The Anonymous Questionnaire: Part 1

November 14, 2006

I asked Millie where her homework was. She answered “Up Jack’s arse, having a cello lesson”.

Referral on Millie Lee Potter from Woodrow Wilson School

Towards the end of my time at Woodrow Wilson School, SMT noticed that there was a bit of a discipline problem at the school. To this day I don’t know what tipped them off. It could have been the race riot. It might have been the racial assault that led one boy to be hospitalised with head injuries. It could have been the fact that some students wouldn’t come to lessons in the afternoon even when the Head had ventured out in person and directly instructed them to go in. (“Don’t worry, it’s only the Head” they said.)

I know which incidents didn’t tip them off. The bolted door smashed open in the Maths department in front of a room full of teachers didn’t give it away. The time a new teacher in the Geography department was spat on by Millie Lee Potter in his first week at the school didn’t signal anything to management. The Language class that walked into their lesson, turned over all the tables, and walked out into the corridor, wasn’t the clue either. Nor was the girl from my own form group who called me a dickhead when I politely asked her to stop interrupting me.

I know that none of these incidents had influenced management because all of these incidents involved Year 8 students. It had taken a little while for me to notice, but all incidents involving Year 8 were written down according to the school’s behaviour policy, sent to Gemma the Head of Year 8 as required and then they were either ignored, or they resulted in Gemma “having a word” with the child. “Having a word” seemed to involve the child telling Gemma that the teacher was at fault (sometimes in front of the teacher) and Gemma all but agreeing but asking the child to be nicer in future. The net result was that Year 8 did what they liked most of the time. They were behind the race riot. They were the ones that wouldn’t go into lessons. They were also the year group that for several days dared each other to verbally abuse teachers. (My colleague, Bill The Atheist, was called a wanker three times in one day.)

I was a year 8 form tutor and developed my own technique for dealing with the year group. I would follow the school discipline policy for anything I cared about. Then when it got to Gemma or her assistant year head (who changed every year) I would argue and get angry and threaten to contact my union (which sometimes I did) until they did their job. This seemed to work and even Millie Lee Potter (who was in my form group) usually did what I said. Other teachers weren’t so lucky. Referrals for Millie – for things that obviously deserved exclusion – were sent to me in the first instance and then passed on and ignored by Gemma. I know that she didn’t even read the referrals because after the first eight or nine times where I wrote “Form Tutor Action: have spoken to Millie about the incident. Referred to Head of Year” I got a bit fed up and began testing to see if my comments were being read. She never commented when I wrote “Form Tutor Action: I have told Millie she is forbidden from doing anything bad ever again”. She never commented when I wrote “Form Tutor Action: I will pray for Millie’s soul”. No acknowledgement either when my action after Millie’s third referral of the week was to tell her “if you haven’t been excluded for this one then this school is even madder than you are”.

With this background I was delighted to hear that SMT had decided to take action on discipline. Their plan was to get both students and teachers to fill in an anonymous questionnaire asking how they felt about behaviour in the school and how it was dealt with. This was an excellent idea and I was delighted to write at length about how angry I was about Gemma and the way her year group were running riot with the school’s discipline policy being comprehensively ignored. Others in my department did likewise. This could be the first step towards dealing with the problem that was blighting life at the school, I thought.


(Incidentally Sally, the girl who called me a dickhead, was given an hour’s detention from me as a punishment and there was no action from Gemma. There was some panic when her Dad insisted on meeting me and Gemma. We assumed he was going to dispute what had happened and insist his dear daughter couldn’t have been so rude. Far from it: “What I don’t understand is how she could have done this and not been excluded. We were going to send her to the Catholic school down the road. At least they’re serious about discipline.”)


  1. I can’t help wondering if our paths have crossed. Did the race riot involve a child being knocked out with a baseball bat?

  2. Some of the kids you write about are so much like my year 9s it’s uncanny. I suppose I’m lucky that it’s only a significant minority in my school that are like that but that just makes me feel really sorry for the ones who are desparate to do some learning and never get the chance. We seem ot be importing a lot of families from other parts of the country at an increasing rate so I suppose your tales are providing a vision of the future.

  3. What fascinates me is the rich psychology that must underlie the decisions of SMT. Do they really believe that doing nothing about such problems is best? Have they had some conclusive experience to show that meddling is in fact a bad idea, and that, like acne, if you leave this stuff alone it dies down?

    Or do they just like concentrating on a fantasy world of figures and marketing, leaving all the tricky stuff for teachers to deal with?

    Enquiring minds need to know (because they’re enquiring in the first place, it’s a tautological statement).

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