 skills and attitudes children should acquire which accompanies the framework was excessively detailed.

Well, of course it isn’t. Whatever gave people that idea?

According to the practice guidance, babies from birth to 11 months should be assessed for “the different ways babies communicate, such as gurgling when happy”. As they begin to scrutinise the skills children need for writing, carers should note the interest infants show in “the marks they make when they rub a rusk round the tray of a feeding chair”.

In preparation for learning about numbers, babies will be monitored on whether they enjoy “finding their nose, eyes or tummy”.

Said Ms Hughes,

“I don’t think it is prescriptive. I think the examples we have got in there are really what brings it to life for practitioners.”

The terrible thing about all this is that I can see how all these various developmental stages are important; it’s not, I’m sure, trivial that children should at some point between birth and 11 months start to

· Communicate in a variety of ways including crying, gurgling, babbling and screaming

· Play with their own fingers and toes and focus on objects around them

· Discover mark-making by chance, noticing, for instance, that trailing a finger through spilt juice changes it

and, doubtless, there may be cause concern if the child isn’t so doing (note the may; as I understand it, children develop at markedly different rates for no apparent reason, and I’ve got a horrible vision of anxious parents scrutinising the spilled juice and becoming concerned that their child doesn’t seem particularly moved by the changing shapes as he sticks his mitts into it.

But it’s the codification of things that one would think an experienced nursery or childminder would notice anyway — or, at least, notice if they weren’t happening that bothers me. People can’t be trusted to do anything themselves, it seems; they have constantly to be monitored and to be filling out forms and record sheets rather than playing with and caring for the children. It’s as if they’re trying to programme robots to look after the infants.

And doubtless, in years to come we’ll have ministers — from whatever party — appearing on the Today programme and happily burbling away away about how under their wise administration, the number of infants reaching key stage whatever it is in gurgling, babbling and playing with their toes by the age of 11 months is showing a satisfactory increase. Certainly, they’ll concede under questioning from the interviewer, there’s room for improvement and, quite possibly, we must consider additional and compulsory parenting classes to assist those parents whose children aren’t reaching the appropriate benchmarks on time…

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7 Comments »

  1. The problem with reducing children’s development to a series of tick-boxes is that it ignores the quality of the whole child.

    I edited a book on autism a few years ago which involved contributions from a number of parents. I got rather puzzled by the criteria used to assess ASDs because, as far as I could see, every child I knew (including my own) ticked the boxes at least sometimes. Ah, said the parents, but the *sometimes* is the difference: our children tick the boxes in heavy black ink most of the time.

    Children are not cars where component parts can be isolated and ‘fixed’, and child development models are only a rough statement of average development. Production-line processess reduce a child to a series of deficits, ignoring the uniqueness and totality of the individual child.

    Comment by archrights — March 14, 2007 @ 10:03 am

  2. […] Since I don’t trust myself to write about it until the red mist clears, I’ll forward you to Not Saussure. […]

    Pingback by The national human being curriculum « The ARCH Blog — March 14, 2007 @ 7:05 pm

  3. I’m 98% bored by all this number crunching.

    Comment by jameshigham — March 14, 2007 @ 9:45 pm

  4. This is such a bizarre notion. I had thought SATs for 7 year-olds was odd, but this is plain madness. Among the many objections I have to it, it absolutely ignores the various alternative approaches parents may choose. I believe that one criterion cited by the Guardian includes recognition of routines, like nappy-change time. Well, that’s you knackered if you practice elimination communication, then. Of course, recognising one’s own need to eliminate bodily waste is far from being a useful life skill…

    Comment by Ian — March 15, 2007 @ 3:05 am

  5. Not only must they ‘recognise’ nappy time, they must also enjoy it! Our dd took ‘nappy time’ to be a total waste of her valuable time, as soon as she could move off the changing mat. She would also delight in ripping off the nappy and streaking about with it held aloft in a victory display. No doubt the govt would have us believe that this indicated worrying tendencies of some sort or another. Where are the individuals in all this?

    Comment by Allie — March 15, 2007 @ 2:46 pm

  6. wonders how long it will be before they start trying to account for common sense ……or better still, the the lack of it, which has just got to have bigger numbers in the results

    Comment by Just about had enough — March 15, 2007 @ 9:33 pm

  7. This goverment has OCD where monitoring children is concerned. Figure crunching can be useful though – I suggest counting the hairs on the palm of ministers hands.

    Comment by Pippa — March 16, 2007 @ 10:31 am


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