Education Quandary

'Teaching happiness when children can't even master basic English and maths? How can people be so stupid?'
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The Independent Online

Hilary's advice

I, too, have doubts about these so-called happiness lessons, but different ones. I'm fundamentally well-disposed towards teaching children how to manage their thoughts and feelings. After all, it's something that millions of adults struggle to learn in later life through therapy or self-help. Why not help children be aware of how their minds can be a help or a hindrance, and get them thinking about tools like anger management and positive thinking? And I'm pretty sure it will help their English and maths as well, in spite of your conviction that too much happiness will cause basic skills to take a further dive. Happy, confident pupils are far more likely to do well.

My doubts are: first, calling it happiness in the first place – it's inaccurate and silly – and second, about the Government ordering teachers to teach anything new without telling them what they can take out of the overcrowded curriculum to make room for it.

My third doubt is about the quality of the lessons. This area needs teaching with conviction and insight, or it will become banal. Yet many teachers are bound to feel resentful about this unwelcome task foisted on them by the politicians, and may not feel either equipped or inclined to do a good job. It would have been far better if the Government had simply outlined the case for teaching this subject, pointed to where good lesson materials might be found and left schools to get on with it.



Readers' advice

You need to chill out and get some perspective. Your children are young, and should be enjoying school and getting excited about what's going to happen when they get there. As a secondary school teacher jumping through hoops of KS3 levels, GCSEs and A-levels, I am witnessing first-hand the life being drained from our young minds as they become obsessed with levels and how to hit the next attainment target – simply for the satisfaction of parents who don't understand the difference. Let your children enjoy school and let them actually become happier at school – then the learning and teaching will be easy and the results will follow.

Ben Rackley, Leicestershire



I have been teaching some parts of this so-called happiness curriculum for the past three years to five- and six-year-olds. Your children will be lucky if they get these lessons. Our pupils understand instinctively what it is all about, and we see results immediately, especially in how they behave towards each other. And often the ones who respond most are those with the most obvious social problems – so everyone benefits.

Janice Newlands, Northumberland



Does the Government want me to drop history, geography, citizenship, art, music or PE to teach this new subject? And can it tell me how I should explain to my head and my parents why my Year Six class's SATs results are not as good as they should be, due to the lack of preparation time? Your reader is right. It is stupid to pile this on to already stretched schools.

Jenni McGovern, Sheffield

Next Week's Quandary

Dear Hilary,

What is a reasonable dress code for teachers? I ask because, as a primary head, I am getting increasingly concerned about what my – mainly young – teachers come to school wearing. I feel that they are too casual, but I may be getting out of touch. Also, I am a man and they are women. Any views would be warmly welcome.

Send letters or quandaries to Hilary Wilce, to arrive no later than Monday 24 September, to 'The Independent', Education Desk, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS; or fax 020-7005 2143; or email h.wilce@btinternet.com. Please include your postal address. Readers whose letters are printed will receive a Collins Paperback English Dictionary 5th Edition

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