Like most schools, we teach English and maths. And geography and history and science. But, to paraphrase the Wizard of Oz, we've got one thing the others haven't gotI Friday film club.
When I was small, I loved my weekly trip to the Saturday morning pictures. There, surrounded by schoolmates, I could curl up in my seat, laugh at the comic car chases, be thrilled by intrepid adventurers, howl at Tweetie Pie's antics and, best of all, squirm with excitement at the cliffhangers in the Captain Marvel serial. There was something about the big screen that invaded my senses and has drawn me to the cinema ever since. During a summer holiday some years ago, I even converted the loft of my house into a mini-cinema, and my own children spent hours captivated by Super 8mm extracts from movies such as Star Wars splashed across a 5ft screen that only now DVD is beginning to rival.
Friday film club is my way of bringing the pleasure of Saturday morning pictures to a new generation. We have a room in school called the viewing room, where classes watch TV and videos. I've erected a huge hardboard screen on the front wall which opens out to cinema-scope proportions. Secondhand Super 8mm equipment is inexpensive nowadays, so we've installed a couple of projectors - and a good sound system. The only thing we lacked was a set of cinema seats, but since a lot of children were to be packed into a relatively small space, a thick carpet seemed a better idea. We don't have to hire or buy any films; I've been collecting Super 8mm extracts for years, and I have a library of more than 400 films to choose from.
Each Friday lunchtime, infants and juniors pay their 35p, drop their tickets into a box, and pour into the viewing room. Such is the popularity of the show we even had a forger, though his ticket wasn't hard to spot: it was handwritten and the wrong shade of blue. My young audience knows exactly what it's in for each week; cartoons, perhaps a classic Tex Avery, an extract from an adventure movie, a comedy, and always a Tom and Jerry to finish with, raising a huge cheer as the logo hits the screen. Quite often, I'll include a short film that makes the children think a little, such as Norman McLaren's Neighbours, or perhaps a small piece of Fantasia which is a treat for the ears as well as the eyes. And Captain Marvel is in there too. I managed to find the entire serial in mint condition for a knock-down price at a boot sale.
Watching their faces gazing at the screen in rapt attention always reminds me that children haven't changed as much over the years as we think. A good story is paramount; special effects today may have reached breathtaking complexity, but a chunk from The Wizard of Oz can still hold them spellbound, and the appearance of the witch occasionally causes an infant to move a little closer to one of the juniors for comfort. Similarly, some of the early Walt Disney cartoons (I have little time for the brash later work) have a timeless appeal, especially on a big screen. Children have a wonderful sense of humour too; show them Laurel and Hardy trying to push a piano up a huge flight of stairs, or attempting to rig an aerial on top of an unfortunate lady's roof and they will howl with laughter as the chimney collapses.
We've been running Friday film club for some years and there have been amusing incidents along the way. When I screened a film taken in the front car of the Blackpool big dipper, the screams of nervous laughter brought several teachers running from the staffroom. One of the youngest and smallest infants once demanded that I show some "'orror films", and since I'm a great fan of the early Universal series I obliged by running an extract from The Invisible Man. My teachers appreciate the club as it gives them an extra 10 minutes at lunchtime, but once I ran an extract from The Young Ones and one of the part-time special needs teachers came dashing in to watchI she's a Cliff Richard fan.
I can't, of course, justify Friday film club in terms of the literacy hour, or the maths strategy - or targets or performance management. It's fun, pure and simple, but fun is a rare commodity in schools these days.
Mike Kent is head of Comber Grover primary, Camberwell, London borough of SouthwarkEmail: firstname.lastname@example.org