Molly Davies’ play has a disconcerting set for those of us who work in a primary school. The studio has been turned into the perfect replica of a Year 4 classroom, with ceiling tiles, displays and even a stock cupboard.
The school is piloting a scheme, “Badger Do Best”, devised by author Sali Rayner, centred on a badger and other woodland creatures. All the stories end with Badger helping the creatures to work together as a team to overcome difficulties.
If judged to be successful by the Department for Education, due to visit the school at the end of the play, then Sali will have her scheme rolled out across the country and be set to make an enormous amount of money.
When one child, Louie, rebels against the saccharine moral tales, Sali is brought into the school to work with the “problem child” and tells them (Louie is played alternately by a male and female child) that if they scupper her chances of success they will never amount to much in life.
The class teacher feels that the scheme is not working, but the head teacher begs her to keep on with it so she can receive the funding for their school extension.
The play has been interpreted by critics in different ways. Quentin Letts in the Daily Mail crows, “Trendy teachers get a top-class savaging”. I disagree.
There are confusing messages in the play. The head sees the scheme as a means to move away from the straitjacket of testing maths and English, towards a focus on how well children relate to each other — an opinion I share.
The children rebel by worshipping Louie who proclaims s/he is the king and can tell them all what to do and terrify them, a relationship that reminds us of Lord of the Flies.
The play ends with a too obvious statement about the government interfering in education. This was unnecessary as it was already clear that something was not right with a centrally imposed scheme where there is no flexibility and no room for the creative input of the teacher to change and adapt material to suit the children.
All the actors give very fine performances, especially the cast of children. This is a welcome production, exposing the dissatisfaction with our current education system, which claims to support autonomy for some yet seeks to impose one size fits all schemes on others.