Dorothy and friends take a break from tests

20th April 2007 at 01:00
Julie Greenhough teaches English in a London secondary school

"Could you just swivel round in your chair, Miss? And cackle to camera? Really evil - like you look when we haven't done our prep?" It's been an odd couple of weeks in my classroom, I have to admit, so in context this wasn't the most unusual request from Year 11. Asking me to pop on a pair of pink glittery fairy wings and wave a wand was almost a step too far. There was a slight panic when they realised that although I did have a witch's outfit (don't ask!) I didn't have a fairy outfit. But that was soon resolved by a quick email to all staff. You'd be amazed at who had these items. (Your secret's safe with me, sir!) I can't recall at what point I realised that things were becoming a touch surreal. Was it the morning I arrived to find a stuffed green horse's head on the desk? Very Godfather. Or the lone yellow Marigold rubber glove positioned perfectly, right in the middle of the desk, after morning break? Why only one? Why yellow? Why at all? As I had given up chocolate and sweets for Lent, I did wonder if I was suffering hallucinatory withdrawal symptoms.

Year 11 is "off curriculum" and it feels strange and deliciously naughty.

We are not writing essays, not worrying about assessment objectives, but being creative. As part of a nation of pupils tested to the extreme, they initially wondered if there was some kind of catch to the whole project.

But no, we are making films to show prospective parents and pupils at open evenings, and anything goes.

Some of the boys have taken this as an opportunity to get in touch with their feminine side. Edmund totters painfully around in red glittery heels, topped off with a polka-dot pinafore. "I'm Dorothy, Miss. Meet Toto." He pulls a mangy-looking toy dog on wheels behind him. Tom rushes in - he's in black leather and wrap-around mirror shades. "The Matrix, Miss." Of course.

I realise that they are referencing a number of my favourites and look around anxiously for anyone in a yellow tracksuit acting out Kill Bill 1.

My head of department walks past just as a host of flying monkeys is attacking the Tin Man, Scarecrow and Dorothy. Actually, it's Edmund, Arthur and Tom with a lot of stuffed toys. "Do you know what you're doing?" he asks nervously. Not entirely, no. We are free-falling creatively. We've broken out of the testing regime and the pupils are having the time of their lives. They work at breaktimes, lunchtimes and after school. Their co-operation is exemplary.

The finished films are breathtaking in their creativity - sound, music, words, images, animation - all fused into amazing pieces. This is literacy in its fullest sense.

Then it's over. Exams loom, the taste of freedom gone. Back to the grind of teaching to the test. Back to being part of Europe's most tested pupils and to the dull reality of the curriculum. Bye-bye yellow brick road.

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