Bestworst lesson

16th February 2007 at 00:00
Best: Jamie had always been small, the runt of the litter. In school he was the victim of jokes, the bullies' slave, the last boy picked for the football team. In drama nobody actually chose to work with him; Splodge was his inevitable partner, Hardy to his Laurel.

We had discussed child labour in Victorian England. The task was to create a mime of two chimney sweeps gingerly climbing along, using body language to convey the appalling conditions. Twin vertical spotlights in a darkened studio created the chimney.

Splodge understood his job perfectly. He was the immovable base. Jamie began to ascend, using Splodge like a climbing frame, his body twisting and contorting.

With knotted muscles he hauled his partner after him, ever higher through the intricate bends of the brickwork, although they never actually rose above the studio floor.

The class was engrossed. Through Jamie's climb they relived the terror, the struggle and the pain. His desperation to succeed was the story of his life.

Only the small and the insignificant, shrugging off the bruises and grazes, could truly know the abuse. And the class recognised this.

With a final burst of energy Jamie hauled himself on to Splodge's shoulders, raised his arms into the cone of white light as if reaching for heaven and, eyes closed, basked in the glow of succeeding.

There was a second of silence. Then the class roared

Worst: The final year of school can stretch out forever to those who, in reality, have little chance of getting five GCSEs grade A to C.

Worthy-minded educationists may see it as a year to equip those of low academic aspiration with skills for life; for the pupils in question it feels more like a punishment, held back from the delights of a wage packet.

In practice there was little prospect of a job in this Nottinghamshire ex-mining village, but that did not reduce the pupils'


Full of naive enthusiasm as a new teacher for the challenge of teaching the Year 11 bottom set, I turned for inspiration to Alan Sillitoe, a local lad and a rebel himself.

Reading his stories to the class I saw them connect with the locations he used. The parish church at the edge of the village was chosen as the setting for a ghost story they would write. Spontaneity resulted in me finding myself, 20 minutes later, standing among the stained glass and polished wood of the unlocked church with a group of teenagers.

All went well, with imaginative suggestions for bizarre and supernatural events. Then the bells began. Not the smooth peal of the hour. This was a loud, discordant clanging soon joined by the malicious, gleeful laughter of those teenagers as they ran, leaving me red-faced and appalled in the centre of the nave.

I never discovered who it was, but I have my suspicions.

The unofficial peal was soon forgotten and thankfully the finger of suspicion never pointed beyond unruly youths. I learned my lesson, at least Brian Radcliffe is a teacher in Derbyshire

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