As if teachers needed any further annoyance. They’re fuming over Tory party statements that about funding, grammar schools, the Ebacc and the rest. Key Stage 2 Sats and the summer season of GCSE and A levels are around the corner, heralding the pressures of targets and benchmarks on top of a rather old-fashioned-sounding concept that still drives us: that of busting a gut to do our best for and with our pupils.
Parliament has packed up for the election, providing perhaps one small form of relief to those sweltering in the sweatshop that is education: until 9 June there can surely be no more initiatives or directives winging their way from Westminster to schools.
Nonetheless, if you thought things might be quiet for a while, think again. Another form of annoyance is arriving from an entirely different direction: a new craze is sweeping schools.
Fidget spinners: have you seen them? Brightly coloured and triangular, with bearings in a finger-hole at each corner, they offer children endless opportunities for fiddling, whirling them round and, for the most skilful operators, showing off their skills with them to impress their mates.
I can almost hear teachers’ teeth grinding up and down the country as they encounter the latest thing to tell their pupils to stop doing.
Conflict is inevitable. “But, miss/sir: it’s known that fidget spinners help people with anxiety, stress, and possibly those with ADHD and other SEN.” Some marketing whiz will have concocted such a justification: but don’t be fooled. Their raison d’etre is to annoy.
Keep calm and remember clackers
So what should we do about it? If you can manage it, my advice is to do nothing – because if we don’t, the collective blood pressure of the profession will reach hitherto unforeseen heights.
We’ve been here before. Crazes such as these are as old as the hills. (For example, I go back to the days when mobile phones were new – and very noisy.)
Who remembers clackers? Some three decades ago (I guess) they were the must-have for kids. With two balls on the end of plastic arms, I could never work them: but they clacked and whirred and spun, and were noisy, distracting and hugely irritating.
Against all the odds, one child somewhere succeeded in fracturing their wrist as a clacker flicked backwards. The Health and Safety risk these toys posed was enough to get the profession up in arms.
The more we worry about health and safety issues, the more they seem to be encouraged.
Similarly, I’ve never banned conkers, though nowadays that ancient, innocent pastime is almost forgotten in most schools case. I always suspected that arguments against conkers had less to do with hazard than with cleaners driven to screaming point by horse-chestnut shards all over every floor. With that, one must sympathise.
Forget the banning orders
Some will not be able to restrain themselves. Instruct your pupils to put their fidget spinners away. Confiscate them, if you must: even take a heavy hammer to them. But don’t waste time inventing reasoned arguments for banning irritants.
They’re distracting, they interrupt learning, and the kids are using them to annoy us. Keep it simple, keep your temper and retain your sanity.
Until the next craze.
Dr Bernard Trafford is headteacher of the Royal Grammar School, Newcastle upon Tyne, and a former chair of the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference. The views expressed here are personal. He tweets at @bernardtrafford
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