Holiday In Hell: Part 1September 22, 2008
In my first year at the Metropolitan School I was given a year 7 form group. It was a tradition at the school for new form tutors to take their forms on an overnight stay at the Skylark Residential Centre in the first few weeks of term where there would be a chance for us to get to know each other, and take part in a variety of outdoor activities. There they would be supervised by Jenny Goodyear, a veteran of the school (a former primary school teacher) and Dave Levy the school’s youth worker. We were also to be accompanied by Clark Ferris who was a “mentor” employed by the school to assist the year group. Being new to the school I made the error of agreeing to this, and not taking an early slot at the Centre. By the time my form’s turn to go came around other forms had gone and discovered it wasn’t much fun. As a result less than half of the form signed up to go. It was at this point that I made my second error. I was asked if I minded if my form went at the same time (Thursday to Friday) as Anna Brown’s form who were also lacking willing volunteers and I agreed. Here was the account I presented to the headteacher after I returned from the trip:
On arriving at the Skylark Residential Centre on Thursday morning it was explained to students and staff that there were, unlike at school, very few rules. However the one rule was that students were to follow instructions immediately without arguing for reasons of safety. Furthermore, because of the importance of this any student unable to follow instructions would have to be sent home and also barred from future trips. Staff were introduced to students, with Jenny Goodyear encouraging students to call her and Clark Ferris by their first names. Anna Brown also agreed to be called by her first name, leaving me to be put on the spot as to what I wanted to be called, I opted for “Sir”. Neither the lack of rules nor the use of forenames had been discussed with me beforehand. It was also explained that even though there were two tutor groups on the trip (Anna Brown’s and mine) the purpose of the trip was for students to get to know the others in their form and their form tutor. I took it to be the case, as I had when I agreed to go on this trip, that my priority would be to build on my relationship with the members of my form.
It became clear that there were a number of other aspects of the trip I wasn’t previously aware of. I hadn’t realised that neither Clark Ferris nor Dave Levy (who arrived later) would be there for the whole two days, and so in the boys corridor I was, at times, to be left in charge of all the boys, including those from Anna’s form who I didn’t know. This concerned me. I trusted my own tutor group but there were at least a couple of boys in Anna’s form who seemed less than able to follow instructions and, not being able to drive, I was in no position to carry out the threat to take them home if required, leaving me with responsibility but without power. I found out very early on, as we unpacked, that the boys I didn’t know were quite boisterous in their behaviour, as they began running along their corridor into my forms’ corridor, something that Clark came and warned them about. Fortunately, he was in a position to warn them that if they didn’t comply he could take them home. I did ask Anna if there was anything I needed to know about Jon Scott and another boy from her form who seemed very poor at following instructions. She said they weren’t on the SEN register so there probably wasn’t any real grounds to be concerned about their behaviour.
Another surprise was the schedule. I was given no advance warning of what activities were planned and when. I often only found out what was to happen next when it was announced to the students. This was inconvenient, not least because Connor from my form (previously mentioned here) needed to take medication at regular intervals, but it also meant organisation was entirely centred on Jenny Goodyear rather than on all staff working together as a team. I was also surprised to discover that while I was not in the room students had been told that they were to find out the favourite TV programme and a “family fact” about each person at their table at dinner, for them to be quizzed about later. The fact that I wasn’t in the room when the game was announced did not stop Jenny from quizzing me in front of the students about the people at my table, and my poor performance at this was given as a reason for me to do the washing up in the evening. While I would have been quite happy to do this task it seemed rather odd to put me on the spot in that way in front of the students without warning, but I assumed it was down to an oversight.
As the day wore on I began to realise that Jenny seemed not to trust my judgement or skills. I was repeatedly given advice on minor matters. When we went orienteering after lunch I was repeatedly told what to do and quizzed by Jenny on how I’d done it. When (as instructed) I encouraged students to clean up their litter I was quizzed on whether I’d made sure they went to the right bins. I was told off as some of them had used the bins designated for dogs’ mess, and students were instructed to remove litter from those bins in order to put them in another bin. They had been divided into teams and after I had to tell a student in my form off for leaving his team I informed Jenny that (as instructed) I’d yelled at him only to be told, “I don’t think you did. Your problem is that you don’t yell at them.” I remained calm and polite and was supportive of Jenny when members of my form came to see me to tell me that they felt they weren’t enjoying the orienteering as they felt that she was picking on them because she’d had trouble spelling their team name (“The Four Musketeers”).
