Monday 28 April
Ms Desperate, Furious’s foster mother, marches into my office and sits down with him. Ms Desperate looks as if she might cry. ‘What are we going to do?’ I’ve asked her to come in because of another incident. Furious and Beautiful had a shouting match at lunch on Friday last week and then he went to the nearest door and kicked in the window.
I address Furious first. ‘Well, there’s the cost of the window, Furious. Ms Desperate is going to have to pay for it.’ No response. My tone becomes less even. ‘Furious! Are you listening to me? Did you hear what I said? Ms Desperate is now going to have to spend her hard-earned money on a window which you broke deliberately!’ A reluctant apology. ‘You’re hanging on to your place here by a thread.’
Ms Desperate clasps her hands together. ‘Please, Ms Snuffleupagus, I don’t know what to do. He’s so rude to me at home, he’s so bad at school, he’s completely out of control.’
Wednesday 30 April
‘Yo, Miss,’ shouts Munchkin from one of the chairs outside the office. ‘I’ve been kicked out of geography.’ He doesn’t seem too put out by it.
Friday 2 May
As I walk through the playground with Dreamer and Dopey by my side, I see Fifty deliberately knock Polish over. ‘Hey, Fifty! What are you doing? Could you give me your diary, please?’ I want to note down in his diary what I’ve just seen.
Fifty is distressed. All the kids have diaries to write their homework in and for teachers to write notes to parents. I suppose his mother must regularly check his diary. He holds his hands up as if I’m holding a gun to his head. He moves towards me. ‘Nah, Miss, please, Miss, I didn’t do nuffink. Please, Miss. Please, Miss.’
As he approaches, Dopey and Dreamer step forward and stand in front of him before he reaches me. ‘Hey!’ yells Dreamer. ‘What’cha think ya doing?’
‘Yeah!’ Dopey makes a couple of fists and shows off his muscles. ‘Don’t you put your grubby hands on her!’
I look at my new bodyguards and laugh. ‘Come on, boys! We need to get to the office!’ Ah… sometimes these kids just make my day.
Wednesday 7 May
Surrounded by our best students, not necessarily the brightest, but the most loyal, the most interested in making something of themselves, the most driven, I ask them what they think is the number-one thing that would make them happier at school. There are about fifteen of them on the school council, boys and girls.
‘Would you learn more if you had “better” teachers?’ I ask. ‘Or what if you had bigger classrooms? Better textbooks? Better food at lunchtime? What about smaller classes, would that help? Perhaps learning would improve if we used computers more? What if we played more games in lessons? Perhaps if we set you more homework?’
Adorable leans forward. ‘No, Miss, none of that stuff is important. Well, I mean, it’s important, but we’d learn so much more if everyone in the class just listened to the teacher.’
‘Ah, so the behaviour of other students in your lessons is the thing that stops you the most from learning?’ All the children around me nod vehemently. They say nothing at all. ‘That’s interesting. I’m guessing that you find that pretty irritating, do you? I mean, you must get very annoyed that there are these other students who are preventing the teacher from teaching and you from learning, right?’ Again, they nod in unison, as if I had pushed an electronic button that makes their heads suddenly bop up and down. ‘So what could we do to make school better for you?’
Let Down pulls his chair up. ‘Make them stop talking, Miss, stop them interrupting, make them listen to the teacher.’ I guess he’s remembering his five years of madness before he got to the sixth form, when his development was so stunted that he is now no longer a possible Oxbridge candidate. The stitches in his head from the hammer incident have more or less disappeared now. We never did find out who did it.
I look around at these keen, eager-to-learn children, who are staring at me, their eyes wide open, wanting me to fix it for them, wanting so badly to simply go to school and learn, and a feeling of depression sweeps over me. All these poor kids want to do is to go to school and learn without disruption. If they went to school in India or Jamaica, they wouldn’t have this problem.
Wednesday 18 June
Mr Goodheart takes centre stage for briefing. “Ofsted will be with us tomorrow. The school will be open tonight until 9 p.m. to allow you the opportunity to prepare as much as is necessary. I know we’ll all give it our best shot. Good luck!’
