Understanding for Reflection and Assessment

On any of these schedules, it is plain, Tom would be assessed as an entirely
inadequate child, who is blatantly deviant from the expected norm. If Tom were
to be assessed using the more recent Foundation Stage Profile (QCA, 2003) his
strengths, for example in relation to personal, social and emotional development,
would be more likely to be recognized, and his attempts at writing acknowledged.
There is another source of evidence for my claim that one prevailing concept
of childhood is characterized by submissiveness and compliance: in a disturbing
book, Children into Pupils, Mary Willes reports a classroom-based study, in which
she followed children through their first months in school, documenting in great
detail the process that transforms them from children to pupils. Her conclusion is
stark: ‘Finding out what the teacher wants, and doing it, constitute the primary
duty of a pupil’ (Willes, 1983: 138).
We may detect a note of exaggeration here, but only a note: the insight rings
true. Willes’ argument powerfully reinforces mine: that educators may choose to
construct children as seriously inadequate until proved otherwise, until they show
the signs of successful pupils – obedience, attentiveness, compliance and industry.
On all of these counts, Tom would not score highly, if at all. But there is an
alternative. We can, if we so choose, construct our images of children in a different
mould. We can choose to see them as essentially divergent, rather than convergent,
inner-directed, rather than other-directed, and competent, rather than
In recent years, we have come to associate this construction with the work of
the preschool educators in Reggio Emilia, Italy, though it is important to
remember it has its roots in many earlier theorists, from Dewey to Piaget, and,
significantly for us in England, the great Susan Isaacs (1930, 1933), whose hallmark
was that she studied children as they really are, not as some of their teachers...