Citizenship - Fur the greater good

19th April 2013 at 01:00
Let nature support nurture with two real-life guinea pigs

Dillon does not care that his attainment in literacy is several sub levels below national expectations. He told us so in more graphic terms than I have used here. He also explained it with the aid of a flying chair that sent Cameron and Clegg scurrying for cover beneath the shredded remains of Department for Education directives. Ironically, it was the shock that he might have hurt Cameron and Clegg that brought Dillon to his senses.

In case you are confused, I am referring to the latest recruits to our nurture team. Our learning mentor decided that we should use real guinea pigs in an experiment to improve the social and emotional well-being of more vulnerable children.

Although generally referred to by staff as SRPs (senior rodent practitioners), Cameron and Clegg were officially named after the prime minister and his deputy. We hoped this would be symbolic of our attempt to bring order where there is chaos and calm where there is discord.

If opposing politicians can reconcile their differences and cohabit (figuratively speaking) for the good of the nation, why can't we do something in a similar vein for children? So we decided to turn the old nature versus nurture debate on its head and use nature to support nurture.

Not being able to use social and emotional problems as an excuse for failure does not make them magically disappear, however, and as they can no longer be swept under the carpet, we sweep them into a nurture room that is getting more overpopulated with every welfare cut.

Dillon hasn't made much progress in terms of his literacy targets since the intervention of Cameron and Clegg, but he has progressed in other ways. He knows shredded school documents shouldn't be used as guinea pig bedding. He understands the health advantages of a clean living environment and a proper diet. He appreciates the benefits of stimulation and grooming. And he recognises that animals need to be loved and cared for. And such things are not always obvious to a child whose home life is like the Battle of the Somme.

Dillon is relieved when our learning mentor lifts the guinea pigs out of their cage to reassure him they are suffering no ill effects. But then he doesn't understand how emotional trauma affects behaviour. That's why he giggles when Clegg pees on her skirt. That's why he laughs when Cameron bites her finger. That's why he's completely forgotten why he threw the chair.

Steve Eddison is a key stage 2 teacher at Arbourthorne Community Primary School in Sheffield


Help children understand the responsibilities and benefits of owning a pet with this multimedia presentation, Caring for My Pet, from The Blue Cross.


Take a look at TES Resources' collection of short video clips from PDSA pet welfare.


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