One doesn’t have to be in a school for too long before one can sense that it is a good one and that children enjoy the experience of going to school for learning purposes. There are so many great schools and I recall a few special instances.
1. On one occasion I was visiting a school with the Minister for Education and, as was customary, he granted the school a holiday. There was an audible groan from the collection of school children. When he asked why he seemed to have done the wrong thing, he was told that it was because they would not be able to come to school. I fancy that the teachers persuaded Sir Alan to stick to his guns and not retract.
2. Visiting a small school outside Innisfail with the Far North Regional Director during the last week of school for the year, he asked the pupils if they were looking forward to the forthcoming vacation. In a very loud response they said that they were not. When Roly asked them why, they replied that they would not be able to come to school for some weeks.
3. Well before 8 o’clock one morning Principal Pat H. heard a noise from the far end of the school. He went around there and about dozen pupils were working in the classroom with the array of structured material that the teacher had arranged, and they were recording the results of their activities. Pat said to the teacher, ‘In over forty years of teaching, I’ve never seen children come to school this early to do maths. .’ The teacher got up close to Pat and said, ‘Shhhh. Don’t tell them they’re doing Maths.’
4. Over-nighting in a small town in outback Queensland I was in the ablutions block in the back yard of the small hotel at about 7.30 a.m. when I heard the laughter of a number of children skipping past the hotel on their way to school. It was a school of about eighty pupils. All but three of them were aboriginal children. When I arrived at the school about an hour later, I understood why. Some were busy at work with toy trucks on a road work that they had constructed themselves. As did many of the adults in the town, they carted stock from one place to another. Upon arrival at each place they had to undertake whatever instructions were awaiting them [cards of addition and subtraction sums]. Another lot was recording the weather observations of the day on the weather stations that they had constructed. Some were playing hooky with small corded quoits and they were obliged to write the results on a nearby board. They challenged each other with the speed of their addition. Two were on a telephone net-work from phones at the extreme ends of the school, correcting each other’s expression and asking each other to speak more clearly. Others were in classroom playing scrabble-like games on the floor.
There were curriculum based games everywhere, some more difficult than others, that children could use while one of the two teachers was in attendance. The children remained under these conditions until late afternoon as well. The school had an endless array of games that focussed on the requirements of the syllabus. I remember being embarrassed by a couple of lads who were much more dexterous than I was with a game that required working with a particular base and having to convert the results to base ten. They were speedy.
The punishment for being naughty was exclusion from coming into the school before 9 a.m. and the miscreant had to go home at 3 p.m.! One big lad, who had ‘played up’ in the playground on the day before I visited, was very cranky at himself. He could only come into the school for the regular hours.