Gemma Warren enjoys a bit of summer scheming

6th October 2000 at 01:00
This February, I am going to walk around with my ears stopped up and automatically answer "no" to everything that is offered. February is a bad time for teachers. February is when you start thinking vaguely about the future: what will I be doing next year, what will I be doing this summer? Last February, I got it into my head that I would like to work on a summer scheme. I asked my head what he thought. He said, brilliant idea, why don't you run your own? I thought, What an amazing, career-enhancing opportunity, yes, I would love to run my very own summer scheme. I won't be tired. I won't want to relax on a beach for two weeks and read the latest Jackie Collins. I'll want to work. Professional development in the holidays! What a wonderful idea!

As I said, Februarys should be banned. A good idea in February will seem idiotic when examined in the blazing sun of July. But by the time I'd signed my name on the dotted line, it was too late to back-track. My summer scheme was for Year 6 pupils from local primaries. The theme was the environment. I somehow managed to find 30 children who actually wanted to give up two weeks of their holidays to take part in some crack-brained scheme that I'd thought up in the middle of the night when I should have been thinking about sex or ice cream. I managed to show my head that I was capable of leading this whole fiasco, even though I wasn't 100 per cent sure myself.

I am pleased to report that my summer scheme - and I know that I am a little bit biased - was the greatest thing in the world. Maybe Februarys are okay after all.

Summer schemes are what schools ought to be like. They're fun, and the children seem to want to be there. You can spend more time having breaks, and eating biscuits, and if a football match is going well you can just let it carry on. You learn in a cross-curricular way and, like most secondary teachers, I have never really learnt like this before. Science becomes writing, which can become drawing. Geography becomes maths, whih we can then apply to the stories that we've read in English, which we understand better because we've just found out about the environment in science. ICT becomes anything you like.

You see the parents every day - they're not just some shadowy presence at the school gates - and you work with experts and groups that you never knew existed. I learnt more about Edmonton in those two weeks than in two years of working here. My school became part of the local community.

Basically, learning became fun and absorbing. I wasn't constrained by the bell ringing or children desperate to end a lesson. I was well funded and well staffed. I did have objectives, of course, but it was a pleasure to meet them, when they hadn't been planned like a military operation. Somehow, I had created the ideal school.

I learnt about the pleasure of collaborating with local primaries, most of which never enter my day-to-day teaching life. I realised that Year 6 are giving and enthusiastic and absorbed and friendly. They actually do work at home in the evening and bring it in the next day. They ask if they can chew gum. They get excited when we go for a 10-minute trip on the school minibus, and come armed for the journey with bars of chocolate, copies of Harry Potter, Gameboys, sticker collections and travel sickness pills.

I was frightened that, as my career progressed, I was becoming cynical and twisted. I worked hard for this summer scheme, but it was exactly what I needed to get my enthusiasm going again. Could the DfEE actually have hit on a good idea? Sadly, my experiences on the summer scheme don't match up to the reality of my everyday teaching life. People often talk about the golden age of teaching before the national curriculum and the literacy hour. Thanks to my colleagues and the members of Year 6, now in various Year 7s across the borough, I think that I found it by mistake.

Gemma Warren is a teacher at the Latymer school, Edmonton, north London.Email:

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