Exclusion zones, flames and family

20th December 2002 at 00:00
Monday

Richard Dick has hardly let the smoke die down from his last rectorial initiative before launching yet another. Or, to be more precise, another two.

First, he is setting in motion a second "HGIOS" scheme in three years, which will purport to provide a self-evaluative measure to tell us How Good Is Our School. Call me old-fashioned, but I suspect we'll end up telling ourselves that we are doing a jolly good job, just like every other school which has gone through this pointless bureaucratic farrago.

Secondly - and not entirely unrelated to the first announcement - he is allocating yet another of our staffrooms for pupil use, this time as an "assignment room". Thus, the B floor ladies' staffroom of old is to be used as an incarcerating alternative to school exclusions in a bid to stop the school appearing in the lower echelons of the relevant league tables.

Recalcitrant pupils will no longer be excluded but instead sent to what appears to be a latter day version of Stalag Luft 13, where their educational experience will be rendered so dull and dismal that Mr Dick reckons they will be itching to get back to mainstream schooling by the end of the day.

The room's furnishings consist of single-pupil cubicles, dismal grammar books full of tedious exercises and no sharp implements, while the house rules insist upon zero communication between pupils and supervisory staff. It sounds like an educational nirvana. Plus, a period of supervision in the assignment room equals one "please take". So I put myself on the volunteer roster straightaway.

Tuesday

Mr Dick has to deal with our grand strategy (as he never tires of telling us) but other members of staff have to deal with the minutiae of daily discipline. Miss Tarbet has recently initiated a classroom rule in the home economics department, as emblazoned on a poster hanging above her Baby Bellings, which states in bold black felt-pen lettering: "Only two questions per lesson per pupil!" Apparently, it's her response to the endless banality of pupils who ask her to repeat information already transmitted as whole-class instructions.

"You wouldn't believe it, Morris," she elucidated when I popped into her room after catching the aroma of freshly-baked meringue. "Last week, 2C asked me 14 times how to separate egg whites from yolks. Today, with the new ruling, 2N have asked me twice. And if anyone asks the same question again, no one gets to take their meringues home. It's magic!"

Personally, I doubt its pedagogic validity, but it certainly seems to be working for Miss Tarbet.

Wednesday

Sooner than I had expected, I got my first chance to supervise in the assignment room (or asylum room, as it has already been unofficially renamed). If today's experience was anything to go by, I could be looking for a full-time post in the place. It was bliss, sheer bliss.

I whiled away 55 minutes by getting some marking done in peace and quiet. There were three pupils, a coffee-maker, a laptop computer connected to the school intranet (both for staff use only), a telephone if I needed to summon assistance and a list of behavioural rules that would make Dotheboys Hall look like a holiday home. To whit:

1) Ensure that pupils are seated with their backs towards you;

2) One pupil to each cubicle;

3) Ensure that the cubicles are at some distance from the pupil to reduce the likelihood of scribbling on the walls;

4) All pupils will work from the English grammar books given to them;

5) There is to be no communication between the assignment room supervisor and the pupils: no help with work set, no answers to questions, no attempt to build rapport;

6) Should a pupil need to visit the toilet, heshe must complete the "Out of Class" form. Supervisors should note the frequency of requests by pupils that day;

7) Pupils will be allowed out of the assignment room at lunchtimes. If they do not return in the afternoon an extra day will be added to their time in the assignment room;

8) Should behaviour in the assignment room be unacceptable, the supervising teacher must telephone for the duty officer.

Peter Taylor, Tony McManaman and Stephen Rose certainly didn't enjoy the experience, I can tell you. McManaman started to bellyache about human rights but I told him that if he didn't shut his mouth and settle down with The Art of English he would be down for another two days in the slammer quicker than he could say Kofi Annan. It seemed to do the trick.

I must say, I've had my differences of opinion with Mr Dick over the years, but this particular scheme seems to be a winner: it's popular with the staff, highly likely to be popular with the press and highly unpopular with the pupils. What a perfect Christmas present for hard-pressed teachers!

Thursday

An evening completely devoted to continuing professional development, all of it courtesy of the Rockston Film Theatre. And all for the price of our time filling in a questionnaire about Greenfield Academy's attitudes to film and whether we thought a visit to the cinema would provide a valuable educational experience for our pupils.

The evening started with a wine reception, followed by a thinly-veiled sales pitch for class outings from the education officer and an optional film-viewing. Personally, I chose to remain in the bar with Janet Rich (a former girlfriend with whom I've recently renewed acquaintance through the Friends Reunited website) and several of my English department colleagues as we enjoyed a cinema trivia quiz.

"Here's looking at you, kid!" I answered question 14 correctly and clinked glasses with Janet.

"This is what being a professional is all about," I thought to myself, as we toasted CPD with another bottle of claret.

Janet seemed to fit in well with the crowd, even if it took me some time to disabuse several colleagues that she was my wife. "Chance would be a fine thing, Morris," she fluttered her eyes in a way that I remembered from so long ago.

It was some time around then that I asked her to our staff Christmas karaoke tomorrow. In retrospect, it was a foolish suggestion.

Friday

For some reason unbeknownst to me, this is the penultimate day of term, because we've all got to troll back on Monday before we break for Christmas. It was clearly some buffoon in the regional office's idea of a joke to arrange the holidays like this. So I spent all morning assuring my classes that I wasn't terribly keen to see them on Monday and if they could let their pals know most of the staff felt the same, that would be just fine.

At last, the tiresome day drew to a close and our staff karaoke got under way with more than a tinge of regret in the air. It is, alas, likely to be the last held in our somewhat dilapidated staffroom if our public private partnership renovation gets under way next summer. In common with other schools who have experienced such constructional regeneration, our communal area is likely to be swept away in a rumble of modernising zeal as we are scattered around the school in the diaspora of departmental bases.

So I decided to make the most of it. Fortified by several glasses of mulled wine, I had completed my third song by the time Janet Rich arrived, and was by then in close competition with George Crumley for the 2002 Greenfield Academy Christmas Crooner Award.

I have to say that Janet looked seasonally devastating in a red jacket and skirt outfit with white furry collar and edgings, so it only seemed natural to invite her mellifluous company centre stage for a dual rendition of "The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire)". It was just a pity that I was gazing so soulfully into her eyes when Gail walked into the staffroom, gave me what could only be described as an old-fashioned look and turned on her heel once again. But not before making her point.

"Sorry, Morris," she arched over the sound system. "I thought we were taking Margaret to see Father Christmas this afternoon. But I can see you're busy. I'll take her myself."

Miss Tarbet looked reproachfully at me. Mrs Harry "tut-tutted". And even Janet seemed to purse a pair of extremely red and lubricious lips in disapproval.

Suddenly, my libido subsided, along with my microphone, and I chased after Gail to make my peace, assure her that I knew where duty lay and join my wife and daughter in line to see Santa's elves, reindeer and grotto. Otherwise, I thought to myself, it could be more than chestnuts roasting on an open fire this Christmas. And it is a time for families, after all.

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