Day 1 of the holidays and I’m sending the girls into the garden with a Fun List designed to keep them busy for at least 1 cuppa. A scavenger hunt, essentially. I loved them when I was a kid; haring round the village with the rest of my Brownie Six pestering old ladies for a Christmas-themed milk bottle top. Enid Blyton kicks all through the hols.
At Uni it was a bit different and the purpose of a scavenger hunt was, as I recall, to remove items of underwear and provide the organisers with bottles of 20:20.
The kids at school love them. A good scavenger hunt should be a mix of the mundane (a pencil exactly 7.5cm long), the challenging (a pebble Andy Goldsworthy would like) and the bizarre (a haiku of such exquisite beauty that I weep). Being a PSHE type person, and all about the social skills, I like to add people based ones too.
When Year 6 were rehearsing “The Sound of Music” I requested “somebody older and wiser”, (hum it with me now). They turned up with the caretaker.
During the World Cup I asked for someone who could explain the Offside Rule to me.
“What’s the offside rule, Miss?” wail some girls.
“I don’t know. That’s why I need someone to explain it to me.”
“But we don’t know the offside rule!”
I let my eyes drift across the playground to the inevitable football game (we never did get round to banning it).
“Of course!” they yell…. “THE BOYS!” They return with a Year 6 lad who patiently explains the offside rule. I award the girls 3 points. They all bounce off happily.
It’s also fun to request the word HELP spelled out in people on the playground. You’re working out how to do it in your head now, aren’t you? You would get 4 points.
One of my favourites is “someone younger than you who can do something you can’t”. Cartwheeling younger sisters and unfortunate Infants who can roll their tongue are pressganged into service. It’s team work at its best, it’s bloody good fun and it’s the sort of thing primary school used to be all about.
But primary schools are changing. Primary school staff used to make a rock solid team: a tea-drinking force for good. And we had bloody good fun into the bargain. Now we are separated, given individual targets as teachers. In schools where Assessing Pupil Progress is taken to the extreme there is a huge pressure to make sure every child makes the magical 2/3 of a level progress under your rule.
In this climate, your loss is my gain. And my success could easily look like your failure. It is easy to feel under siege, and at times like that you don’t feel able to look charitably at your colleagues. You don’t want to admit any perceived weakness. It scuppers team work good and proper and learning stalls, for staff and students alike.
And we should worry over this loss of the support, the solidarity in the staffroom, because that’s where teachers do their learning. In teaching there is always somebody older and wiser, hopefully with wisdom to spare for you. And there is also probably someone younger who can do things you can’t. Strength as a school comes when all those abilities knit together.
When government targets means teachers are too scared to share nicely with their friends, the atmosphere in school becomes oppressive. Education as a whole begins to suffer. And then the kids had better get really good at spelling out HELP on the playground.