Divas on song for last hurrah

9th July 2010 at 01:00
A school in West Lothian has an end-of-term tradition with a difference, as it bids a teacher farewell in melodic (or not) mayhem

The last day of school before summer. Pupils who have bothered to turn up move counters half-heartedly around a tatty old board game. Teachers, wishing they were on the beach, stare listlessly at the sun. The exams are over, the sixth-years have left, and ennui seeps into every classroom.

That couldn't be farther from the truth at Deans Community High. On a baking hot afternoon, with Andy Murray soon to walk on court for his Wimbledon quarter-final, there is a steady flow of excited teenagers towards the school gates.

The Livingston school's dark blue uniform is conspicuous by its absence. A girl strides past, dressed head to toe in fluorescent green; another sports the afro and running vest of the hirsute twins from the 118 118 adverts. A gaggle of over- enthusiastic pupils is turned away from the drama studio's doors - the sound check isn't finished.

It's the traditional end-of-term karaoke. Usually held at Christmas, it had to be postponed last year due to atrocious weather, but anticipation has not abated. The doors finally open and - for the third time today - the studio is packed for a mass singalong.

Karaoke has been held at Deans for years, but it was the arrival of pupil support manager Lisa Goodman in 2002 that turned it into an unmissable event. When tickets go on sale (profits go to charity), a queue snakes around the school, with pupils desperate not to miss out.

It is soon clear why. After everyone has filed in, it's straight into the action: Dum! Dum-dum-dum, dum-dum-duuuuum! The floor shakes with the hook of `Eye of the Tiger' and a curious trio of teachers bounds on stage: David Dodds (craft, design and technology) in a Blues Brother-style suit and hat; Chris Greenhalgh (computing) in a garish Hawaiian shirt, and Peter Scott (art) with flowing burgundy locks.

It's Mr Scott's last day before moving to pastures new, and he aims to leave a lasting impression. He swaggers melodramatically into the audience, jabbing his finger in the air to the driving beat. This is not pub-style karaoke, where warblers are largely ignored by punters at the bar - everyone is on their feet, singing along and acclaiming Mr Scott's willingness to throw teacherly restraint to the wind.

"It's enjoyable because you get to see teachers make a fool of themselves," says 16-year-old Gary Cole, who wears headphones at the side of the stage and keeps on top of technical issues. "You just don't let them forget about it."

Ms Goodman, education supporter of last year's Scottish Education Awards, knows things could fall flat if staff were more concerned with preserving dignity than unleashing their inner crooner. Dressed as a policewoman - it's a school in-joke - she sets the tone by springing around the room, waving her hands in the air and urging pupils to get off their behinds.

She also whispers praise to pupils who brave the raucous crowd to go on stage; some are extroverts, but others are quiet types who just want to show their love of singing.

"Most kids look forward to this for weeks, but if the teachers were not as enthusiastic, we wouldn't be either," says Samantha Whale, 16. "They become more fun, not strict. Some of the teachers that sing are usually quite quiet and not very confident."

Social subjects teachers, bewigged and beglittered, are up for an Abba medley. As `Dancing Queen', `Mamma Mia' and `Thank You for the Music' are belted out, no one resists the urge to join in.

In one corner, several boys with lank hair and T-shirts professing an affinity with Rage Against the Machine and thrash metallers Trivium are waving their hands in the air like a hen party in Blackpool.

It's not just a bit of fun, insists headteacher Elaine Cook; it's a way of giving pupils a positive memory to carry with them during the holidays: "They go into the summer really enjoying their last day at school - there's a buoyant atmosphere and a real spirit to the place."

The event is long in the planning. In the two or three weeks beforehand, Ms Goodman thinks of little else. Pupils are in charge of lighting and sound, and need plenty of time to rehearse. Once the volunteer singers have chosen their tunes, they need to practise singing with the microphone.

Campus policeman Paul Corner leads an ecstatic room through `YMCA'. "It brings everybody together and breaks down barriers," he says. "You want the kids to know that the school does as much as it can for them."

It's near the end of the show, and the end of Mr Scott's time at Deans Community High. He is still in his wig, but the irony of his performance is cast aside for some heartfelt words: "I'm going to miss you guys. Thank you for the best school years of my life," he says, before joining a throng of staff to deliver some apt lyrics, courtesy of Noel Gallagher. "Don't look back in anger - at least not today," sing pupils and staff in unison.

Henry Hepburn henry.hepburn@tes.co.uk.

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