Page last updated at 16:56 GMT, Saturday, 14 March 2009

Warning over narcissistic pupils

By Katherine Sellgren
BBC News, at the ASCL conference

Dr Craig said restricting criticism undermined learning

The growing expectation placed on schools and parents to boost pupils' self-esteem is breeding a generation of narcissists, an expert has warned.

Dr Carol Craig said children were being over-praised and were developing an "all about me" mentality.

She said teachers increasingly faced complaints from parents if their child failed a spelling test or did not get a good part in the school pantomime.

Schools needed to reclaim their role as educators, not psychologists, she said.

Dr Craig, who is chief executive of the centre for confidence and well-being in Scotland, was speaking at the Association of School and College Leaders conference in Birmingham.

Negative characteristic

She told head teachers the self-esteem agenda, imported from the United States, was a "a big fashionable idea" that had gone too far.

She said an obsession with boosting children's self-esteem was encouraging a narcissistic generation who focused on themselves and felt "entitled".

[Schools] are not surrogate psychologists or mental health professionals
Dr Carol Craig

"Narcissists make terrible relationship partners, parents and employees. It's not a positive characteristic. We are in danger of encouraging this," she said.

"And we are kidding ourselves if we think that we aren't going to undermine learning if we restrict criticism.

"Parents no longer want to hear if their children have done anything wrong. This is the downside of the self-esteem agenda.

"I'm not saying it's of no value but you get unintentional consequences."

Parental responsibility

Since 2007, there has been a statutory responsibility on schools in England to improve pupils' well-being and primary and secondary schools are increasingly teaching social and emotional skills.


Indeed it is possible that Ofsted inspectors will soon appraise schools' performance in this area; and well-being could be one of the measures used in the school report card system that the government wants to introduce.

But Dr Craig told head teachers that this was not the role of schools.

"Schools have to hold out that they are educational establishments," she said.

"They are not surrogate psychologists or mental health professionals."

Learning about feelings from a professional in a classroom did not send out a positive message, she added.

And she warned there was a danger the more schools taught emotional well-being, the less parents would take responsibility.

"We run the risk of undermining the family as the principal agent of sociability," she said.

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