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Supervisor in a zone of his own on planet playground

Ewan Smith, like the children he works with, thinks break is the best part of the school day.

The former house husband has worked as midday supervisor at St John's Roman Catholic primary in Rickmansworth, Hertfordshire, for six years.

His description of a typical junior lunchbreak won him a runner-up prize.

"During the school day, children have to be focused," he said. "But lunchtime is completely the opposite. They're free to do whatever they want. They just play naturally.

"A group of adults just relaxes with a cup of tea. We've forgotten what play is all about. I tend to feel children are from a different planet. I'm interested in their behaviour."

His role is to ensure that children are able to make the most of their playground experience: "You see people in their 40s and 50s still scarred by what happened at school. So I just make sure children are able to play properly."

This year, at the age of 51, Mr Smith decided to train as a primary teacher.

"It's quite a stressful job, so it might be good to give my all for a limited number of years," he said. "Though, of course, I have to get through the PGCE first."

RUNNER-UP Extract from Ewan Smith's entry: I wish I lived in Vygotsky's Zone of Proximal Development. It would be such a cool address. And the community spirit would be great, with everyone helping out their less-able neighbours.

I'm a midday supervisor. Two of us, Helen and I, look after our primary school's junior playground during the lunchbreak. It's a hectic job over the winter months with 120 children packed on to a tarmac area not much bigger than a tennis court. The children don't gnaw off each other's limbs and eat their own genitals as a result of the overcrowding. But that's only because Helen and I are the best midday supervisors that pound;5.45 an hour can buy.

Anyway, Lev Vygotsky. He was a Russian educationist from the last century who did wonders for his reputation by dying young. He pointed out that there are certain things which each of us can do by ourselves. Then there are other things which we can do if we have the guidance of an appropriate helper.

Vygotsky called the gap between these two levels of ability our Zone Of Proximal Development. The trouble is that, while each person's Zone is a vast wilderness of potential development, the constraints of the national curriculum mean that teachers don't lead the exploration with any great sense of adventure.

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