It was Jonny’s first day! The building was scary, full of rooms and corridors, the big locks on the doors with special security key pads seemed very futuristic. He looked out at the perimeter fences, they seemed so high! However Jonny was determined not to feel down, after all in his brand new grey and blue uniform he’d fit in perfectly.
The first person to speak to Jonny was Miss Jones, she went though a whole host of procedures and rules, Jonny felt a little mixed up. Life at home wasn’t like this he thought. It would take a bit of getting used to.
To begin with, in preparation for lunch time Miss Jones showed Jonny and his new friends a poster on the wall with a timetable, for when it was their turn to be fed. She showed them some strange plastic little trays that had little indentations on them so, in one fell swoop a drink, main meal and desert could be carried all at once!
If Jonny needed the toilet he was shown a little hook by the door, on the hook were passes, Miss Jones explained that if he wanted to use the lavatory, he would first need to ask and then take a ‘pass’.
Miss Jones then moved on to protocol for outside activities, she explained that when the whistle went Jonny must ‘freeze’ and await the next instruction, which was usually to line up in alphabetical order, quietly of course. Miss Jones also reminded Jonny and his new friends that they must address the staff as Sir/Mr/Mrs or Miss. Finally she explained that Jonny would only be allowed out of the room when she said.
Jonny was so confused, all these rules, procedures, new people and places, his head was spinning. However there was one ounce of relief, he was just pleased with his decision to plead guilty to armed robbery in court; at least he would only spend four years in his new home rather than the customary seven or eight.
Having experience of both prison (in an educational capacity) and schools, the similarities between the two don’t sit comfortably with us.
Schools are not an institutions, (some would argue that prisons shouldn’t be either). The difference between school and wider society is too wide. Of course procedures are different when groups of people converge in one place, however, employing systems and processes simply because it’s always been that ways is not a good enough reason to keep them!
We argue that these systems are in place because it is easy for adults enforce and follow them. They are for the benefit of the adult, not the child.
Let’s take one example:
At lunchtime in the majority of primary schools, the children who opt for school lunches are given a plastic tray that accommodates a drink, knife/fork/spoon, a main meal and a desert.
My first question to you as a reader of this blog is:
Would you be happy to eat from one of these trays?
Lunchtime staff often complain that the children can’t use their knives and forks properly; consider this though… after practising at home with ceramic plates and bowls of a circular, concave nature with knives and fork designed for their small hands, the children are expected to apply these skills to a flat bedded, semi-circle with walled sides and adult size utensils!
We give the children oversize cutlery designed for bowls plates and expect them to eat off a plastic slop tray.
Worse still, should we dare to suggest that the children could use plates and bowls the shutters crash straight down…
What if they drop them?
It would take to long?
Responses illustrating that many schools are designed and run for the needs of adults within efficient and rigid systems. Also worth noting that rarely are plates dropped and it never takes too long when the children visit outdoor education centres!
The above example may seem trivial. However, this attitude towards children in schools is symptomatic of the current approach to education (Gove et al). Not wanting to labour the point and complain too much, below is a few ideas you might light to try that give the children more responsibility and make schools a little more human. As reader of this blog I’m sure you have your own great ideas too!
- Let pupils lead themselves into assembly, they know where to go, if they are too noisy, they need more practise at managing their own behaviour, more reason to keep doing it!
- Set home-learning projects that are aimed at the whole family.
- Make them a cup of tea from time to time (sounds wacky I know, but this truly gives the children a sense of comfort in their surroundings)
- Have a couple of days each week when they can choose whether to go out or not at playtime.
- Don’t end a lesson just because the bell went; all of the learning won’t fall out of their heads during a game of catch!
- Ensure most learning in done collaboratively and not always in ‘ability’ groups.
- Tell children lots about yourself and more importantly find out even more about them and their families.
- Never ever shout at children, there is not one shred of evidence to suggest this acutally works!
- Remember that learning is recorded in brains not books.
- Stop using the word ‘Work’ Children are at school not work!
These are just a few suggestions that we feel may help children become less institutionalised at school. Not everyone will agree with them all, but it’s the discussion that matters.
We’d love to hear your thoughts!
The Thought Weavers.