Shh! Or you're owl meat

Carol Raby

THE DECIMATOR Plastic owl sound monitor from Educational Development Products. Tel:0181 657 1321 Pounds 285 including pack

Our school dining hall's got this two-foot, plastic owl, with a built-in sound meter. I'm not sure whether it's a tawny, a barn owl or an eagle owl, but I'm telling you, it's bloody big.

If the patter of tiny forks and chatter of tongues is too loud, the eyes glow red and a processor chip chimes out a soothing tune as a reminder that we all need a more restful occupation.

No kidding, the Decimator really does just that. You'll be disappointed to hear that it doesn't swoop down on the miscreants screeching blue murder. The original chip offered a perfunctory reminder about noise-levels, delivered in my best authoritarian tones. In the end, I felt that the music was preferable to having a synthesised stand-in to frighten children. I like to instil my own fear, although the Decimator gives new meaning to the phrase "up before the beak".

I know what you're thinking, who wants to have a plastic bird to take over? But in all fairness, the beast made us painfully aware of precisely where and when problems started. The Decimator spotlighted the noisiest group in our school, in case we didn't know.

To start with, they had a whale of a time, testing the pick-up to wake up the big bird. That was before I'd introduced the children properly to their new lunchtime supervisor. And set conditions. After that, there was no messing.

The Decimator comes with a multitude of teaching materials, including a training video, certificates for groups and individuals keeping within agreed guidelines. There is a no-nonsense philosophy of setting out your expectations. The design originates from special education, where setting specific targets for children has long been more common than in mainstream. It demonstrates an interesting, if slightly quirky approach to defining a key condition for effective schools: the ability to listen, to hear, to interact and to learn.

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