The School’s on Fire

June 4, 2009

Year 11 are still here. Other schools have long since let their students go. But due to the chronic (and worsening) attendance problem the Metropolitan School can’t afford to let year 11 affect our attendance figures any more than they have already. Of course, in their hearts they know they should have already gone and as a result they are turning up in jeans, and instead of going to lessons they stand around in corridors playing a gambling game which involves throwing money at the wall.

Sometimes, like this morning, a few year 11 students accidentally turn up for a lesson. This causes all sorts of confusion. For instance, today my class of five Year 11s thought they were meant to sit around a table chatting about the Prom. Unfortunately I had planned to teach them a few things they need to know in order to pass their GCSE exam. Conflict was inevitable. I am glad to say I only had to get one girl, Rochelle, removed from the class. She repeatedly refused to cooperate with even the most basic instructions. While we waited for Call-Out to come and get her, the other students were keen to explain that it’s not surprising Rochelle wouldn’t do what she’d been told. No punishments of any kind were being applied to Year 11s at the moment. I pointed out that as far as I knew students had been excluded as recently as two weeks ago.

Rochelle spoke up “Do you mean me? I didn’t get excluded.”

“I’m sure you did, That’s what your Year Head told me. I’ll just look it up.”

Sure enough when I looked it up Rochelle hadn’t had an exclusion for an incident a couple of weeks ago. Yes, she had thrown her work on the floor. She had told me: “Fuck off, I’m not doing it”. Her acting Year Head, Jenny Goodyear, had told me she had a two-day exclusion. However, both Rochelle and the computer were telling me this hadn’t happened.

Not long after Call-Out had arrived and removed her (with some arguing) from the class, Clay Broadmoor turned up at door.

“Have you heard? The school’s on fire.”

“Really? Well you’d better get to your lesson before anyone thinks you started it.”

“I’m not going to my lesson. The science block’s on fire”.

Clay eventually left. The lesson ended and I sent my class out for break. A minute later an email arrived saying “Don’t let your classes out because of an incident in the science block”.

Some of my students returned. The order came through eventually for all year 10 and 11 students to go to the hall. (Other years went to a different part of the school). The science block was on fire. The students were to be released to go home. However, their parents would each have to be contacted by a member of staff first. Now we just had to explain this to a hall full of year 10 and year 11 students.

This proved to be impossible. As soon as the words “go home” had been uttered there was pandemonium. First there was loud and protracted cheering, followed by the out break of some kind of fight. Staff with mobile phones lined up to make the calls but students were impatient. Why should they have to wait? Students attempted to make their own phone calls or attempted to make a break through the fire escape (about 15 succeeded).

I had the misfortune to be right near the main door. Inevitably, for an hour, I was the bouncer on the door. Nobody else seemed to want this job. No member of SMT came over to do it. No Head of Year or Head of Department took an interest. No teacher who had been at the school longer than me gave me a break. As ever, by attempting to enforce the rules, I had taken on sole responsibility for a massive task. Most of the time I simply had to let out kids who’d been given a note by a member of staff or let in kids who hadn’t made it to the hall in the first place because they’d been wandering the school grounds as an alternative to lessons. Unfortunately, I was also confronted by the kids who couldn’t wait their turn. One gang of large students attempted to charge through me, and when I held my ground and shouted at them to sit down they just shouted back at me or told me my breath stunk. Chanel from my year 10 class came up to me, held her nose to indicate that she thought I smelt. (Yes, barely three hours since I’d had a bath and brushed my teeth I was being accused of both having body odour and bad breath. If you are at all familiar with children you’ll know that anybody who inconveniences them has bad breath, a body odour problem, a history of homosexuality and a fat mother. If you are familiar with teaching you’ll know that this kind of abuse is no longer only student to student but aimed at staff on a daily basis.) When I asked to see her note she told me to “fuck off” and then showed me her note anyway.

Eventually we got them all out. We all went back to our rooms to work. We wouldn’t be going home early, but four lessons being cancelled is a teacher’s dream come true.

It turns out it was three Year 9 students who set the fire. I’m amazed they found anywhere in the school to do this that wasn’t already full of truanting year 11s. Only one of them was a child whom I teach, but another was a boy who used to pop into my lesson occasionally to verbally abuse me. As it happens just two days before I had emailed Miss Rush, their year head, to tell her that these two boys were running around the corridors causing trouble. As it also happens there had been no reply and you can be pretty sure nothing was done about them.


  1. Maybe you could be in for some money, http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2009/jun/08/teaching-bonus-challenging-schools

  2. […] was eventually told that the school was on fire. Oh, and that he stinks. Read all about it at The School’s on Fire « Scenes From The Battleground posted at Scenes From The […]

  3. […] from the Battleground on end-of-year pandemonium. Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)carnival: Feb. 25 2009carnivalesquethis […]

  4. Geez, every time I think the urban schools here in the states are rough, I get corrected by reading your posts, Andrew. It’s weird because we Americans have a view of you British as so proper and refined, but your school kids sound anything but!

    • Why didn’t the fire alarm go off?

      • Why was there no news story of a school on fire?

      • The fire alarm did go off in the science block, however, because of the size of the site and a history of problems with false alarms the other blocks are on a different system.

  5. “Why was there no news story of a school on fire?”

    Wasn’t there? How would you know given that you don’t know when it happened or where?

    I must admit, I just assumed it did make the local paper, although I didn’t read it at the time, so I can’t be sure.

  6. Words fail me. You really can see how badly organised a school is when there are things like this going on.

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