Let there be fun to sugar the targets

6th December 2002 at 00:00
Whatever happened to fun? I've always thought children are entitled to a bit of fun. Apart from the psychological significance of a sunny childhood, I discovered early in my teaching career that children who are having a good time learn much better than those who are miserable.

Perhaps it was that Woodhead man, or perhaps the frightful Puritanism of the moguls at the ministry, but fun doesn't seem to figure much in the current philosophy of primary education. Nowadays life is hard, life is earnest: it's all pass this test, reach that target, sit down, shut up and check out today's dreary list of objectives. (A teacher recently told me that, in her school, no lesson can proceed until the class has copied out the objectives: "Some of the infants never get taught anything, because they're still copying when the bell goes.") I'm not suggesting we abandon objectives - in fact, they are very helpful: it's much easier to teach if you know what you're supposed to be teaching. But somehow we have forgotten that raw objectives can be turned into something more enjoyable, wrapped up in child-friendly drama, art, music, song, play...

Surely that's what good primary teaching is all about? The trouble is that today's teachers are so careworn and browbeaten by massed ranks of bureaucrats that they don't have the time or the energy to teach well.

When you think about it, this is silly, and counter-productive. So here's a revolutionary suggestion: forget the Puritans, pay lip-service to the bureaucrats.

In the great scheme of things, teachers are much more important. And they are entitled to enjoy their job - because if they're enjoying teaching, their pupils are more likely to enjoy learning. And - as Mary Poppins, no mean teacher herself, would doubtless agree - a spoonful of sugar will do more to raise standards than a bucketload of DfES directives.

Sue Palmer is an independent literacy in-service provider and writer

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