Mastery versus little boxes

My blog last week focused on mastery as the ultimate goal of knowing the child – and of each child knowing one’s self as an individual learner. So what are these little boxes into which schools and society seek to place children? How do these boxes operate against mastery by detracting attention from the individual? Let’s consider how this happens.

A first step towards obtaining additional support for a child is a diagnosis. Hence the Educational Psychologist (EP). The EP does a series of assessments and comes up with traits that are common to particular groups – for example, dyslexia, autism, ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyper-active Disorder), speech and language difficulties, or the difficulties may be generally cognitive, as with moderate or severe learning difficulties. Or a child may be identified with SEMH (social and emotional mental health) problems.

The EP or other consulted professional almost certainly identifies the child’s general level of intelligence as a quotient: the IQ. And here are the imminent dangers – as little boxes. Below one hundred, signals below the average, and with it may come that dreadful assumption of low expectations that I have blogged about already.

Each professional writes up a report, detailing the assessments, the diagnosis, suggestions, any medical implications. And hey presto – a child is ready to be placed inside a little box within the SEND system.

I too have been guilty of placing children into boxes, being a member, and Manager, of what was then called the Special Educational Need Support Service (SENSS). I too operated non-verbal IQ and other tests that sought to identify a child’s weaknesses and deficiencies – and, in so doing, helped schools to place children with SEND into the right boxes for the purposes of learning. Only later in my teaching career, did I realise that these boxes did little to emphasise the real key to success for all – a child’s individuality, and dare I say – uniqueness, because we are all unique.

Somewhere, in that complex assessment and identification process, the individual becomes lost – locked into a box with similar other individuals within the same category of SEND. What happens? Everyone in the box is regarded as the same. Personalities and characteristics become diminished. What society and educators mainly see are the commonalities of those in the same box. We are all guilty. Educators. Society. Parents.

Even more concerning is that individual’s inability to escape from the assigned box. Why? Because once inside, that person’s individual traits become subsumed by those of the many. One common example of ‘many’ is the basic ‘SEN table’ – at which children with learning weaknesses invariably sit for most of their school day, although I hope these classroom organisational practices have become mainly abolished.

So, back to mastery versus those little boxes – let’s get rid of the boxes. Look carefully at your child. Who is he or she? How does he think? Act? Respond to challenges? Deal with problems? How does your child learn best? Celebrate the strengths. Avoid focusing on weaknesses all of the time. Tease out WHAT makes your child who he really is – outside of the box – and collaborate with school professionals. Help them to know too.

In order to master himself – your child must learn and know himself as an individual. Start by finding out WHAT your child learns and HOW. My books will help – Support Your Child with SEND (Book 1) and at successive Key Stages (Books 2 to 4), by Sylvia Edwards, are available from Lulu in printed form, and from Amazon, in printed form and ebooks. Visit my website:

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