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Last Updated: Thursday, 3 August 2006, 11:49 GMT 12:49 UK
Pupils 'cannot be called clever'
Some children are stigmatised by the word "clever", it is argued
Teachers should stop calling bright pupils "clever" for fear they might not be considered "cool" by classmates, a union has been told.

Instead they should refer to academic high-achievers as "successful", the Professional Association of Teachers' conference in Oxford heard.

Simon Smith, a teacher from Essex, said it was important to avoid a culture which "mocks being clever".

A government spokesman said it was "not the brightest idea we have heard".

'Semantic debates'

He added: "The education system is about ensuring that every child is supported and also challenged to achieve the very best that they can. Semantic debates will not achieve this."

Last year, the union discussed replacing the word "failure" with "deferred success" - although it rejected the idea.

Mr Smith said: "Change the language we use; change something.

"If we were to use the word 'successful' rather than 'clever' we could all achieve it at our own level and in our own way.

"With a few exceptions, including sport, academic prowess is in many eyes not 'cool'."

Shadow schools minister Nick Gibb said: "In this information age, where an increasing number of jobs are in the creative industries, it is vital that all children aspire to academic excellence, whatever their background or ability."

Last month, an "excellent" student revealed she had had a mark taken away in a mock GCSE exam for giving an answer which a teacher deemed "too sophisticated".

Katie Merchant, 16, of Brighton College, missed a "key word" in a Latin test, although she showed more than enough knowledge for a full mark.

Headmaster Richard Cairns said the OCR exam board's assessment scheme, which the school used, was "too mechanistic".

We asked for your views on this story. Here is a selection:

Insane! Let the kids dictate to adults what is acceptable and what's not, instead of the other way around? What is the next level of mutation for "successful" yobs, I wonder?
Acibeb, London, UK

I do not think that it makes any difference when it comes down to it. Although I do think it is a better alternative than what was suggested when the PAT decided to change failure for "deferred success". In the case of people who fail it should not be sugar-coated for them as they are probably aware that they did not perform to the level that they envisaged. However, in terms of "clever" pupils, I think that "successful" is a fair substitute.
Chris Field, Melton Mowbray

More pandering to underachieving chavs. The solution is to dump all the "deferred successes" in the same sink school and let them all disrupt each other's education - let the clever kids that want to learn do just that.
Matt Munro, Bristol, UK

How about educating the pupils to judge achievement as cool?


An idea destined for "deferred success"...
Richard, Worthing, UK

My school maths tests had categories ranging from 'not yet achieved' to 'achieved with excellence', presumably for similar reasons to the PAT's proposals.

But kids aren't stupid; I got higher marks than they did and they knew it, and I was still teased as a square. But so what? It just made me work even harder and if it hadn't been that I'm sure they'd have teased me for being so tall or living out of town.
Lyn , Newcastle, UK

It seems to me that a large proportion of the teaching profession has had, and continues to have, a lengthy period of deferred success with regard to satisfying the expectations and needs of the pupils and the country.
Mark, Manchester, UK

What is this country coming to?

How long will it be before we have call school pupils 'educational institutional attendees', and dinner breaks 'reflectional periods'?

The age-old principles of discipline and authority have been taken away from our teachers. Now they have to speak in stupid politically correct code. Do me a favour.
Dave Evans, Sunbury, Middlesex

Absolutely, yes. Otherwise the success may be a very tough job to anybody in this age. "Deferred success" is an apt replacement for "failure". A professional approach in bringing up every individual in a successful nation like the UK.
Shafi, Chennai, India

No, no, no. This is ridiculous. My son is clever. He constantly amazes me. He's only four and has been reading for a year. I've never pressured him, never pushed. He's always asked and enquired. Calling a child "successful", sounds like the PC squad has got involved again.
Jim Ellis, Rugby, UK

How out of touch the teaching profession is. In the real world the great companies, who create the wealth to keep the "professional teachers" in the style to which they have become accustomed to, need to recruit clever people just to survive.
J Rushton, London

I'm fed up with silly items like this. You get clever kids, ordinary kids and sadly you get thick kids - there I've said it. They know it's true and they know which category they're in. This is not the way to improve education.
Ian Collis, Devizes, Wilts

As a student myself, I can honestly say I've always thrived on praise. When a teacher tells you you're doing well, internally you feel better about yourself - regardless of whether it's supposedly 'cool'. The chances are that somebody deemed uncool was already labelled as such before they entered the classroom. It frankly feels a shade Orwellian to try and control our thoughts about one another based on the language used in the classroom.
Lawrence Matthews, Dorchester, Dorset, UK

It would be more effective to ban obscene language in classrooms before trying to rewrite the English language.
Ron Reddey, Weybridge, UK

There's nothing wrong with the word "clever" but perhaps "intelligent" should be used instead. Doesn't clever have a connotation of cunning, ingenious? It has that meaning in German where it is "klever - ie cunning. I totally agree that "deferred success" instead of failure is so pathetic and sugar-coated it's almost insulting to the intelligence. Young people should be able to cope with failure as well as praise in order to learn how to cope with life's disappointments. No point in sugar-coating it.
Susan McEwan, Lincoln-UK

Clever means clever; successful means good at what you do. You can be successful at being stupid.
Nav, Birmingham

I wud reply to this using like big wordz and stuff.. but my friends 'fink dat the bbc is like soooo un-cool and stuff...
Anon E Mouse, Huddersfield

As ridiculous as this is, there is a point - it is not seen as "cool" to be "clever". Surely, though, this is the cop-out solution? Rather than arguing semantics, why not address the problem and make being clever cool? Reward high-achievers, rather than hiding their talents from the world and rewarding mediocrity instead!
Ben, Loughborough, UK

Sorry to tell them, but 'cool' is not a cool word anymore.
Al, Southampton, UK

My sons have been bullied throughout their schooling for being "boffs" (the term used in our area for those of above-average intelligence). Merely changing the language used by teachers will not resolve the problem.
Angela, Wallingford, England

All children should be encouraged regardless whether there are 'clever' or not. Words that differentiate between children should be not be used in the classroom anyway.
Shahida Ali, Glasgow

Much as I hate language manipulation (and I am unimpressed by 'deferred success'), I think 'successful' is a better term for academic achievement. Cleverness/intelligence is not a linear quality. Some people excel academically but go on to lead very average lives. Some are 'stupid' at school but go on to be very successful in business. Neither type is universally 'clever', but they both have real strengths.
John, Worcester

What is there for bright children?
14 Jul 06 |  Education
'Clever' answer loses pupil marks
04 Jul 06 |  Education
Gifted pupils 'under-achieving'
09 Aug 05 |  Education

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