Dear Ted

6th May 2005 at 01:00
We are now not allowed to use whistles in PE or at the end of break time. What can we use instead?

Ted says

The thought police have obviously been busy again, and the mind boggles at the sort of alternatives a witty anarchist might dream up (trumpet, drum, klaxon, football rattle, rocket, recording of "Colonel Bogey"). I hope the whistle ban doesn't catch on in sport as well. Can you imagine the poor old referee bleating "Offside" in front of 60,000 screaming fans at Old Trafford?

The most obvious replacement is the human voice, but teachers' vocal chords already take a hammering, and women find it especially difficult to shout above noise without doing themselves a mischief. Clapping hands can be a bit weedy, and doesn't really work if you're wearing gloves on a winter's day, while visual signals are not always seen when children have their backs to the teacher. In any case, you would look silly waving a flag.

It also depends partly on the size of the group and the nature of the activity. Even well-behaved groups are noisy when playing sports or running around. There should be no great problem with small groups, but dozens of high-pitched voices are not easily stilled, unless you play silent football and have non-speaking playtimes.

You could try "pass it on", whereby you tell the nearest children to be quiet and they then pass it along the crowd. You might even get all the staff to spread themselves around the playground at the end of playtime, carrying baseball bats, if necessary, to look menacing. But all this seems rather elaborate. It would be much better to, er, use a whistle. Why not do a deal with whoever banned the whistle? I'll promise to use a police whistle (no pea in it, therefore not so rasping) if you promise to stop being a prat.

You say

Try the civilised approach

I worked in a large "whistle-less" primary school for many years. In the morning, at break and lunchtime the teacher on duty went out and called "in-time" and the children came in! Every new teacher to the school was sceptical at first, but it worked. Children at the farthest end of the 100-metre-long field became aware it was "in-time" quite quickly. The benefits were three-fold:

* a staggered, civilised coming-in to school;

* no instructions to "line up and be quiet at the whistle", a time-consuming process that is almost impossible to enforce;

* no ear-piercing noise to disturb surrounding residents.

This is possibly only appropriate for a primary school where children actually want to come in, but that is another issue.

Ruth Bamford, Kent

Shake, rattle and roll them inside You could use a tambourine instead of a whistle so that the children see a large visible sign as well as hear the beat.

Cindy Silvester, Lancashire

Teach the kids sign language

How about sign language? This is a valuable language to learn. Very useful for schools to communicate with hearing impaired children, and to have on a CV (teacher or pupil). My 17-year-old, who was taught sign language in primary school, recently got lost in Paris and found a deaf man who directed her to the Eiffel tower - in sign language.

Janey Hewitt, Birmingham

Work on your gesticulation

A stentorian shout should get initial results. Practise voice projection and minimise the number of syllables.

Try gestures. Learn the coaching signals for whichever sport you are teaching. In the playground many teachers use a straight arm, raised high, to signal "come to me". And you will soon think of other signals and gestures.

Or you could use colour-coded flags: you will have any number of willing volunteers to race round the playground with a flag or banner proclaiming "line up", "end of playtime", or whatever message you would like to use.

The creation of the banners could even become a useful design and technology project.

Angela Pollard, Guernsey

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