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WHAT'S SO CLEVER ABOUT PASSING EXAMS?

12-01-2007

The government has announced plans to scrap SATS tests for 11 to 14 year olds, but it's toughened up its approach to GCSE league tables. Mike Drayton wonders whether we ought to use a bit more brain power when it comes to assessing the talents of our children.

Yesterday the secondary school league tables were published. A new emphasis on passing Maths and English GCSE's led to some very unexpected results, leaving posh public schools like Harrow and Rugby to rub shoulders with state secondaries from the most deprived areas.

Until last year, schools were ranked on the proportion of pupils achieving good grades in any five GCSEs - the government adopted the tougher target after criticism that the previous measure was distorted by pupils taking "easier" vocational exams.

Is this right though? Is this emphasis on fairly narrow academic subjects helpful to our childrens' education, self-esteem and ability to live life? I don't think so. It doesn't fit in with my experience of me, other people and life.

I don't think “vocational' practical or physical skills are easier or better than intellectual ability. Is it easier to plumb in a central heating system than to write an essay on Freud? Is it more difficult to learn to play football like Wayne Rooney or to learn to speak French.

Its obvious really isn't it? We are all good at some tasks and less good at others. So is it really helpful for government education policy to downgrade some abilities and idealise others? Should intelligence or ability be measured in pure academic or IQ terms or is it time to adopt a wider and more inclusive understanding of intelligence?

That's just what psychologist Howard Gardner did twenty years ago when he developed his ideas about multiple intelligences. Gardner famously said, “It's not how smart you are that matters, what really counts is how you are smart”.

Gardner said that intelligence is not just one simple concept but there are multiple intelligences. This is such a great idea because it gets away from the notion of a person being ether clever or thick.

I know that I can be intelligent in some areas (doing crosswords) and stupid in others (driving around an unfamiliar area). Wayne Rooney would not win the Booker prize with his autobiography but he could win the Nobel prize for football if there was one.

Gardner said there are at least seven intelligences, which we all posses to varying degrees. These are:

Linguistic intelligence means being good with language and words. Writers, poets, and lawyers would be seen as having high linguistic intelligence.

Logical-mathematical intelligence is an ability to use logic and maths to solve problems.

Musical intelligence involves skill in the performance, composition, and appreciation of music.

Bodily-kinesthetic intelligence entails the potential of using one's whole body or parts of the body to solve problems. It is the ability to use mental abilities to coordinate bodily movements.

Spatial intelligence involves the potential to understand distance, movement and the dynamic relationships between space and objects.

Interpersonal intelligence is concerned with the capacity to understand the intentions, motivations and desires of other people.

Intrapersonal intelligence entails the capacity to understand oneself, to appreciate one's feelings, fears and motivations.

Education league tables force our schools (and indeed culture and society) to become obsessed with linguistic and logical-mathematical intelligence. We value the highly articulate or logical people of our culture.

Gardner's theory of Multiple Intelligences proposes that we should also place equal value on people who show gifts in the other intelligences: the artists, drivers, architects, plumbers, musicians, footballers, dancers, psychologists, entrepreneurs, and others who enrich the world in which we live.

The government's current obsession with league tables could mean that many children who have these gifts don't receive much support or encouragement for them in school.

Many of these children end up being seen as underachievers, when their unique ways of thinking and learning aren't catered for by a academically oriented and assessment obsessed government education policy.

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