A malevolent seagull lurks at every school gate

15th April 2011 at 01:00

A really interesting part of my new job as quality champion for 14-19 education in Swansea is visiting schools. It is interesting how different they are, but also how similar. So, what can you expect?

First of all, as you drive up to the school you will disturb a seagull picking at yesterday's tuna sandwich. It will have a malevolent look in its eyes and you know that it has marked your car for its attentions.

Your access to the school will suddenly be blocked by a rusty Fiat. The passenger door will be flung open and a girl with unusually blonde hair and a ridiculous skirt will jump out. She will shout at the car and stalk off while, from its smoke-filled interior, her mother screams after her. The car will then lurch away, shuddering as it hits the kerb. Two overweight council workers in reflective jackets will watch as they take a break from collecting wet litter from the muddy verge.

Once you have parked next to the police car, among the potholes and the lakes, you will see a boy in a hoodie slouching in the middle distance, trying to hide from his head of year in the middle of the netball court.

When you go inside, you will see a flatscreen TV showing recent achievements involving grinning boys in shorts, covered in mud, or girls with hair bands and violins. A girl with purple hair will walk past you carrying a large plastic art folder and talking softly into an expensive phone.

If you arrive at the start of lessons, you will be pressed against the wall of the corridor as it suddenly fills with small children from Year 7, weighed down by enormous rucksacks. They will look like hermit crabs with their homes strapped to their backs. A considerable distance behind them will be a small boy in trousers much too long and with his shoelaces undone. He might ask you where the science class has gone. You will apologise and direct him politely to a teacher carrying a laptop. The boy will look puzzled and walk off in the opposite direction. You notice that his games kit is about to fall from his bag.

A caretaker walks past him talking into a walkie-talkie. "Charlie One to Base. Charlie One to Base. Yes, it's flooded alright, but I'm not cleaning it up ... "

He will walk past a group of young people not in uniform and you will be unable to determine whether they are sixth-formers, learning support assistants or student teachers. Don't ask them where to go. One lot won't tell you, one won't know and the others will be consumed with fear at the prospect of a conversation.

You will see ladies in the office sitting behind glass screens, opening them to distribute numbered sheets of toilet paper to a pale-faced boy. You will be asked to sign in and will struggle to remember today's date and your car registration number. You might then be asked to read the fire evacuation procedures, which, in summary, suggest leaving a burning building as quickly as possible. You will be invited to sit on a brightly coloured chair and will be given a cup of something wet with, possibly, one of yesterday's biscuits. They will then give you a copy of their latest prospectus, the cover of which presents a group of unrecognisable teenagers wearing goggles and ski jackets, waving at the camera. You think quietly that it rather spoils the view of the mountains behind them.

On a display board above you will be photographs of the governing body. You might think they would be improved if the members had posed with chalk boards with numbers on them.

A policeman with helmet, truncheon and riot shield will emerge from the assembly hall. You hope very much that he is just the community officer doing a bit of liaison. Small doubts will creep in when a boy with a particularly manic look appears, asking loudly for his Ritalin.

Outside the office will be a small group of pupils. Their conversation will involve what Jordan did and how it is nothing to do with the school and how they are going to kill him and they don't care. A supply teacher you know runs down the corridor. The last time they worked in your school, Year 9 tied them to a chair. You avoid their eye.

The girl you saw getting out of the car earlier will be removing her earrings and placing them in the outstretched hand of a teacher with a cardigan and a Toy Story tie. If you could bottle sullenness, you would fetch a barrel.

A young lady from the office will collect you and take you to your meeting. And when you finally get into the headteacher's office, what do you see?

If you are lucky, three settees, a warm croissant and a lava lamp.

If you are unlucky, the head and the deputy head with their heads in their hands after a phone call from the inspectors.

Geoff Brookes is deputy head of Cefn Hengoed School in Swansea and a part-time quality champion.

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