Monday, December 01, 2014


Every time I have trouble getting a foster child to go to school in the morning it turns out the problem lies in the playground.

It never ceases to amaze me that our Education system spends 100% of it's time on what goes on in the classroom.

Teachers, Heads, Ofsted, the Department of Education, everybody who thinks they know about "Education" is fixated that their responsibility to our children begins and ends at the classroom door, that the only thing that matters is book learning.

Actually, our Education system spends 110% of it's time on classroom stuff, because they send our children away each day with homework, which is ALWAYS academic...tables, grammar and all the old stuff.

20% of the time that children are in the care of teachers there is no care going on. Negligence to the point of potential criminality. Seriously.

The playground is where every child learns all the big lessons they carry with them for the rest of their lives. And where is the supervision, the support, the play-leading? 

Where are the trained carers of the nation's children? Are they out in the cold, teaching their clients, especially the ones with needs? Or are they in the staff room chinwagging into frothy coffee? Maybe they're using the break to set up the next lesson, I'm not disputing that teachers have to work hard. What I am saying is that schools are oblivious to the lessons being learned out on the asphalt. 

There's a great book called "Lord Of The Flies" about what happens when children are left to their own devices without adult help and support. They turn on each other and become murderous.

Every playground, every break and lunchtime, right across the land, is a miniature Lord Of The Flies. Every day. Especially for foster children.

Kids stand around not sure what to do. Factions develop. Kids get left out. Name calling happens. Over in the shed are their bikes and scooters, not allowed. Do not go in the puddles. Stay off the wet grass. The tree is not for climbing. One primary school I know has a £10,000 climbing apparatus, no child is allowed on it because they need to be supervised, so it stands empty. A couple of untrained volunteer parent helpers in fluorescent bibs blow whistles at any child who is doing something extravagantly dangerous such as trying to climb on the roof. The playground surface is etched with fading hopscotch or netball courts, unused. There's masses of bigger boys experimenting with being big by running belligerently past smaller boys and gangs of girls testing their own social standing by gossiping about other girls and probably being mean.

The helpers never blow their whistle when they notice a child who is frightened or confused. They don't pick up on the child who is being teased for being overweight, or wearing uncool trainers.

Foster children often struggle socially more than most. Their social skills can be badly damaged by their experiences. They're more likely to find it hard to join in, merge with a group of friends. They're are more prone to standing around alone. They often have heightened sensitivities, and can be crushed by name-calling.

My foster children come home from school and generally need an hour of TLC to get over each day's little traumas.

Children who go home and cry aren't upset because they only got a six in spelling, it's always because of the social stuff; other kids. In the playground. Not just the playground, the corridors, the unsupervised classroom waiting for the next teacher.

When the ultimate tragedy happens and a child takes their life, the national spotlight falls on bullying for a few days. Does anyone link the bullying to the unsupervised segments of the child's day? Never. Yet it's a no-brainer. One day the parent of a victim will challenge the school on the legality of their policy of leaving hundreds of children to their own devices for an hour and a half every day. If a teacher needs years of training to work a classroom of thirty, how come volunteer helpers need no training to run a playground of hundreds?

I want to say to educationalists that you wouldn't last ten minutes in fostering like this. We don't clock off for a moment when the chid is in our home, our responsibility.  We actually don't want to, not only because we care that the child is happy and well all the time, but because it would be all the harder to pick up where we left off, which is something teachers should think about when they wonder why it's hard to get classes to concentrate.

When I was at secondary school we had a young Australian trainee teacher who used to join in playtimes, hang around chatting to us, kicked a football with the lads. The only teacher I remember who wasn't part of the "Them And Us' philosophy. One lunchtime we asked him why. He said;

"I came into teaching because I like kids, not because I like teachers"



  1. I usually agree with everything you write here and I assuming you are writing it because one of your kids is having trouble at school. But this article has got me under the collar. I do not know if it because I think you are right or completely off the mark, or both. I am just not sure. I am one of those so called blind teachers. Thing is I am not blind, I know what goes on in the playground and I will take the sometimes up to an hour after lunch to sort it out.

    I was shocked when I moved from Australia to here that teachers didn't do lunch duty but that doesn't mean I clock off either. My classes have always known they can come and see me at lunchtime if they want to. I always have an activity to do, if they want to. They can ask me for help in academic or social issues, if they want to. They can also read a book, if they want to or just chat with a friend.

    Homework has not always been academic either. Often I will give he kids an independent project to do which they get to research a topic that interests them. They then have to present that information in different ways.

    As for teachers being more academic- you right they are and it is the one thing I hate about teaching in this country. But schools are judged on how academic they are, league tables, OFSTED and parents expectations all push the children to be the most academic and that is just sad. Especially now, if a teacher wants to succeed, their pay is linked to how well their children do academically not socially. It is not important how well rounded they are just what percentage of levels they are.

    I think I am annoyed by your article because you have tarred all teachers except for the one Australian teacher with the same brush. I have had some poor dealings with foster carers and they have seriously let my children down (I am picking up the pieces less from birth family but more from their foster family) but I am not saying that all foster carers are rubbish because of the ones I and my children have encountered .

  2. Thanks for your input, but I'm not down on teachers. I'm down on the fact that the playground is unsupported, which as you say is shocking. All teachers don't do lunch duty, if you want to call that tarring with the same brush, I guess that's what it is, since, like you say, all teachers don't do lunch duty. My question to you is why aren't you out there? It's not enough that children can come inside if the school has a teacher willing to be with them; there's stuff going on in the playground that teachers are blind to, I'm talking about bad stuff, sometimes very bad stuff, and it's on their watch. We hand our kids over to teachers to be 'in loco parentis' or in my case 'in loco nutritious' and I would never allow a vulnerable child unsupported play, so teachers are not acting as I would, ergo breach of contract. This isn't a minor grumble. I believe unsupervised play is the basis of almost all cases of bullying, it's the cause of many low level socialisation disorders ranging from latent aggression to passive compliance and it's the starting place for many of the emotional problems that manifest themselves in eating disorders, drug abuse, violence, self-harming and other ailments.
    I agree some foster carers aren't saints, if there was a rule that we all had to leave our foster children totally to their own devices for an hour every day, we would be sinners by default. And by the way I've never met an Aussie I didn't like, and I'm not likely to break my duck with yourself, as you are clearly, very clearly, not at all the enemy.

    Kindest regards

    Secret Foster Carer

  3. SFC that is a brilliant post. my favourite so far. (still got all of 2015 to 2019 to read though). That is exactly my recollection of the school playground and i doubt its changed much. If we were to treat each other that way in the adult world we would get the sack.

  4. Thank you novice. That's a lot of reading ahead. Are you in fostering, or thinking about it or what? SFC