The door of the junior classroom opens quietly and Mrs Small glides through, her folder neatly clamped under one arm. "Mrs Hazel," she demands, briefly consulting her little red notebook, "Let's begin with a brief outline of your classroom organisation. How do you group your pupils?" "By size," comes the prompt reply.
"Size!" "Well yes. You may have noticed we have two sizes of desk here, large and small. I fit my pupils in according to height mostly. We do have trouble by the end of the year, though."
"Trouble!" "Yes, the pupils grow, but the desks don't."
"Ah, so the children are grouped physically." Mrs Small lingers on the last word before before continuing. "Do you have ability groups?" "Yes, you mean my little gems." Mrs Hazel indicates a colourful chart of names above a leaking radiator.
"Diamonds, sapphires, emeralds and rubies. The children with special needs, rubies, my favourite stone, are the largest group as you can see."
"Four ability groups, but somewhat scattered". Mrs Small's cold eyes range over the 38 pupils "How do you organise group teaching then?" "By gathering. "
"Gathering!" "There's a large table at the back of my classroom. I rescued it from the school cellar.
"I gather my children there for group teaching. Samantha, leave Darren alone, get on with your map. No Darren, before you ask, you can't go to the toilet yet."
"He's got the runs, Miss!" Samantha's strident voice cuts through the hum of voices.
"Go quietly Darren and wash your hands!" Mrs Hazel fixes her gaze on the visitor. "I believe hygiene to be very important. I keep a box of tissues on my desk to encourage good habits; fingers and sleeves are so very messy!" A grubby, undersized eight-year-old appears by Mrs Hazel's side. "Yes, Peter?" she asks gently.
"I c-c-can't find me p-p-pencil Miss."
"Try the grot pot now and have a good look for it before you go out to play."
"The grot pot?" Mrs Small's eyes narrow.
"It's the pot we keep all the ends of pencils in; we're so short of equipment, we don't waste!" The door flies open with a bang. "Darren's back", they chorus.
"Miss, Miss, I were talkin' to this lad like; 'e says we've got H-M-Is wi' us today. What's that Miss?" "Don't you ever listen in assembly, Darren?" asks Mrs Hazel with a weary smile.