Theatre of fear eases big school blues

28th November 2008 at 00:00

If you do not eat your lunch, the dinner ladies take you into a room and turn you into mincemeat. On the other hand, this is an improvement on standard school dinners, which are mostly made of unidentifiable goop.

These are some of primary pupils' fears about secondary school, according to Theatr Iolo, a Cardiff-based company that runs workshops for 11-year-olds.

They worked with Martin Hughes, professor of education at Bristol University, as he researched the best ways to help primary pupils adjust to secondary school.

Theatr Iolo encourages pupils to express their most outlandish fears about secondary school, ranging from the perennial - "They shove your head in the toilet" - to the impressively inventive - "If you don't listen, teachers cut your arms and legs off".

Wendy York, the administrative director, believes that by inventing these over-the-top fears, pupils mask more genuine concerns. "These pupils have to make new relationships with a whole new group of people," she said.

"If you take a real fear and make it bigger and more horrible, then you can laugh at it."

This organised rumour-mongering is followed by a question-and-answer session with a secondary pupil, which enables staff to tackle the fears revealed through the exercise and pupils to find out whether their concerns - is it true the teachers are intolerant, or people get lost in the corridors? - have any basis in reality.

"They're getting reassurance that it isn't really as bad as they're afraid it will be," Ms York said. "It's a way of looking at things in a really supportive atmosphere."

Ms York and Professor Hughes believe that such schemes are vital if primary pupils are to adjust quickly to secondary school.

"Social, emotional and academic development are closely interrelated," Professor Hughes said. "Children, parents, primary and secondary school teachers each have extensive funds of knowledge that are relevant to primary-secondary transfer."

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