All at sea in French pool

26th September 2003 at 01:00
So let's get the rules clear right away.

There will be no shouting, smoking, eating or spitting. It is also forbidden to push, pull, poke or clamber on to the backs of other people.

Running too is banned, as is jumping over the barriers or diving outside the permitted areas. Now we get to the really good bits (and I quote): (1) By reason of hygiene it is forbidden to penetrate shod into the basin (2) Before penetrating in the basin it is imperative to first pass through the showers.

By now, I suspect, you have realised that these are not college prohibitions (more of which later) but those of that other great creator of institutional rules - the French swimming pool.

I ask you - all this stuff about penetrating in basins and all I wanted was a swim! I suppose at the very least it provides a salutary warning about the dangers of over-literal translations.

It seems though that, even on our hols, us foot soldiers in that great army that is the FE workforce cannot get away from our jobs. Wouldn't you know it, but the first thing I thought of when confronted by the myriad practices that were interdit in my holiday piscine, was September's induction session and how we would introduce the "rules" to our new students.

Not that they are called rules anymore. These days it is all about rights and responsibilities, with the carroty bit firmly up front and the big stick hidden away in the background for use only as a last resort.

Look, we say to them, we'll do this, this and this for you, and in return we want you to promise not to hit your teachers or torch the canteen. Of course assault and arson are the easy ones, but where you draw the line elsewhere can be somewhat trickier.

For a start, colleges contain a lot of different people, with students ranging in age from 16 up to 60 and beyond. You want the place to be safe and civilised but without the regimentation of, well, a French swimming pool.

What has happened to the rules on smoking is an interesting example.

Strictures that only a short time ago would have been thought unenforceable have now become the norm.

If smokers must indulge their filthy habit, then they can do it outside, whatever the weather, and the more wretched and bedraggled they look the better.

And the amazing thing is, they like it. Or at least they accept it. Like cattle shuffling up the gangway of the slaughterhouse lorry, they trot out into the rain perfectly willingly. Knowing that their habit is dangerous and anti-social, they spend much of their time together discussing the hows and whys of giving it up.

The current jargon for this process is "ownership". Smokers must own their new status as outcasts - and they do.

Adults are generally good at the ownership of rules that govern their conduct. But persuading your average teenager to own the college's view of how they ought to behave is another matter entirely. Yes, they know that other people's mobile phones are intrusive, but for god's sake that next call might be important.

Some London colleges are currently battling against what they see as another problem of adolescent behaviour: the wearing of hoods around the college.

Hoods, in this context, are not exactly the Little Red Riding variety, more like the big bad wolf. At least that is how the colleges see it.

Hoods are anti-authority. More importantly, they make for anonymity. And if kids think they cannot be recognised, then they will do whatever they like.

Anyone who has walked the corridors of an inner-city college will appreciate the problem.

But then a ban could turn what was once a fashion statement into a symbol.

"They" are trying to stop "us" wearing what we like. Suddenly a new source of conflict between staff and students will have arisen, not about behaviour any longer but simply about what a person is wearing.

And then many youngsters (though not all) who follow the hoods fashion are black. Tell them that the prohibition is colour blind - the same for all - and just see how many will be lining up to own that decision?

With me (and, yes, I'm sorry, but we are back in the swimming pool again) it was what I was wearing at the other end that made for problems.

Unbeknown to me, boxer-style trunks - calcons over there - are yet another item that is forbidden.

Challenged at the changing-room door, I feebly asked why. Hygiene, came the implacable reply. I tried to tell my interrogator that it was the same me inside whatever the design of the costume, but somehow I could not get him to appreciate my logic.

Shod or unshod, I had failed to penetrate into the basin. Perhaps I should have tried wearing a hood.

Stephen Jones lectures in art at a college in south London

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar,, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today