So with the first week of school underway, many of you will have been busily sewing name tags into your child’s belongings in the vain hope of avoiding the inevitable lost PE kit. But before your child has a single name tag attached to their school jumper, they will already be carrying a label; one of circumstance.
As a primary teacher I am all too familiar with the process of analysing our pupils according to labels. One of the first tasks with a new class is to assess their entry level and then break it down into ‘inclusion groups’. This means considering the data according to the certain indentifying features in order to monitor progress. Ethnicity, gender, birth term, free school meals etc. Each category is considered when looking at your child. My concern however is sometimes we look at these labels first and the child second.
Take me for instance. I was a child from a single parent family, having free school meals and living in a housing estate notorious for ‘being rough’. Stick a label on me and you have ‘cause for concern’ written all over it. In my day the children having free school meals had to line up separately at dinner time-imagine that now! Talk about segregation!!
Now whilst most teachers and schools aspire to use this knowledge positively, ensuring they monitor the children that might be at risk of slow progress-surely just that subconscious thought in itself can be harmful. “I am keeping tabs on my free school mean children because they are most likely to underachieve.” It can’t be a healthy way to view a child. I know it is done with the best intentions but these labels we place on children build up a mental picture of that child, something I believe can be quite detrimental to inclusion. My son’s label will read, “summer born-boy-left handed”, something that as a reception teacher would instantly set alarm bells ringing when it comes to writing skills. How can we then be sure we are not setting the bar too low? Having expectations built on the label and not on the child themselves?
There are so many wonderful teachers out there who I know use this information positively and don’t let it cloud their judgement. But I can’t help but wonder if teachers didn’t have to spend so much time being forced to analyse their data by breaking it down into ‘inclusion groups’ then they might have more time to focus on each individual child.
PS: As the two children of a single mum, claiming free school meals and from a housing estate, I grew up to be a teacher and aspiring writer and my brother is a partner in a solicitors firm. Labels-forget about them!