Assessment experts warn against labelling children ‘average’

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Labelling children as “average” could hide problems or extra abilities they have in subjects such as English and maths, a report has found.

It argues that too many youngsters are being given this tag, and suggests that in reality, just one in five pupils are truly “average” in all areas.

The majority of schoolchildren are good or struggle with something, and failing to recognise these differences could affect their performance in GCSE exams, according to the GL Assessment report.

GCSE students
Researchers warned a failure to recognise students’ abilities could affect their GCSE performance (David Davies/PA)

The study is based on data gathered from 24,500 students who took a “cognitive abilities” test provided by GL Assessment at the age of 11 or 12 and compared with their GCSE results.

Around 50% of youngsters – about 13,400 – were identified as “average” or “middle 50%” in terms of overall cognitive ability test performance.

The study says that three-fifths of these “average” children are good at, or struggle with different “verbal, quantitative or spatial abilities”.

This means they may have different abilities in English, maths or subjects that require them to deal with abstract concepts, such as science or technology.

For example, the study says, a child who has weaker verbal skills, but is average in other areas will tend to struggle with English, while a youngster who is stronger in terms of verbal skills, such as speaking, will tend to do better.

It concludes that among the 50% of children considered “average”, their chances of getting at least a B in GCSE English varied from one in 10, to seven in 10, depending on how strong their verbal skills were.

Shane Rae, head of publishing at GL Assessment, said: “We should only use ‘average’ sparingly and as far as individual children are concerned not at all.

“It’s so broad a definition it’s practically useless.”

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