In her literature review (pdf), used in Ofcom's October 2007 discussion paper on children's television, Professor Messenger Davies refers to some research for one of her earlier publications. Professor Messenger Davies had asked kids aged 6-12 to play the role of children's TV programme controllers and choose what programmes other kids should watch. They came up with lists such as the following: Top of the Pops, Rugrats, Home and Away, Blue Peter, Slot Meithrin, EastEnders, Live and Kicking and Ren and Stimpy. This list, from a group of Welsh 12-year-olds, represents both range of genre and plurality of provenance.
My blog on 8 May 2008 referred to comments by educationalist, Professor David Hargreaves. He has said that pigeonholing children by age is "an extremely crude measure". Recently he told me that age banding in broadcasting for young people is arbitrary, since maturity and age among the young are not strongly correlated, and are becoming less so.
Now, it seems, book publishers are thinking of age banding in books, and that many authors including Philip Pullman, JK Rowling* and Jacqueline Wilson are opposed to the proposal and have signed the No to Age Banding petition. This age banding story was the main item on Newsround this morning.
Newspapers have covered this story in quite a lot of detail. The Times asks at what age are children old enough to be exposed to a terrifying story of child abuse, murder and gingerbread architecture? Five? Ten? Sixteen? Never? That story is, of course, Hansel and Gretel. Mark Lawson, in The Guardian, considers both sides of the argument, but wonders who will set the standards and concludes that the existing system without banding might sensibly be left in place.
The Daily Telegraph quotes Philip Pullman. He says "I have had letters from children of seven who say they have read all the way through His Dark Materials and they have an astonishing knowledge of it. But not every child is the same. A child of nine might be tentative and unsure about reading, and to give them a book that says 9+ will reinforce their sense of failure. The book should be suited to the individual child."
*Edit note (7 June 2008): Although Mark Lawson indicates the campaign has JK Rowling's support, it seems that her name is not at present listed on the 'No to Age Banding' petition website.
*Edit note 2 - (20 September 2008): I checked again and found that JK Rowling's name is now on the petition.