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The Able Child

The British state education system fails the needs of the able child.

We need to ensure that all our students are successfully challenged. In many cases this does not happen. Age is only a rudimentary indicator of the learning capabilities of our children. Single age classrooms can create tremendous normative pressures which often stiffle excellence and discourage the less able child. It is a mistake to assume that children of the same age group can learn the same things.

Today our children undergo a battery of tests at all ages. The information exists to organise classrooms by ability and optimise the potential of the classroom.

A few schools have introduced able-child programs and these are helpful to some children. However, such schemes are very heavy on resources and would be unnecessary if classrooms were organised by ability. Moreover, they are an admission that the national curriculum fails those at the top end of the ability range.

Consider this insidious effect of organising our classrooms into year groups: it is much easier to have a child kept down a year than moved up a year. Count the numbers of children you know (in the state system) who are one year behind their normal age group. If you have school-age children, you probably know of one or two. Now count the number who are one year ahead of their normal age group. The chances are that you do not know of ANY. But why should this be? Shouldn't these two numbers be roughly equal? The state system claims to strive for excellence but I claim it strives for normality and mediocrity.

We've all heard of children bored into slumber during mathematics lessons. Perhaps they've been forced to repeat the 10 times table (something they've known for the past five years) once too often. Such situations are an outrage. Society needs able people, not only in mathematics but in all fields. A cure for Cancer won't come from someone who is reluctant to attend school because they face the prospect of yet another dull day.

We need to excite our able children and make them want to learn. We will never have the time and resources to do this whilst we divide children into rigid age groups. Moreover, I believe it's not just children's intellectual development that will benefit from a wider use of mixed age groups. They will benefit emotionally, too. Today children have less freedom than they did thirty years ago. They are deprived of information (despite the internet) and role models that were once available in natural mixed age groups. Mixed aged classrooms will go some way to redress the balance.

© Copyright 2003. All rights reserved.

Derek Jennings.