Telling pupils they're clever is uncool, teachers warned

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The Independent Online

Teachers have been told they should stop telling their pupils they are clever, because it is "uncool" and could put them off learning.

Instead, delegates at the 34,000-strong Professional Association of Teachers annual conference in Oxford heard yesterday, they should use words such as "successful".

Simon Smith, a teacher from Sweyne Park school in Rayleigh, Essex, told the conference: "I am sorry to say a culture has developed that mocks being clever. We should fight against it: change the language that we use, change something.

"I have talked to various pupils. They said being clever meant you were boring, lacked personality, were a teacher's pet and other things not polite enough to mention in company such as this. With a few exceptions, including sport, academic prowess is in many eyes not 'cool'. We need to change this, perhaps by changing the language we use. 'Clever' suggests to me a pure academic ability, passing exams at A grades.

"This is how pupils see things. If we were to use the word 'successful' rather than 'clever', we could all achieve it at our own level and in our own way."

Ann Nutley, from Bacon's College in Southwark in south London, said pupils often did not turn up for their awards at school prize-givings "because it is not cool to be seen to be walking up to the stage to receive your prize".

Wesley Paxton, of the East Ridings of Yorkshire, said achievers and Nobel Prize winners were never considered to be celebrities. "Some so-called self-made men can be almost proud of not having done well at school," he said. He cited Sir Alan Sugar, Sir Richard Branson and David Beckham. "Where are the 21st century versions of Brunel, the Stephensons, the Wright brothers, Faraday, Rutherford, etc?"

Alice Chatburn, a new teacher from Tower Hamlets, east London, said: "I was able at school without trying too hard. I made it obvious to people that I didn't work hard and I made it obvious that I wasn't trying. People don't want to be seen to be working very hard at school and I was lucky I was able to achieve good grades and go on to university."

Delegates overwhelmingly backed a motion "regretting it does not appear to be 'cool' to be clever". Peter Jenkins, a former chairman of the association from Sheffield, said clever pupils were often bullied "to make their work less good than it actually is". Some pupils "deliberately under-achieved because of peer pressure not to appear to be bright, clever or hard-working, which we certainly would recognise as admirable traits in people".

A spokesman for the Department for Education said: "This is not the brightest idea we have heard. The education system is about ensuring every child is supported and also challenged to achieve the very best that they can. Semantic debates will not achieve this."

Delegates also backed a motion criticising the Government's policy of making synthetic phonics compulsory in reading in primary schools from September. Brenda Wilson, a former primary head from Essex, said: "If all children have to learn by one method only it could be meaningless and sterile for some children and they will be turned off."