Charity begins

22nd April 2005 at 01:00
It's election time, and one side is employing dirty tricks

Alastair Scarlett is addressing the morning assembly. "The mark of a good school is self-governance!" he proclaims. Teachers shuffle their feet and glance at each other uneasily. The c-word can't be far off.

All week the head has been talking guff about empowering pupils, making them stakeholders in the school, granting them autonomy. He's decided that the run-up to the general election is the perfect chance to let loose the concept of citizenship into the moral wilderness of St Brian's. It's a crazy idea, of course. Brutal dictatorship is the only political system that makes sense here. The deputy head, Nigel Horsmel, understands this only too well, which is why he has assiduously developed his network of spies throughout the school. From Wendy in the referral unit to Jessie the lunchtime supervisor, they are loyal only to him and long for the day that he ascends to the throne and they receive their reward.

But Dr Scarlett, egged on by Oriel Greer, the LEA adviser who has been badgering him for evidence of a school ethos, has decreed that St Brian's is ready for democracy. We are to elect a school council.

"When you leave St Brian's you will be responsible citizens, ready to give something back to the society that gave you the wonderful opportunity that has been your education," Scarlett declaims to rows of bemused kids. Those who aren't asleep or on their mobile phones exchange amazed looks, shaking their heads and curling their lips.

Anna Hatch, from the English department, digs me in the ribs. "Hasn't he read Lord of the Flies?" she whispers. "This lot don't want the vote, they just want to kill each other."

Anna's fears are quickly realised. Gareth and Gavin Gunner, the fearsome Year 10 twins with two dozen Asbos between them, immediately establish themselves as the people's party, and it is hard to argue with their leadership credentials, given that they operate every scam going in the school, from fencing stolen mobiles to running the witness protection scheme in the referral unit. Many see the hand of Horsmel in their nomination.

The Gunners' manifesto consists of a promise to renew Mr Burger's catering contract and restore Turkey Twizzlers and chips to the canteen menu.

A small band of bravehearts stands against them, led by Ralph Dodds from Year 11 and Jennifer Morrison, a pushy middle-class teenager whose dad has encouraged her to take part as preparation for a future career in public service. Ralph and Jennifer's proposals to encourage environmental awareness and charity work stand no chance against the Gunners' me-first philosophy, and Horsmel's boys are triumphant. Allegations of vote-rigging and intimidation are dismissed even though four of Ralph's friends have been found tied to trees in the local park.

Over the following few days, the library is torched, the burger van is looted and there are several kidnappings. The anarchy is only brought to an end when Roy Striper, the caretaker, strides in to the hall armed with the old Lee-Enfield rifle he uses to shoot rats in the kitchen. "That's enough fun for today," he says menacingly. "As of now the school council is formally disbanded. Go back to your classrooms."

Charity Casement is the alter ego of a north London teacher. Next week: Oh no, it's Jessie!

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