Emotions run high in the classroom

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The Independent Online
Teachers could be forgiven for feeling confused. One minute, a teaching union is advising them to "bash and dash" when confronted with a violent pupil or parent. The next, an earnest group of liberal thinkers is urging them to help children get in touch with their feelings and "find ways of attending to the messages that lie behind aggressive and anti- social behaviour".

For those who prefer not to treat their job as a Gladiators-style challenge, the second option - from an organisation called Antidote - may prove the more promising approach.

Set up two years ago to promote "emotional literacy" among the repressed British, Antidote has now turned its attention to schools with a report titled Realising the potential - emotional education for all.

Battle-hardened teachers used to a life of bashing and dashing might find the proposals a trifle, well, Californian. Faced with a class of truculent 14-year-olds on a Friday afternoon, how many would be concentrating on "shifting the blocks that might prevent them from tuning in to the emotions being experienced by their pupils"?

Antidote's members, it must be admitted, include more than a few names from the intellectual luvvie set, notably barrister Helena Kennedy QC, psychotherapist Susie Orbach (pictured) - who confesses to being "rather unsuccessfully schooled", Carmen Callil - founder of the women's publishing house Virago, and Labour MP Patricia Hewitt. Financial assistance for the report, launched yesterday in highly un-Californian rainy central London, came from the Body Shop Foundation.

The group's "strategy for emotional literacy" would see a redesign of the National Curriculum to include "a focus on enabling young people to understand what they are feeling, and how emotions influence their thinking as well as their values". Teachers, meanwhile, would be provided with more "opportunities to develop their capacity to understand why children and young people behave as they do - particularly how fear, anxiety or distress come to be reflected in withdrawn or difficult behaviour".

Not only that, says the report, but put-upon staff "need to have their own needs recognised and met". They can only do so "if they feel valued and supported by society at large, and if they are given opportunities to share their feelings and experiences with fellow members of the school team".

Antidote's founders believe theirs are ideas whose time has come. Headteachers have flocked to the organisation's conferences.

Could the daily literacy hour, recommended for all primary schools, be followed by an emotional literacy hour, in which pupils would be invited to get to grips with their feelings for their Tamagotchi? Antidote's members will have none of such silliness. Taking emotional literacy seriously, they insist, will bring a host of benefits for young people, ranging from a fall in bullying, fewer exclusions, less alcohol addiction and more satisfying relationships. Which is more than can be said for bashing and dashing.

- Lucy Ward

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