Classroom anarchy

Thursday 4th August 2011

HEAD of Sixth Form was a wonderful job: students wanting to study; no uniforms; lads in lab coats idling in the common-room; dyed-hair girls in the kitchen stirring pot noodles; the blackboard by the exit where I’d scrawl reminders, room changes and birthday greetings; a sense of pioneering; a feeling of belonging.

The school, formerly a secondary modern, had been comprehensive for four years. They were planning a new block to meet the expansion, hoping up to a hundred would stay on. A popular teacher, who’d been looking after the handful of post-16 scholars, was about to retire. This would be a promotion without having to move. Maybe I just got lucky.

“Talk to the architect,” the Head told me. “See if you think he’s missed anything. Then look through this furniture catalogue. Oh… and we’d like you to devise a new curriculum.”

We managed to get a raised platform at one end of the common-room – and the blackboard. Swivel chairs didn’t interest me, but going to see the director of studies did.

“I want to offer things like school service, visiting speakers, study skills. Six-week courses in kite making and keep fit, introductions to horticulture and Hebrew…”

“Slow down.”

A teacher of technical drawing, he started with five blank rectangles.

What emerged – known affectionately as 6K, for Kultur – saw students running a profitable tuck shop, deconstructing French films, repairing bicycles, publishing magazines, digging ponds, making jewellery, and researching the history of the teenager. It was chaotic, reckless and impossible to timetable. Somehow, it worked.

The A-Z of Politics, however, started very badly.

Arriving deliberately late, I sat at the back, waiting, like them, for something too happen. Eventually, I whispered:

“Has it started?”

Their bewilderment led to frustration to irritation. The consensus was that I was making a point about apathy, not anarchy. Resignedly, I shoved Bakunin on to a back burner…

“Let’s talk about power.”

…and picked up a piece of chalk.

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