Julie Henry
The Sunday Telegraph

March 6, 2005

LONDON - Primary school children in Britain are to be taught how to make friends, resolve squabbles and "manage their anger'' in a $24-million scheme to improve their social skills.

Teachers have been told by the Department of Education that they can no longer assume the development of social and emotional skills is the responsibility of parents. Children will be given lessons on how to express feelings, such as jealousy and regret, and be encouraged to forgive and compliment classmates.

"Research is bringing home the wide extent of various types of neglect and abuse,'' the instructions to teachers say.

"This is being exacerbated by the breakdown of extended family and communities, which reduces support for the nuclear family, and the higher rates of divorce and subsequent one-parent families.

"This has led to a shakeup of the belief that we can leave children's emotional and social development to parents. So schools have to provide the emotional and social guidance that some pupils currently lack.''

As part of the program, pupils will have 30-minute assemblies on six themes, followed by "dedicated sessions," as well as discussions in other curriculum areas.

Hundreds of schools in 25 districts have been piloting the classes. Next month, the program will be extended to the 20,000 primary schools in England. In one session, children are encouraged to talk about their emotions and play a quiz called "Guess what I am feeling?'' They design an "emotional barometer'' to rate the strength of their feelings.

In another, children build a "good friend wall'' with bricks on which they write qualities of friendship. They are also encouraged to pass around a cuddly toy to stroke to help them understand the "nice'' feeling they have when receiving a compliment.

Kevan Collins, the British government's national primary strategy director, said the project was aimed at improving learning and behaviour, highlighted as a growing problem in secondary schools.

"Many of these things are taught by parents, and we want to build on that,'' he said. "Other children might not have the background where these are developed sufficiently. We have more targeted work for those who need it.''

But some teachers have expressed doubts about the plan. David Hart, the general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: "Once again, schools are being used to make good the deficiencies of parents. I think there's a distinct danger that we are drifting more and more into the nanny state."

The Sunday Telegraph

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