Work and play are mutually enhancing

25th May 2007 at 01:00
"End of play is unlikely to work" you say (TES, May 11), debating Thomas Deacon academy's decision to provide no breaks or playtimes for its pupils because lessons will be so exciting that children will not be bored. You make the mistake of assuming that learning, social development and "letting off steam" cannot go hand-in-hand.

Meanwhile, we hear that Knowsley is to abandon the idea of secondary schools altogether, instead offering learning centres to be open pretty much all day, throughout the year. What a brave and inspired decision.

Somewhere in both stories there is an exciting, fresh vision of what schools are for and what they can achieve. Best of all, I think, is the idea that what we used to call "work" and "play" are in fact interchangeable and mutually enhancing.

Don't we know enough about how children (and adults) learn best to know that when we are in "flow", when we are working in groups, when we have some choice over how we learn, when we can see the point of making the effort, we make rapid progress and are motivated to learn more?

I think in this country we are frightened of letting enthusiasm loose. I think we are scared of young people's energy and impatience. I think the thought of children being more self-directed fills us with panic. And yet, when experienced teachers trust children and give them freedom to experiment at their own speed, we are amazed at how fast they can learn.

Discipline concerns are minimal when children are truly engaged.

These are exciting times. "Extended schools" are a small move forward, but still keep as their main premise the idea of "school" as a containing institution for small savages, with the remit to deliver a narrow and prescribed curriculum, with targets to ensure a limited focus, and a school year still reflecting 19th-century farming seasons.

In this beautiful month, when our primary and secondary pupils are jumping or preparing to jump through our Government's restricting hoops, could the TES please take a lead in summarising the latest research evidence about conditions for effective learning and help readers to understand that "work" and "play" are not opposites?

Barbara Curry. former inner-city headteacher, Winchcombe, Gloucestershire

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