Play left outside classroom

19th May 2006 at 01:00
Foundation-stage pupils still perceive school as a serious place of bells, rules and study, reports Adi Bloom

A teacher is someone who rewards pupils for complying with school rules and uses a bell to impose discipline. At night, he or she brings out a bed and goes to sleep in the classroom.

This is the common perception of three to 10-year-olds when asked about school.

Holly Linklater, a researcher from Cambridge university, questioned pupils from East Anglia about schoolwork, the classroom and their teachers.

Asked by Ms Linklater why she had to go to school, seven-year-old Zo replied: "Um, to learn. You learn how to speak properly. I sort of learn to do my own science, to do my own invitation writing, to play in the home corner properly."

But even the younger children demonstrated a clear sense of the educational function of school. Elspeth, a reception pupil, talks about having to copy numbers on worksheets, before she is allowed to play.

Despite increased attempts to incorporate play into the foundation-stage curriculum, most children perceived it as something that took place outside of lessons.

Four-year-old Martha pretended to ring a school bell and said: "Playtime, hooray! Playtime! Weeeeee. I want to go on the swing. Swing swing swingy swing. Climb climb climb weeeeeee."

Pupils often felt that their lives were directed by the school bell, which was wielded by the teacher. Ms Linklater said: "The bell came to both direct and govern the movement of the children within the school day. At school there was a pattern of what you do, when and where, and the bell instructed you."

The teacher also strictly monitored discipline, punishing misbehaviour and ensuring adherence to the rules.

Elspeth said: "When I get to school it is always boring... because the teachers sometimes tell me off, because I did something naughty... umm...

do my work not properly."

When the teacher does reward them, it is for compliance with the rules, rather than for good work, the pupils believed. And, for five-year-old Lucy, all-important school activities revolve around pupils, rather than the teacher. The teacher's role was limited to reading a book during the school day, and then sitting in the classroom all night.

Parents, meanwhile, are seen as distinct from school. Their only role is to provide a means for children to escape from the classroom and return home.

Ms Linklater said: "All of the children expressed aspirations to spend more time at home."

Iram Siraj-Blatchford, professor of early childhood education at London university's institute of education, said: "Children tend to see play as totally child-initiated, and work as something that adults direct you to.

"But what's important is not whether they differentiate between the two.

It's what they enjoy, what motivates their brain."

She said the teacher played an important role in this. "Small children still need boundaries that responsible, caring teachers can provide. They like to know there's somebody knowledgeable around who they can trust."

Alison Crawford, who has been a reception teacher in Barnsley for 15 years, agrees. "Children learn very quickly that the teacher is in charge," she said.

"They pick up that they're rewarded for good behaviour, and you can literally see some of them preen.

"They love praise and they love to please, so they do try to abide by the rules."

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