Cul-de-sacs on the super highway

5th July 1996 at 01:00
Thank goodness it's all over. If there is an educational theologian somewhere calculating how many prayers for vacation release can balance on the tip of a red ballpoint pen, he must be well into seven figures, as one of the grimmer sessions of the decade so far draws to a close. No need to enumerate the obvious; 1995-96 will not be forgotten too soon. It takes considerable effort to sublimate it, something the subconscious should do on automatic pilot.

Looking at the session from a closer, more personalised viewpoint, there have been some gains to offset the inevitable, unstoppable slow glacier-slide into subtle erosions of lowered social, cultural and environmental standards. Not forgetting the uncertainties the new authorities have passed pell-mell on to schools. A new Apple, more Venetian blinds, front hall painted, fewer break-ins, national testing up to scratch, more items on the "Well done" board, encouraging reports from secondaries about former pupil progress, 5-14s clearly settled into the school, the biggest intake of infants in years, winning three football trophies. Things could be worse.

An advantage of sessility, I have previously suggested, is that you get the chance to draw from extensive databanks. Not many staff can recall how often our library has moved around the school, remember when our resource centre was a full-time classroom, can conjure up memories of two portable buildings in the playground because of a minor population explosion. What I can see are changes in attitude and approach in the less obvious things children bring to schools.

I get the impression that the environment my children live in has imploded on itself. People have less interest in what is going on outside their narrowly defined perimeters, and this has rubbed off on their children. It's only a gut feeling, but I think there is now more interest in getting by than in getting out. Teachers get a whiff of this in their uphill struggle to get some general knowledge in, when children openly admit they have little interest in the news.

What this means for the bright new world of communication and the information explosion I do not know, but I suspect that for many children the information highway may end up as the information dead end. A ploy to shortcircuit this is school trips.

The rationale behind these is something more than an opportunity to dig deep into the activities budget. They are not project or topic-driven, but honest-to-God outings that may not have a defined curricular content, but are undertaken to widen the cultural and social horizons of children who for the most part would rarely have the opportunity to do this kind of thing.

They make me feel uncomfortable, not just because in today's climate of permission slips, standard circulars on Safety in Educational Excursions, regulations on treatment for anaphylactic shock, quality of bus provision and a whole host of other less visible hazards, but because they can be minefields lined with booby traps. Not so for the participants.

The atmosphere of infant joie de vivre boarding the bus has never altered, parental enthusiasm seeing them off has perhaps even intensified, letting them relive a little of their own not-so-long-ago lost youth.

Some things never change, for in the slightly longer trips, the pupils at the back of the bus still cannot sing, party songs are still instantly quelled and football jerseys are still disallowed, while the amount of sweets, sticky juices and crisps crammed into bulging bags is still in inverse proportion to the capacity of the stomachs available to consume even half of them. The anticipations of weeks before and retrospects that occupied attention for a week or so after are still as intense as ever.

School holidays are like school trips writ large. Now that the whole world has gone a-jaunting, we can only hope that the trippers return refreshed, intact, ready for action, so that we can all put session 1995-96 behind us. The Good Book says something about not laying up store for tomorrow. At least we can hope.

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