A two pence solution to a 'too long standing' issue

Year 3 and Year 4 children told us that the top playground, ‘their playground’, was too busy and too chaotic for 15 minutes while they are out playing and all of Y5 and Y6 are queueing up (on 'their playground') for lunch. We wanted and needed to help them.

I’ve used the story about the tall lorry, stuck under a motorway bridge on the M62, a few times in Assembly. It illustrates thinking outside the box…

A lorry came over from the continent, into Hull docks. Soon after leaving the city, heading for Manchester, it got well and truly wedged under a bridge over the M62 – the lorry was too tall for British roads!

‘Dig it out with earthmovers,' said one expert (at a cost of a week’s work and tens of thousands of pounds).

‘Lift the bridge section,' said another (at a cost of closing two roads, and tens of thousands of pounds).

‘Let the tyres down,' said a wise older person (at the cost of a matchstick).

I was teaching at a school in Stockton on Tees, struggling to control the competitive, impatient, niggly ways of the boys in the PE lesson. We were in a unit of indoor athletics, and the problem was with the boys in the queue to complete a standing long jump; they just wouldn’t back up enough to allow the jumper room to swing their arms and launch themselves forward.

I had the chance to talk to a PE teacher from the Secondary School next door – he was in offering development support, the early version of the current PESSPA (where we buy in expertise to support staff development and to run extra clubs). He revolutionised my thinking by simply placing a single plastic chair two metres back and to the side of the landing mat. ‘The person sitting on the chair jumps next,’ he said. And with that, without a single complaint, the whole queue shifted two metres back and to the side, giving the jumper all the room they needed.

We applied that thinking to solve the problem for our Y3 and Y4 children. After a couple of minutes of watching the issue developing yesterday, we saw the obvious (easy and free) solution. We’d already thought about moving the queues into the car park, or round the bottom of the main building, or holding the children all the way back up the slope from playground to cloakrooms. But the solution turned out to be easier still.

We brought out eight cones, four blue and four green.

We put the cones out, spaced slightly further apart, six metres forward of where the children automatically lined up. (They centred themselves on a line of numbered circles, long ago painted on the playground as a matrix for a game.)

We called the queues – four from each year group – forward to the cones.

And that was it – by using cones we had, the space on the sloped tarmac up to the hall rear wall, a simple instruction, and having the Head and Deputy supervise the area – we handed back about 80 square metres of playground to the children using that space for play.

We repeated it today. We’ll repeat it on Monday and Tuesday next week. We’ll give it a mention in assembly for Year 5 and Year 6 next week, too. We’ll hand it over to the lunchtime staff to run once they’ve seen what and how we do it and that it works. We expect it will be habit by the end of next week.

Using two colours of cone was deliberate, as was the slightly wider spacing (than the numbered circles). Perhaps you can guess why we did this. (They are also stunningly simple solutions to two other intractable issues.)

This is ‘Pupil Voice’ in action – the children told us their issue and we set about finding a simple sustainable solution. Article 12: the right to have their views taken seriously on matters that affect them.

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