Tomorrow's hat trick
When Ambler primary school in North London marked its 100th birthday last year, we celebrated not only by looking back, but by looking to the future. We asked all 400 children - from nursery to Year 6 - to predict what the school would be like in another century. Their answers could be anonymous, and younger pupils completed the task as an oral exercise.
Despite "millennium doom" prophesies, and other visions of looming catastrophes, all the children predicted that the school had some kind of future, albeit in a different form. As one said: "The school will be at the end of a black hole. All the children will be a mixture of aliens, biscuits and humans."
Some hoped the eroding Victorian architecture would have gone. "The school will have a bio-dome across the building to protect us from pollution," one pupil volunteered.
"Our school will be in the shape of an oyster to remind all students that the world is your oyster," said Aysegul, 11.
Several children predicted the demise of teachers: "Instead of having teachers we will have robots that have switches to make them kind or strict," said Manu, nine.
"The children will put on hats that teach them. There will only be half a day of school because of these excellent hats," one pupil hoped.
Meanwhile Kit, 11, thought that: "The headteacher will be a brain that is kept in a jar in his or her office, but will be able to fly around the school three feet above the tallest student. The school day will be five minutes long and each lesson will be one-and-a-half-minutes long."
It seems even Chris Woodhead, the chief inspector, is replaceable: "There will be no inspectors. There will be robots instead," said eight-year-old Naseer.
Even if teachers are still necessary, their role will change dramatically, according to Tasbir, aged 11: "There's going to be a lot of clever children who finish their work in five or 10 minutes. The teachers are going to be sweating and running from school saying, 'these children are too clever for us!'" It was interesting how many children assumed that national tests would last for a hundred years. "In the Year 2098 the tests will be a lot harder," felt one pupil. But Jennifer, 11, had less academic parts of the test experience in mind: "The chairs will be more comfortable."
Understandably, technological change was an overriding theme, with examples such as: "We might have a microchip installed in our head so we can download information from books at a super-fast speed." Meanwhile, Kit had a hi-tech answer for an age-old problem: "Bullies will be warded off by a protective shield and a robo-helper." Farahnaz, nine, said: "If you want the rubber, the rubber will come to you and rub out your work."
School dinners also featured prominently. "All the food will be presented in a small tablet," said Angela, aged eight. Jason, 10, hoped that: "For dinners we will have a selection of food from the Wakey Burgers restaurant. Our (school) uniform will be the Arsenal kit."
Overall, the predictions were remarkably optimistic. Only one child seemed to fear for the future: "The teachers and children won't be as kind as they are now."
A selection of the pupils' responses were included in a centenary magazine, which was given to each child. Only now, however, will I admit that Hannah's prediction was inspired by a year in my class: "The teachers will have to tidy their desks and if they don't, a little annoying leprechaun willI bug them until theyI tidy their desks!" Joe Hallgarten taught at Ambler primary school, Islington, until last July. He now works for the National Union of Teachers.