School Days

The Oldie - - CONTENTS - Sophia Waugh

Last year, our school banned any sight of mo­bile phones dur­ing the school day, in­clud­ing at breaks and lunch.

‘It’ll never work!’ scoffed the other schools in the town. But, as I wrote last year, it did work. With barely any teething prob­lems, the mo­biles dis­ap­peared and the chil­dren be­gan talk­ing to each other. It was mar­vel­lous.

This year, we have gone a step fur­ther and started a new rev­o­lu­tion. The be­hav­iour of the young has de­te­ri­o­rated dra­mat­i­cally over the past few years. With no cor­re­la­tion to so­cioe­co­nomic group or any­thing else, chil­dren come to us with less and less re­spect, as­pi­ra­tion or even plain good man­ners. Not all of them; the ma­jor­ity still be­haves in the way you would ex­pect from your own chil­dren. But the prob­lem is the creep­ing mi­nor­ity. Where once you would get one or two badly be­haved chil­dren, you are now likely to have enough that they can dis­rupt a les­son. So what is to be done?

The rev­o­lu­tion is called Ready to Learn, and is a move­ment com­ing up from the West. It ap­pears on pa­per to be ex­traor­di­nar­ily dra­co­nian. There is a list of the ba­sic ex­pec­ta­tions of ev­ery class: ar­rive on time, don’t chew gum, have the right equip­ment, don’t an­swer back, and work in si­lence when asked. The chil­dren are given one warn­ing and, if they step out of line again, they are sent away. They are not ‘parked’ across the cor­ri­dor in an­other class where they have a dif­fer­ent au­di­ence for their an­tics. Nei­ther are they asked to step out­side the room, so they can wan­der the cor­ri­dors pulling goofy faces through the glass of other rooms

No. They are sent away for five hours in an iso­la­tion room. Five hours. So, if they are sent out in les­son two, they spend the rest of the day (plus an hour’s af­ter-school de­ten­tion) in iso­la­tion, as well as les­son one and two the next day. If this hap­pens more than once in a half-term, there will be an ex­clu­sion.

There was to­tal up­roar when the stu­dents were told about this at the end of the last aca­demic year. They threat­ened to leave en masse to go to other schools in the town. They said that, if none of them fol­lowed the rules, we wouldn’t be able to carry out the pun­ish­ment – where were we go­ing to put 500 ‘iso­lated’ stu­dents, af­ter all?

And then we came back at the be­gin­ning of Septem­ber. And some­thing ex­tra­or­di­nary hap­pened. Very, very few of the stu­dents have been buck­ing the sys­tem. We teach­ers are al­most dis­ap­pointed that we can’t nail more of last year’s bad­dies – be­cause they all seem to be be­hav­ing. The chil­dren are work­ing so hard that we are hav­ing to re­plan all last year’s lessons be­cause we are get­ting through more con­tent.

But here is the real rev­o­lu­tion. I bumped into two girls I taught last year. They had been very dif­fi­cult – mouthy, tru­ant­ing, rude and un­will­ing to work. Last week, they stopped me in the street with shin­ing faces. ‘I’ve not been to iso­la­tion yet, Miss,’ said one with a huge smile. ‘And I’ve done all my home­work.’

‘I’ve been in,’ the other ad­mit­ted gloomily – but it was be­cause of a pierc­ing and an an­swer­ing-back, rather than for the rea­sons that were get­ting her into so much trou­ble last year.

When I asked them why school life was so much eas­ier for them, they said it was be­cause they knew ex­actly what the ex­pec­ta­tions were. Chil­dren ac­tu­ally do like rules. Be­cause these two girls, whose faces last year were twisted with rage and sour­ness, are on the path to bet­ter grades, and it is mak­ing them happy.

Ev­ery­one is win­ning.

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