Let's hear it for the hands-on heroes

1st October 2004 at 01:00
It's a hot summer day post-Sats. The classroom walls are nearly all glass and builders are busy outside. Not a good day to be a parent helper on a Year 6 project.

Enter Zack - 11 years old and about nine stone - in a vest cut away at the shoulders. I rather like him, despite his tendency to go AWOL on school trips, and despite the vest. He wants to tell me about his press-ups.

"I'm building up to 60 this week," he says. "That's 60 in the morning and 60 in the evening."

I'm not sure how to react - but luckily Zack's attention is drawn to the arrival of the community artist on our project. "Cool," says Zack, and then he's gone. The artist has combat shorts, several earrings, scalp stubble and a cut-away vest. And for the rest of the session Zack is hard at work, as if he has OD'd on Ritalin. He's having a great time - and so are the other four or five boys who've spent the rest of their final three primary terms taking years off their teacher's life.

It's a making project - and in our town the Year 6s parade through the streets to celebrate moving to secondary school. This year the theme is space travel - willow twigs and tissue paper to make rockets, cloaks and crowns with planets bobbing overhead.

The floor is covered in plastic sheeting to catch the mess, and the air is thick with the sound of clever children getting exasperated as their bits of willow keep snapping. But something else is happening - the beastly boys who have yawned their way through lessons for a year and rampaged around the playground making endless mischief are streaking ahead. Their willow has been coaxed and worked into good shapes; their planets are already bobbing; and -quite miraculously - they are helping the clever girls, who are finding that for once things are just not jumping into place for them.

These boys - and no doubt some of the girls, although theirdisaffection is less obvious - are clearly doers and makers. They are happy making things work, and they can do it. How must they have felt all these years being judged by Sats and league tables? The Government has yet to find a way to judge the value of the makers - so for them school life is punctuated by ritual humiliation.

Zack and his mates are now in Year 8, and when we see them about town they don't look happy. No wonder: ahead of them are years of being processed by a system designed for an altogether different sort of achiever. But what is the point? Why not take into account the things these children can do and how useful they can be to society - and then educate them accordingly? A well-supervised system of post-11 exploration and training for our makers should not be beyond the wit of our thinkers.

Perhaps Zack will find his way into one of the apprenticeships featured in this supplement. As he still has some time to wait, I just hope he isn't too hacked off to bother by the time his chance arrives.

In time, maybe things will also improve for Craig, the Year 5 pupil I watched in a parents' assembly recently. I used to listen to Craig reading - a slow and painful job. But this time I watched as he explained the workings of a model of a Greek ship his class had made. Thankfully, he hadn't written it down. But there was no need - fluently and confidently he explained the moving parts and the waterproofing of the base. And, for probably the first time in his school career, the applause had nothing to do with sympathy.

Making is a great gift. It's not only those who can pass tests who should be Lords of the Universe.

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