Ghost in the machine

31st July 2015 at 01:00

Towards the end of term, the inevitable happened. The old grandfather clock in our visitor reception was upstaged by one of those huge, corporate-style digital screens. It just feels wrong. This older section of our school was the matron's living quarters in the Latin-learning, cabbage-eating, pre-comprehensive era. You can almost smell the history.

As for the screen's promotional content, that also seems hopelessly out of place. Some romantic, deluded visionary has loaded ours with an utterly inspiring but completely inconsequential sequence. We see stills and videos of Duke of Edinburgh students clutching a map in Peak District mud and rain; a thrilling dance sequence; some triumphant netballers; tearful pupils at a hospital in Gambia; and stirring images from an Outward Bound trip for our young carers.

All deeply uplifting, but a mere sideshow. Modern technology should surely be used to depict modern educational priorities, not to present these tired, soft-filter notions about developing the whole child. Today it's about EBac v non-EBac, facilitating v non-facilitating, wheat v chaff. Forget anything that's nuanced or hard to quantify.

The screen could be used to offer live coverage of education's version of the stock markets. It could display constantly changing lists of figures, tracking the progress rating of every teaching group in the school. A scrolling banner could name and shame the day's "coasting" teachers - and, of course, any student wrecking the school's league-table ranking by selfishly choosing non-EBac subjects.

The screen's future content may, however, prove to be out of our hands. One former matron in particular is highly unlikely to welcome this new electronic upstart into her home. She may have been dead for more than a hundred years (rumoured, in a frankly absurd tale, to have been murdered by a former headteacher) but her spirit is said to live on. She may be within the grandfather clock itself, according to one legend.

People often feel her presence. One colleague recently reported being "followed" to a meeting. Another - marking late at night - claims that the lift suddenly lurched into life. Meanwhile, I find that some of my students' homework mysteriously disappears even when they "swear to God" that they put it in their bag. Pupils have also been inexplicably missing from lessons, claiming that they have no idea what happened.

The matron seems unlikely to sit back and allow the screen to take over. We can surely expect a sudden change of channel occasionally. A colder, snowier picture will take over. At first we might assume a loose lead, but when we look at the screen a little longer we will detect the faint outline of a gaunt and hooded woman, pointing her finger accusingly up the stairs towards the headteacher's office.

Now that's an image to occupy the visitors. That's how to sell a school.

Stephen Petty is head of humanities at Lord Williams's School in Thame, Oxfordshire

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