During my second visit I asked eleven children a series of questions about why they went to Room 13 and what they valued about it. They had to mark each of a number of possible answers with a response of 0 to 5, where 0 meant of no importance and 5 meant extremely important. To get full value from this little bit of research, you should guess how well each item scored before looking on.
The suggested reasons for going to Room 13 were:
- To do art work
- To use the computers
- Room 13 administration
- To talk to friends
- To read
- To discuss things with Mr. Fairley or Mr. French [Joe French is another
- Room 13 staff member, splitting his time between Caol, Lochyside and Lochaber High School]
- To get away from class
- To avoid having to go out into the playground.
All these suggestions had cropped up in discussions with children during my first visit in the spring. When I asked the questions, individuals added a few others that I had not thought of, including playing chess, learning the guitar, and coming up to clean. As I did not offer these possibilities to the first children I interviewed, I have not been able to record comparable statistics, but five of my eleven interviewees were chess-players.
The things I suggested as perhaps the most important aspects of Room 13 were:
- Good art materials
- Choice of what to do
- Room 13 belongs to us
- Doing something real (instead of school work)
The additional suggestions from children were the opportunity to go abroad (of which more later) and, "Just learning. When I came up I didn't know how to draw or paint or use computers."
The total scores for the activities I had suggested, expressed as percentages of the maximum score possible, were:-
- To do art work (85)
- To use the computers (55)
- Room 13 administration (53)
- To talk to friends (27)
- To read (35)
- To discuss with Mr. Fairley or Mr. French (75)
- To get away from class (35)
- To avoid having to go out into the playground (36
The variation in responses was wide. All of the activities suggested scored 5 from at least one child, except for reading, which however did achieve three 4s. All of them except for art and talking to Rob or Joe French were of no importance to at least one person.
As you would expect, art comes top by a long way. Administration was only important for the children actually working with the management team. Conversation with adults was enormously more important than chatting with friends. The children who wanted to get out of the classroom were mostly the same as those who didn't like going out into the playground, which suggests the desire to get away from the crowd as a common factor.
The total scores for the second set of options were more surprising.
- Good art materials (78)
- Choice of what to do (75)
- Room 13 belongs to us (69)
- Respect (89)
- Doing something real (instead of school work) (95)
Good materials, freedom and ownership all score highly, but are still valued far less than respect and purpose. Eleven children from one primary school are hardly a representative sample, but the almost total unanimity should surely carry weight.
The last question I asked had no suggested answers. "In Room 13 children do a lot of things that are normally only done by grown-ups, and some of the art from Room 13 is impossible to tell from grown-up art. What do you need grown-ups for?" The range of answers suggests that although some children see limits to what they can do alone, even in Room 13, others don't agree.
- Adults are no better than children. We can do it ourselves.
- They think they're better than us.
- Adults aren't important
- Miss Smith has been telling the children about their responsibilities and giving them freedom, so they have a new self-confidence.
- Helping to do the chess, helping to find books, keeping things tidy. Children sometimes do when an adult asks. Two or three times a week there is a major tidy; sometimes people get sent for to help tidy, or pack up pictures for exhibitions.
- Grown-ups come to do the same things as the children.
- Mr. Fairley mucks about with people's minds. He says when you are eight you are blind.
- Adults are needed for help.
- It would work without any grown-ups at all. Unless you want help you are left alone.
- Some people only come up when it's cold outside, or to spy on the people outside. This can be a nuisance. If they're being too noisy we tell them to go. If it's an adult, they go first time, but if it's me or Hayley they don't go first time.
- Mr. Fairley and Mr. French do help, but they're not important. Other adults don't help us much.
- We could manage without them.
Given these contradictory messages, I tried to determine exactly how far the management team is really in control over everything that happens. Lucy MacGillivray, the current Managing Director, was away, but I was able to persuade Stephen Mitchell, the chair, to allow me to see the minutes of their recent meetings. On the next page there are some extracts: