Bruno Quinquet, from The Salaryman Project, 2013
All of a sudden the noise level drops. Examinees are counted in and a Deputy flies off in the minibus to collect a straggler to post into the exam room by the skin of his teeth. One such trip last week led to a scrape through the traffic calming measures about with which we are hedged. Ribs are tickled, legs pulled, invigilators say the hall’s cold.
Break seems like a rather bald cocktail party. We’ve room for 2000 but 3 year groups have engagements with the examiner and another has been walked to the park for sports day. That leaves years 7 and 9 at break. Watching two small girls annoying each other over a hairband after the pips I remind them that someone, somewhere is waiting for them. They charge off like Usain Bolts each clutching an end of the item under dispute, not stopping until a door presents a cunning obstacle through which they bundle each other.
Meanwhile, in another part of the forest a young teacher is seeking the class she’s meant to be covering while PE are encouraging competitiveness, resilience, grit or whatever’s currently fashionable.
Year 11 emerge from History with mixed interpretations, appropriately enough. We loiter and question. After GCSE maths last week one teacher ran a masterclass debriefing in the yard, working out what’s yet to be asked. When I was a lad (2) we invigilated all the exams so we watched it happen, but that went the way of workforce reform too. Science offered yard advice on Friday afternoon about revision: get up after Fajr prayers, that’s a good time to start (0340). Oh my days, as they say.
Year 8 return from Sports Day chuffed with themselves so lunchtime is louder. I wander to see how many Tallis Rules posters are still on the walls in June and order some more. A colleague returns, be-shorted, from the Geography trip and presents me with a pencil which I lose immediately. He turns up the volume at the end of the day, admonishing a swearer ‘you in the grey jumper, wait outside my office’. Tallis wears grey jumpers so that’s a bit like shouting ‘you with the arms’. However, the jumper recognises itself and trudges off, minding its mouth.
In the promised land of the summer term we have to do all the things we promised we’d do. I like trips, so we’re Tallising about all over the place. I’ve a minor speaking gig in sunny Birmingham, two colleagues are working with a partner school in Copenhagen. Back on the mothership, controlled assessments battle with speaking tests, opportunities for Taekwondo with science assessments. Everyone’s eyeing up space for next year and I’m worrying about stuff.
The timetabler is having a day off at a conference on costing the curriculum. He’ll come back with bad news because there’s no good news to be had, even for ready money. 16-19 funding is going to be about half of what it was in 2011 and all kinds of things are at risk, everywhere. Nothing we do is free of cost, but some of what we’re used to might prove to be luxurious, superfluous to the austerity imperative. Pastoral care, enrichment activities, work experience, A level languages, economics, further maths, music: all the things that give a poor young person a fair chance against a rich one for a competitive university place. All to go, to keep taxes down?
The Secretary of State talks of languishing? Show me the languishing, as young people are hassled from pillar to post to meet facile targets amidst constant turbulence. Show me the languishing as we work through the night to second-guess and justify our every action. Show me the languishing as we wait for the cynical release of the next wave of changes, probably in August? So I was delighted to hear Nick Gibb promise us lead-in time for the next set of changes. I’ll gladly believe when I see it: ‘You in the grey suit, give us a break’.