Page last updated at 12:21 GMT, Thursday, 12 June 2008 13:21 UK

Class therapy 'harming children'

Teachers should be concentrating on learning not emotions, it is argued

Children's minds are being damaged by a culture of therapy in the classroom, a leading educationalist has argued.

Dennis Hayes, visiting professor at the Westminster Institute of Education, said pushing pupils to talk about their feelings harmed their education.

"Therapeutic education" which places emotions over intellect, puts up barriers to learning by assuming everyone has problems, he said.

Instead teachers should concentrate on teaching their subjects, he argued.

The stress young children face as a result of tests and the pressures of modern life have featured in the media in recent months and years.

'Worry box'

"Pressures have always been there but the shift is that now children are being taught they can't cope," said Prof Hayes who lectures at the institute which is part of Oxford Brookes University.

But he argued that now anxieties that did not previously exist were being placed in the minds of young children by an over-emphasis on the emotional.

He gave the example of what is called "circle time" in primary schools, which, he said, used to be a chance for pupils to sit down at the end of the school day and talk about what they had learned.

Now youngsters were encouraged to sit around and talk about their feelings instead, he said.

"This can create anxiety among young people. We heard of one young girl and it was her turn to 'put her worries' in the 'worry box'.

"But she became very upset because she didn't have any worries," he said.

The more people obsessed about their problems, the harder they were to get over, he said.

He claimed that having a mental health problem was now seen like wearing a "badge of honour".


"And it's not just in infant and primary schools, it's right the way through to higher education," he added, claiming that students were always looking for difficulties such as dyslexia to declare.

He added: "People say you need to get self-confidence to learn but you get self-confidence by learning.

"Once you start saying you need self-confidence for learning, you never get the learning."

He argued that teachers should get back to focusing on the subjects that they teach.

Unless teachers could give children a "way in to the world" there was no reason children should respect them, he argued.

The arguments are contained in a new book Prof Hayes has co-written with fellow educationalist Kathryn Ecclestone, The Dangerous Rise of Therapeutic Education.

A spokesman for the Department for Children, Schools and Families accused the authors of trying to get publicity for their book.

"Controversial views are a good way of getting headlines. But there is growing evidence that developing children's social and emotional skills can help to improve behaviour, attainment and well being."

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