Know what's coming

8th February 2008 at 00:00
Routines are great in schools, just don't become a structure freak. Sue Cowley offers advice.

Schools revolve around structure and routine: lesson lengths, timetables and uniforms. Routines give a sense of security and they let the pupils know what's coming.

Individual teachers add their own structures - entry routine, register and seating plan. Subjects with potential hazards (open spaces in PE, chemicals in science) can turn us into structure freaks. After a while, routines become a habit for the pupils, making life easier for teachers.

The most challenging pupils respond best to routine - they're probably not getting much at home. When the usual structures are swept aside, misbehaviour often rears its head. A supply teacher, a change of room, a fire drill - any lapse in routine offers a "cry freedom" moment for the pupils.

The unspoken message is that children can't be trusted; give them an inch and things will go all Lord of the Flies. At Summerhill, the famous Suffolk boarding school where lessons are voluntary and pupils make the rules, the usual structures are thrown aside: liberating for some, not feasible in your average state comp.

Once in a while, break free from routine and let a lesson develop organically, or escape into the fresh air with your class. In the outside world they will have to cope with change. We owe it to them to get started now.

Sue Cowley is an author, trainer and presenter. Her latest book is Getting the Buggers into Drama (Continuum). For more information visit

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