As I mentioned, Jon Scott had become a concern: he seemed slow to follow instructions and prone to arguing. After the orienteering had finished, Dave Levy led all of the students, two sixth formers employed as youth workers (Lee and Steven) and me on a lengthy walk. I was to look after those at the end of the line, particularly one boy who was asthmatic. We soon became concerned that Jon was behaving in a dangerous manner. As we followed a path up the hill he kept running and climbing on the steep hillside next to the path in a very reckless manner. Dave asked him to stay with him at the front of the line, however he kept running back and forth. He repeatedly ignored instructions from me and from the two youth workers. Apart from climbing on the hillside he also attempted to climb trees and signs, to rip holly leaves off of trees and menace other students with them (despite my repeated request that he put them down). When one of the youth workers instructed him to walk with Dave he said to them (and in front of me), “I’m not doing that, he’s a batty boy.” I felt strongly that his behaviour was dangerous, particularly to himself, to the extent that he would need to be sent home.
When we arrived back at the centre I began explaining my concerns to Dave and to Anna Brown. Before I’d even finished I was told they’d deal with the issue. I returned to my room to freshen up following the long walk. When I left my room I found Jon had entered my form’s corridor and was spraying an aerosol deodorant on himself. Students had been told that, due to the fire alarms, corridors were the best place to do this. I asked him to return to his corridor as this much spray in the air could be hazardous to health as there were several asthmatics around, and he shouldn’t have been there anyway. He refused and continued to spray even more deodorant in an elaborate display.
I was now even more concerned that Jon’s behaviour was dangerous. I returned to the dining room to explain to Jenny (as team leader) and the other staff my concerns. I repeated what I’d said before, and repeated what Jon had said about Dave. Again I was told it would be dealt with before I’d even finished explaining, leaving me in some doubt as to whether anyone was even listening as I explained about the incident with the aerosol. A little later I discovered that the action taken was to give Jon a further talking to, to get him to apologise to me and to ask my permission before he was allowed to rejoin the other students. This seemed entirely inadequate. However, as I couldn’t be the one to drive Jon home I was unsure as to what I could do to get further action taken. At least something had been done, although during dinner I began to wonder how seriously it was being taken when Jenny made a point of telling one of my tutor group who described Jon as “naughty” that labelling was inappropriate. I also felt that other staff (particularly Jenny) now seemed far less friendly to me, although I realised that perhaps I was less friendly due to feeling stressed and frustrated at how my concerns had been ignored. In particular it seemed a little off when during a further round of the “talking about others at the table”-quiz, now involving the headteacher who had popped in for a short visit, Jenny instructed him that we all wished to be called by our first names despite my previously expressed desire to the contrary. I was grateful when he did not heed that advice. The reprimand she gave me for giving one of the students a 500ml bottle of water as opposed to two smaller bottles of squash – “you’re cleaning it up if she wets herself”- was by this point not even a surprise, although with hindsight it seemed strange to speak to me in this way three hours before the students’ bedtime and in front of the headteacher.
After dinner those who had done poorly at the quiz at lunchtime (i.e. me and several members of my form) were consigned to the kitchen to wash up. I was surprised to discover that as well as those deemed unsuccessful in the quiz we were to be joined by those who had misbehaved, which meant Jon and another boy from Anna’s form. Having been unable to constrain his dangerous behaviour in other environments the kitchen, full of knives and hot water, seemed an entirely inappropriate place for me to have to supervise him further. The moment he entered he grabbed a tea towel and began flicking it at the other students. I immediately expelled him from the kitchen, assuming that this would make it even clearer that I would not be able to maintain a safe environment if he was with me. It did however seem more than a little unjust when I and the other washer uppers (mostly from my form) finished only to discover Jon was already playing with the other students in games organised by the youth workers.
However, there were no further problems that evening. (That said, it did concern me that when one of the girls in my tutor group was sick, Jenny declined to assist, and told the girls to clear it up themselves. Fortunately Anna decided to ignore Jenny’s suggestion to leave them to it). Dave and I even managed to get the boys in their rooms ready to sleep at a good time. Although the youth workers left not much later, Dave was intending to stay in the same corridor as me and the boys meaning their were two adults to supervise any potential night time disturbances. Unfortunately Dave had to leave early in the morning, meaning that from seven o’clock on Friday morning it was just me supervising the fourteen boys (including Jon).
TO BE CONTINUED…