On the makeover

19th September 1997 at 01:00
Here is a recipe for clutter and confusion, with a touch of chaos. Take two job-sharing teachers with about 38 years' teaching experience between them. Add 36 growing Year 4 pupils (aged eight to nine), including two visually-impaired children. Mix in one or more support staff for the visually-impaired. Set to one side.

Meanwhile, gather together two computers on stands, two Braille typewriters, one large teacher's desk, three long shelving units (two on the floor, one on the wall), and two tables.

Stir in generous portions of daily supplies, teaching and assessment materials, including special resources for the visually-impaired pupils, and the work of 36 busy children.

Arrange 38 heavy, old-style, lift-top wooden desks in flexible groupings which allow for whole-class teaching and group work.

Combine all ingredients, blending well, and pour into a too-small, nearly-square room measuring 7.2 by 8.3 metres.

Bring to the boil, season to taste and serve with the national curriculum. Bon appetit!

Kathyrn Kohl

The picture on the left shows Jane Phillips's and Ann Bird's Year 4 class in Sheffield's Hallam Primary before a private donation of Pounds 500 allowed them to rethink their classroom organisation for the coming school year.

The class of 36 - eight more than last year and including the two visually-impaired children and their support teachers from the recently-integrated Tapton Mount School for the Blind (David Blunkett's old school) - meant that staff and children would have to maximize efficiency to get the best results. Improvement was needed - there was already inadequate space for whole-class teaching and storage, more children sharing supplies, and, particularly, three or more staff members sharing the same small teaching space.

Jane and Ann tapped headteacher Joy Raban's knowledge about classroom design, and combined it with their own awareness of their job-sharing patterns and anticipated problems to focus their thinking. They considered a range of options before poring over suppliers' catalogues and rummaging through high street shops in the hunt for ideas and bargains.

Joy passed on a list of ideas to improve classroom organisation to Jane and Ann. She also made lots of large-print labels for supplies and storage, such as "pencils" and "unfinished work for Mrs Bird". (She also suggeted using mirror tiles to reflect light, and the possibility of "going up" - fixing retractable washlines to walls for pulling out and hanging art work, but other priorities took up the funds.) After consultation, it was decided that the windfall would be spent on improving storage for almost everything - from pencils to topic resources - and on buying enough scissors and packets of crayons for every child to have a set. This would increase the autonomy of all pupils, as well as improve what Jane calls "visual organisation" - which would help the job-sharing system (Jane and Ann's, as well as the support staff's).

How did it happen? Two large tables were discarded to make room for the 10 extra desks. (The visually-impaired children needed two desks each to accommodate Braille typewriters and other special resources.) An extra shelf was found, as well as a large, mobile whiteboard for group work in the classroom or in a shared spill-over room. Curtains were ordered to cover the three long shelving units, concealing a variety of games and teaching materials which needed to be accessible to children - but which often looked untidy.

A large, mobile storage unit with 10 drawers (the most expensive item) was ordered to allow Jane and Ann to maintain both shared and separate materials. Separate boxes for finished and unfinished work for both teachers were clearly labelled. In this way, one teacher will no longer need to wonder where the other has put the week's spelling words. It will also mean that children will not have to consult one of the teachers about work which the other wanted them to complete.

A multitude of pots, tins, wallets, portfolios, box files and large and small boxes (many with lids to protect resources from dust) will hold teaching supplies. Children will be encouraged to take greater responsibility for their own materials. No one will need to wait for their turn to use the crayons or scissors, and other supplies will be stored in neat, colour-co-ordinated pots in a new trolley.

Joy wanted a classroom organisation plan with a certain amount of training for the children built in - "everything clearly labelled and everyone knowing where everything goes. When it comes to tidying, you can either train the children to do it or do it yourself!" For the visually-impaired children especially, this will mean a more easily negotiated environment with clearer labels and better defined space for their support staff's resources. "They need things to be in dependable, accessible places," says Ann.

Joy believes that "in an ideal world" every class would have these resources. "In the 1960s and '70s, teachers might have had some money each year for their classrooms. These days there's no money, but a rota for improvements would be nice."

Jane and Ann are pleased with their new system which should "work across the week", encouraging children to be more independent and improving efficiency for staff. Jane adds: "I can't go into a shop now without looking for a cheap container." With the 49p left over, they can treat themselves to a cup of tea - but they may have to share it.

Budget Box

1 large, mobile storage rack with Pounds 108.90 10 pull-out drawers

2 mobile trolley for daily supplies Pounds 76.70

3 supplies: crayons, scissors, pencil Pounds 105.78 sharpeners, felt-tips

4 three curtains Pounds 60.00

5 wallets, portfolios, box files, spring files Pounds 64.59

6 large boxes with lids Pounds 21.00

7 large plastic boxes Pounds 16.00

8 small containers, some with lids Pounds 45.29

9 stick-on notes Pounds 1.25

TOTAL Pounds 499.51

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