Nothing so precious as children's laughter

3rd March 2006 at 00:00
Schooldays are supposedly the happiest of our lives and, for most of the children in our school, this was true for at least one day recently. It was the final day of our Roald Dahl book week, when all the children were invited to dress up as a character from a Dahl story. Needless to say, we got more than a few Wayne Rooneys, Darth Vaders and, bizarrely, Miss Havishams, but we had plenty of Twits, Charlies and Witches as well. All of the staff also took part with gusto.

Charles Clarke would have approved. He has other worries on his mind now, but back in the days when he was education secretary his foreword to the Government's primary strategy, Excellence and Enjoyment, stated: "I believe that what makes good primary education great is the fusion of excellence and enjoyment. Enjoyment is the birthright of every child."

But not every week is book week. Despite our excellent teachers' efforts, our usual weeks are more concentrated on making sure that children are taught our version of the national curriculum. As one ex-pupil parent said when helping during book week: "This is such good fun. We used to do a lot more of these sort of things when I was here."

Part of the reason that we have lost so much fun from the curriculum is the drive to achieve short-term targets, the pressure of league tables and the inevitable latest initiative. Perhaps we should have the courage of our convictions; instead we bow to pressure and keep one eye on Sats and the other on the 11-plus. These external forces are reflected in the same Charles Clarke foreword. He sternly reminded us that he wanted "every school to drive its own improvement, set its own challenging targets, work tirelessly to build on success". Such joyless admonitions hardly engender the carefree spirit that inspires the fun and frivolity we saw last week.

The same theme is touched on in the former chief inspector David Bell's last annual report. He notes that though Excellence and Enjoyment gives schools the freedom to be more creative with the curriculum to meet pupils'

needs, many schools continue to take a cautious approach.

This is scarcely surprising when many schools have little confidence that their Ofsted inspection will be glowing unless they play safe. But perhaps this is merely a gloomy picture of the recent past. The feedback from the new inspections is mainly positive, with evidence that Ofsted is working sympathetically with schools and applauding creative, fun innovation. All of us in education will agree with what ee cummings almost said: "The most wasted of all days is one without the sound of children's laughter."

Bob Aston

Bob Aston is head of a junior school in Medway, Kent

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