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23rd January 2004 at 00:00
Gerald Haigh looks at how to manage the start of the school day

How do your children come into school in the morning? In other words, how is their entry managed? Is there a struggling mass in a narrow doorway? Do they line up? Do they just walk in when they arrive? How do parents fit into the picture?

The morning routine is so much a part of life it's easy to take it for granted. It may have gone on unchanged for years, even though the conditions it was intended to deal with may be different.

The morning arrival is one of the things your Ofsted team will look at. An inspector, often the lay member, will watch, perhaps on two separate mornings, and if anything warrants it there'll be a comment in the report.

They aren't looking for a particular system. What they want to see is what you'd hope for - a safe, orderly start to the day that doesn't, for example, provoke children to be ill-tempered with one another, or put small children at risk of being thoughtlessly shoved and roughed up by bigger ones.

Once upon a time, it was all highly regimented. Parents didn't come on to the playground, or if they did they were kept behind a demarcation line.

The children played for a bit, then someone blew a whistle and they stood still and silent. When all was calm, there was another whistle blast (we're talking about the famous Acme "Thunderer" here) and the children would walk to designated places where they made lines, class by class.

Each class teacher then emerged to stand (shivering, sometimes clutching a cup of coffee in gloved hands) at the front of their respective lines. The classes then went in, class by class, often under the direction of the head or the deputy. Usually, the good and quiet lines went first. ("Well done 3B. Lead in Miss Prendergast!") "What's all this past tense?" someone is saying. "We still do it exactly like that."

And of course, it may be fine. So much depends on the building. If you have a single narrow entrance into school then you need good control. This becomes even more important if you also have a cloakroom which is effectively a dead end, so that children who have finished hanging their things up have to battle their way out against an incoming tide of humanity. It's not a good way to start school; it breeds quarrels and may provide a cover for bullying.

One way of achieving control, obviously, is to go for the traditional lining up drill. It can work very well, but unless teachers are able, prompt on duty and vigilant they'll find that a line of children can be like a rugby line out as a hotbed of illicit kicks and grabs. For that reason, many schools adopt a compromise solution. One is for the teacher on duty to ring a bell, wait for the children to calm down and stand still, and then let them walk from wherever they are to the door. You can still get a crowd in the doorway, but with a teacher present and a calm atmosphere to start with it might be a way of training children to be patient and considerate when they're thrown together.

The complete "open school" option is just to let children, with their parents if they wish, simply walk into school as and when they arrive.

Schools which do this come to accept it as a natural way to work, and teachers or teaching assistants are usually in their rooms anyway.

If you don't want to go this far, you can follow the example of the school that lets the children and parents into the hall rather than the classrooms, where they sit and stand in family groups or with friends until teachers come to pick up their class members.

All schools are different, not just physically but in ethos and order of priorities. Every school, though, asks for self-control, consideration for others, and the ability of pupils to come in and out comfortably. It doesn't take much effort just to observe the arrival routine, perhaps over a period of days, and discuss with colleagues whether what's happening is safe, efficient and reflects your values. Talk to parents too. You may find that some choose to arrive a minute or two late because their children don't like the morning rush. That ought to give you pause for thought.

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