Give us peace, puppies and PlayStations

Every year, just before Christmas, I ask the Year 5 and 6 children to write about their hopes and fears for the future. It always proves interesting reading. Three years ago, the Twin Towers disaster was fresh in children's memories, and worries concerned the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden and the dangers of the Taliban.

This year, although one pupil wrote about wanting the World Trade Center to rise from the ashes, there was no such fear. Is this because there is little chance of terrorist acts or because our security forces have done such a good job that the perceived threat is now negligible? Pupils want peace in the Middle East and for the United States to stop fighting in Iraq. In previous years, it was Afghanistan - same scenario, different location.

Every year they want clean water and food for the hungry, and worry that pollution and carbon emissions are ruining the planet. They agree that cures should be found for every disease, that everyone deserves a home and that people should not live under the threat of war. How each generation at this age longs for a more equitable world. They appear informed about these dangers. Those growing up 30 years ago may have had similar concerns, but the vocabulary for expressing opinions has changed.

Local issues also cropped up this Christmas: on the streets there is too much spitting, chewing gum and graffiti. One pupil, for example, wrote of being hit by a bottle thrown from a car. The experience was salutary. The local streets are seen as unclean and, at night, threatening and dangerous.

Some hope school will continue to be a refuge where there is no bullying and no litter, and pupils are cared for. They also hope the new whiteboards will remain in good condition (will we be talking about whiteboards in five years?) and that their teachers stay at the school. In a changing world, continuity is prized.

Government target-setting is so engrained that nearly all pupils long to achieve decent Sats grades. This is almost universally equated with getting a good job. Would previous generations have bought in so unquestioningly to this relationship and at such an early age?

When I ask the children what they want for Christmas, the same sorts of wishes recur year after year; only the names of the PlayStation games change. Other requests this year included the usual menagerie of puppies, kittens, ponies, guinea pigs and other furry animals. One wanted a snake.

Another said Christmas is always destined to be disappointing because it's such a short day and over so quickly.

About one-third of the children sought only happiness. They'd forgo all their presents if their family could be well, happy and, above all, complete. Whether separation comes through the death of a loved one, a home move or marital break-up, children are frequently asked to take on adult roles. One or two wrote about the dilemmas in their lives; resolving them was proving difficult. We are all seeking security; it's a fundamental human right. We want it not only on the streets of our cities, but within the walls of our homes and through those with whom we share our lives.

Comfortingly, many did talk of the absolute security they experience at home. They expect their happiness to continue. So the world moves on, each generation ever so subtly handing on the baton to the next.

Bob Fletcher is head of Hobbayne primary school, west London

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