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After-school life in fast lane

Gail Bedford, headteacher of Mount Pleasant primary school, in Dudley, West Midlands, has been teaching for 40 years and is to retire at Easter.

"A child today is the same as a child 30 years ago - they still need the same time to develop physically and emotionally. However, I sometimes feel that, with the pace of modern life, we have lost track of this and expect children to grow and develop quicker than they can.

"About 10 years ago we ran a programme in school for staff to develop children's communication skills because there was a feeling that pupils were becoming increasingly unable to listen. Teachers seemed to be spending more and more time attempting to get their attention and keep them on task.

"It is easy to put this sort of change down to television and children's access to modern technology, but I think it is more involved than that.

"The pace of children's lives is now such that many find it harder to concentrate for a long period of time.

"After school they have swimming, karate or computer clubs, they have access to dozens of TV channels, DVDs and many of them have their own computers and video games at home.

"At the same time, the pace of adult lives has changed. Last year, 54 per cent of children at this school were taken on holiday during term-time because many parents said their work didn't give them the flexibility to get away during the conventional school holidays.

"Family structures have also changed. A quarter of children in this school are not living with their two biological parents. Their family group may change several times and they are expected to deal with issues surrounding parents with different partners and other siblings coming into the family unit.

"Some children are resilient and cope well, while others become unresponsive to relationships, including those with teachers and their friends.

"Eight years ago we created a family centre to help improve interaction between parentscarers and children because we were finding that youngsters entering our nursery had higher levels of disruptive behaviour and found it harder to communicate.

"But while schools can put strategies in place to manage disruptive behaviour, the biggest impact on a child's early-years development will always be the home environment."

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