So, this free breakfast idea is a tad more expensive than the Conservatives envisaged. Or is it? This blog post mulls over the idea that perhaps we could learn from the Japanese and incorporate into the school day the ‘extra’ education of serving, eating and cleaning together that not only saves on non-teaching staff costs, but also helps children to learn to be polite, caring and a little more self-sufficient. I should point out now that I am in support of the removal of free school meals for children of wealthier families and for those funds to be directed towards those most in need; we simply cannot afford as a nation to spend taxpayer’s money simply because it’s a ‘nice’ idea.
I admit anyway that I am effectively saying that I should be the one to do this breakfast club thing, since I am the class teacher after all. Where is the TA? Well, like many teachers I have got used to less and less TA support and I admit that it is a struggle: we have significant SEN in my class (like most primary schools which are by design and policy more inclusive than secondary), including one boy who is, according to the Ed Psych, one-to-one and on a completely separate curriculum. As this article succinctly states, lack of TA support really does expose the fragility of the ‘inclusive ideal’ because the reality of the situation is that this little boy is next to my side at all times while I try to teach and help the rest of the class, many of whom have SEN themselves. Anyway, I’m resigned to it, although it is ridiculous that I get asked about how I am supposed to be doing interventions or hearing individual readers when I am teaching the class? So, I’m in school early trying to organise this separate curriculum malarkey and children and parents come into the classroom well before the school day; we might as well stop beating about the bush and have a breakfast club in the classroom too. Hell, it might give me a chance to actually hear some of those other children with SEN read.
How would this work? As I said, this is just an exercise in thought and I don’t have power to change primary schools up and down the country, just in case you were worried about it! I’ve often thought that while I’m getting the class to tidy up after some rare art of an afternoon, we could actually be hoovering, wiping, dusting etc as well. Just as the kids are tearing off after the end of the day bell goes, the (female) cleaners are coming in and what message does this send to the children? I am rather tired of this attitude that cleaning is women’s work and when you do see many children nonchalantly drop litter or sling their jumpers across the cloakroom like they couldn’t give a shite, is it because they have inadvertently internalised that cleaning is demeaning or that they are above it all? How about instead of paying lip service to the whole class responsibilities thing (so-and-so tidies the book area etc) we actually divvy out real jobs, nailing down some serious routine while we’re at it? This could easily work for year 3 and up; they can be taught how to hoover, how to wipe down a surface and as this blog post is about breakfast we could easily teach them how to put a piece of toast in a toaster, put butter on said toast, eat it in a civilised way, put the plate on a tray and then wipe the table they just ate at.
Now many teachers would read this and balk at the very idea, but not because of the extra workload rather because of an ingrained belief that children should not be troubled with such requests that are ‘demeaning’ or somehow interfering with the ‘purity’ of carefree childhood. This is a middle class thing and it has spread like a rash into the mainstream community; people just don’t expect children, boys in particular, to help with chores or tidy away after themselves these days and these requests are sometimes seen as infringing on children’s ‘rights’. This is why you get many primary teachers racing around like blue-arsed flies during a lunchtime trying to lay out perfect creative ‘experiences’ rather than expect children to help set up said experiences. Of course, Ofsted also play a role in this because they are looking for 100% ‘learning’ from the moment the bell goes and it is difficult to justify to an inspector that asking children to hand out scissors, glue etc qualifies as ‘learning’.
However, I can’t be the only person who thinks that the world would be a better place if everyone, including The Queen, cleaned a toilet once in a while.
Yes, I of all people do not believe it is the educator’s place to dabble in social engineering, but in not expecting children to perform meaningful and real cleaning/serving tasks, we might be undermining a minority of parents who do want their children to learn how to be self-sufficient and think of others. If you look at all sorts of cultures around the world both ancient and modern, you will see children as young as five very much contributing to the running of a household in a positive way, rather than being almost parasitic well into their twenties (or even thirties) as is common in the West. In these straightened times can we really afford to allow anyone, even children, to sit back and just ‘take’? Is anyone else apart from me sick and tired of children treating adults around them like their personal ‘skivvy’? From a purely financial point of view, if you are spending money feeding and educating children, then is it not prudent to expect some immediate return on investment rather than fall back and accept that any return on investment should be years and years and years in the future?
So, bring on the breakfasts, the routine and the cleaning.
Who’s with me?