Friday, 15 July 2011

Classroom Secrets

There was a very interesting show of BBC1 last night. Classroom Secrets was a sort of primary school version of Big Brother where hidden cameras were put in a classroom in order to show parents how their children behaved in class.

The programme followed a week in Class 4FF, a class in an ordinary primary school in Leicester. This was not a nightmare inner city school we usually see featured on documentaries, with aggressive pupils and embattled teachers. No this was much more shocking because this issue is happening in every school in the country. Low level disruption is losing our children 3 whole weeks of lesson time each year, and to be honest it'll come as no surprise to anyone who actually works in a primary school.

The problem with low level disruption is that it usually involves children. So, where you have a group of children you will have this sort of disruption. Short of refusing to allow children into the classroom it's going to be hard to eradicate.

Of course, some children are past masters at wasting time. These delaying tactics include asking to go to the toilet several times per lesson; feigning illness (the boy who cried wolf syndrome); asking for a drink; and - my personal  bête noire - taking ages to find and then sharpen a pencil.

However, the main sources of the disruption are usually the same children. I can go into a class and there will usually be a handful of children who will use these distraction techniques everyday. And there are often genuine reasons for their behaviour - a desperate need for attention, any attention being better than none; a need for help because they can't cope with the lessons; tiredness - many children go to bed far too late; lack of boundaries at home - some children are allowed to rule the roost at home and they bring the same attitude into school; and hunger - some children come to school without breakfast and lose concentration early on in the school day and perhaps never  manage to 'catch up'.

Of course there are other children who just can't help themselves from chatting, fidgeting and and fiddling with their shoes/hair/pencil case

In the documentary 9 year old Maisie was always getting into trouble in school for swearing, something she denied when challenged by her parents. So her parents were open-mouthed when they were able to witness their darling daughter's fluency in expletives during a lesson. When the seemingly sensible parents were asked by the Headteacher where Maisie might have picked it up from, they seemed to think that perhaps it was because she stayed up late at weekends (10-11pm) and watched 'inappropriate' things on TV. You don't say?

Another problem with this sort of thing is that unfortunately some parents don't see it as a problem. And of course some parents don't actually care what their child does at school, and I'm sure that in itself feeds the problem.

There is a whole other side to the story of course which was only touched on briefly by the documentary, and that is one of interesting lessons, good teachers and engaged children. If children get bored in school it leads to more disruption, and they're also finely tuned to each teacher's expectations and behaviour management. But as an exercise, Classroom Secrets was an interesting one and it can still be viewed on BBC iPlayer for the next 6 days.