End of play is unlikely to work

11th May 2007 at 01:00
The most surprising piece of education news this week comes from Peterborough, where the head of a new pound;46 million academy has decided that there will be no break and no playground. The lunch break will be just 30 minutes and PE will take place on adjacent playing fields.

Leaders of the Thomas Deacon academy are worried that it will have difficulty controlling its 2,200 pupils if they are allowed to let off steam in a playground at lunchtime. They argue that children's work will improve if they concentrate throughout the day and that they will not need playtime because they will not be bored.

Nobody denies that playtime can be a tricky period in the school day, when skill is needed to avoid fights and bullying. It is also the time when children who find it hard to socialise are most miserable. Yet most schools grapple with these problems because they believe that play, even if it is unstructured, benefits their pupils academically and personally. They organise playtime, sometimes on a shift system, so that bad behaviour is kept in check.

Research published only last month showed that boys who exercise regularly do better in class than those who do not. Thomas Deacon's pupils will have PE lessons but the recommended time in the secondary curriculum for PE is just two hours a week, so there will be some days when they are at their books from 8.45am until after 4pm, with a break of half an hour. Many teachers face intense days without a break and know the stress this causes.

The decision to abandon playtime is worrying because it challenges the view of many teachers and parents that school is about more than exams or learning facts and skills. It is also about making and losing friends, settling disputes amicably and generally getting a taste of the wider world. Pupils may be able to learn these lessons within the structure of the timetable, but they are more likely to learn them well in the playground than in the classroom.

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