A new study published in London concludes that students perform better in school–both academically and in their behavior–when teachers focus on learning rather than on test scores, results, and competition.

Children’s attitudes and behaviour improve – along with their results — when teachers and schools are more concerned about helping them learn than pushing them to gain particular exam scores, Watkins found. Such points have been recognised by Ofsted reports on successful schools, and also mirror the evidence on achievement in other fields such as sports and business.

Never-the-less, evidence suggests that the “goal climate” in classrooms becomes increasingly performance-oriented as children get older, and that this continues to disadvantage the groups of children who have always struggled to achieve in school.

Watkins says schools have two challenges:
• To recognise that passing tests is not the goal of education, but a by-product of effective learning.
• To recognise that even when we want pupils to do their best in tests, pressure and performance orientation will not achieve it.

He concludes “If there’s one new thing we need in our school system right now, it’s a well-developed focus on learning. And if the coalition government is serious about its wish to close the gap between high performers and low performers then a focus on learning will make a significant contribution. Learning is for life, not for league tables.”