Surveys, studies and reports examined by Reva Klein.
PLAYTIME IS A SERIOUS ISSUE
Children's social relationships are increasingly coming under threat as schools cut down on breaktimes.
Dr Peter Blatchford of the London Institute of Education says that playtime has been reduced over the last five years to give more time for teaching, and to avoid behaviour problems.
He says that schools do not recognise the social and educational value of undirected free time. Staff's view of pupil behaviour at breaktime is often negative, but children see it as important for socialising and playing games.
The study, which followed pupils in inner-London schools over a ten-year period, warns that children's social development may be hampered by the further reductions in breaktime. Primary children saw playtime as a chance to make friends and maintain often complex social networks.
Blatchford found evidence to support teachers' views that the range of games in primary playgrounds had narrowed, with some children being left at a loose end. This can lead to teasing, ostracism and bullying. Even so, with the shrinking opportunities outside of school for children to play with other children, the author warns that breaktimes may be the main chance many primary pupils have to learn how to get on with peers, how to initiate their own activities and to establish friendships. Schools' desire to have more control over pupil behaviour could, he says, lessen their chances of learning social skills and independence.Social Life in School: Pupils' Experiences of Breaktime and Recess from 7 to 16 by Peter Blatchford, Falmer Press pound;14.95.
RADICAL CHANGES NEEDED TO IMPROVE LITERACY
Training programmes to help teachers improve children's literacy do not always yield the desired results.
Sue Opie, senior education psychologist for Cornwall, is conducting private PhD research at Exeter University on the effective teaching of reading. The study was inspired by reports that additional teaching time spent on reading in primary schools was not making the expected impact on children's progress.
A group of special needs teachers went on a training course based on common denominators identified as successful in teaching reading, such as the use of structured phonics, setting and communicating high expectations of progress and keeping pupils on task. The teachers were observed during the first year of the study to establish how the training was affecting their teaching. Pupils' progress was assessed in the second year.
Opie found large variations in teachers' practice and pupil progress. Some significantly changed the way they taught, but others showed little evidence of change. Particularly striking was that no time during the 28 lessons observed was spent on activities designed to enhance pupils' self-esteem, although substantial course time had concentrated on specific methodologies.
Her study suggests there needs to be clearer directions on the use of specific methods and more support from resource materials and monitoring before radical changes in teachers' practice takes place.
'THE CURRICULUM'S BAD FOR YOUR HEALTH'
Young children have a poor understanding of mental well-being because of the low status of health education in schools.
Good health is about eating the right food and getting fresh air and exercise, according to a group of 10-year-olds at a junior school in the north-west of England. But mental health was thought to be irrelevant, a study by a multi-disciplinary team at Liverpool John Moores University shows.
When asked to draw pictures showing different feelings, pupils were unable to identify them as healthy or unhealthy. When pushed about which category they would put a picture showing happiness into, youngsters agreed being happy was healthy because "you will go outside and start doing sports and that makes you healthy".
The report's authors lay the blame for this narrow vision of health on the peripheral status of health education in the national curriculum and on its medical content.
They recommend an overhaul of health education, making it a discrete subject in the curriculum and adopting a more holistic approach that teaches pupils to analyse their emotional, social and physical well-being.
Can the National Curriculum Damage Your Health? by Cor Jonker, Derek Kassem and Bob Banton, School of Health, Liverpool John Moores University, 79 Tithebarn Street, Liverpool L2 2ER. e-mail: email@example.com