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Do as pupils say on Fridays

Brave head lets children rule the roost one afternoon a week to increase their independence. Helen Ward reports

Jeannette Mackinney is a brave headteacher. Once a week she allows the pupils at Greenfield primary school, in Stourbridge, to dictate the afternoon's activities.

Her trust has been rewarded by the children persuading teachers to eat snails and Mrs Mackinney being turfed out of her office so they can use her computer.

The idea, hatched by Fiona Corfield, an education consultant, is based on early-years practice. One of its aims is to introduce independent learning to key stage 2 pupils more used to a rigid, prescriptive curriculum.

All the 280 children, aged four to 11, are allowed to work on their own projects on Friday afternoons. But it is not a free-for-all. The sessions have to be properly planned and have to be approved by their teacher.

Pupils have to work out what they will do, which room they need to book, which adults will be able to help and what materials they need.

Mrs Mackinney said: "The children negotiate with each other about who books the kitchen, for example. Last week, some children were doing a PowerPoint presentation on birds of prey, others were working on models for a Warhammer game, writing a play, doing a rap for assembly and taking photographs.

"Their levels of independence and confidence have increased, and they are more engaged with learning - it is something that involves them rather than something that is being done to them."

The West Midlands school has now been visited by staff from more than 40 schools eager to copy its approach.

Jon Wilday, 11, said: "Usually you are getting told what to do and writing things down. It is more exciting to have a choice."

Alexandra Henwood, 10, said: "I am doing a PowerPoint presentation with another girl about the Aston Villa, West Bromwich Albion and England football teams."

Mrs Corfield said: "Key stage 2 teachers say children have no independence, that they will ask a teacher if they need to sharpen a pencil. When you look at children in the foundation stage they have incredible independence.

What is it that happens between reception and Year 6 that makes them become dependent on teachers and how do you address that?

"Children should learn to explore, investigate and find out things for themselves. It can lead to some wonderful moments, such as a group of three Year 4 and 5 boys, who are reluctant writers, badgering parents to buy snails. They cooked the snails in the school kitchen and made the teachers eat them. They then spent three weeks writing a book about France." *

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