Thursday 19 June
I worked till midnight last night. I’m exhausted already and we haven’t even begun. I was making PowerPoint after PowerPoint for my lessons. I was cutting out bits of paper and stuffing them in envelopes to create interesting ‘sort activities’. That took an age. And I have a full six-period day today. My God. How will I ever survive?
Friday 20 June
It’s the second day of the two-day inspection. The staff room, before school, is explosive and packed. People are still printing and photocopying like there is no tomorrow.
‘Were you seen?’ ‘Nah.’ ‘Were you seen?’ ‘Yeah, she was in for twenty minutes.’ ‘Really? Mine only stayed for ten.’ ‘Was their feedback any good?’ ‘No. An ex-art teacher watching my maths lesson. It was ridiculous.’ Most of us were in school until nine last night. I’m so tired I can barely see straight. I haven’t been seen.
‘They gave me a 3,’ Ms Sensible says. ‘The grade is based on a solitary 15 minutes out of a lifetime of lessons.’
‘And not only that, but judging you by nonsense criteria!’
‘I have a full day today. Have to get out there. Maybe they’ll drop by again. Who knows?’ She turns around to go.
‘Good luck! Remember to include some group work,’ I call after her. As I do, I think about the absurdity of this system. How can it be that those teachers who are the most inspirational, the most dedicated, the most admired by both staff and students, get given a 3? Teachers, not lessons, are what make a school what it is.
Cavalier makes his way into the school. He’s wearing his uniform. He looks just like any other boy. As he’s been excluded, he isn’t allowed to be on the school premises, but no one realises that he’s there.
There I am in the playground towards the end of lunch, about to head towards my lesson, when I spot Cavalier by the bins. ‘Cavalier?’ I move towards him. ‘Cavalier? Is that you?’ I squint as the sun hits my eyes. The boy pulls a hood over his head and runs behind the school. So I walk speedily after him. He’s much faster than me and quickly disappears. Was it Cavalier? Or was I imagining things? Confused, but relieved – we don’t want any nonsense happening today with those inspectors still here – I wander back to the side playground, where I was before.
I’m on my way, the playground still out of sight, when suddenly kids start screaming: ‘Fight! Fight!’ As I turn the corner, I catch sight of Cavalier, standing over Furious. Blows are going every which way – except that the blows are coming more from Cavalier, and Furious is on the ground, blocking Cavalier’s fists. Cavalier has a bottle in his hand. There is blood everywhere. Cavalier throws his arm into the air, bottle in hand.
‘No!’ I shout, as I run towards them. ‘Cavalier! No!’ Down comes his arm. I leap as far as I can towards them, trying to grab Cavalier’s arm. I miss. Down comes the bottle, breaking across Furious’s head.
‘You wanna fuck with me? Chaa!’ Cavalier is proud, grinning, blood all over his teeth and face. I fall to the side.
Mr Sporty appears and grabs hold of Cavalier, who allows him- self to be hauled up. The damage is done. Furious is down for the count. Cavalier is satisfied.
‘The inspectors,’ I whisper to Mr Sporty. ‘The inspectors!’
Mr Sporty nods. ‘I’ll get him to the office. I’ll call the police and an ambulance.’ He winks. ‘They’re in room 7 deliberating. Hopefully, they won’t notice.’
I’m practically hysterical, throwing myself next to Furious, who is covered in blood. The broken bottle lies by his side. I can feel the tears build up in my eyes.
Oh my God. If the inspectors see this, we’re dead.
Furious slightly opens his eyes and looks at me through tears and blood. He tries to get up. ‘Where is he?’ he growls. ‘Where the fuck is he?’
I push him back to the ground. ‘He’s gone. Just lie down. Let’s wait for the ambulance.’
I grab hold of Furious’s bloodied hand and squeeze it tight. He looks at me from the ground and, for a moment, I think I see a glimmer of gratitude in his eyes, and that makes me squeeze his hand just that little bit more.
Saturday 21 June
I didn’t get seen by the inspectors. All that work, all that time . . .
Monday 23 June
I’m standing in the head’s office, just before the briefing. The entire school is wondering what Ofsted’s verdict was.
Mr Goodheart looks up. ‘Thanks for popping in, Snuffy. I wanted to thank you for everything you did on Friday with the Furious–Cavalier incident.’
‘That’s OK, Sir. I was so worried about the inspectors. Was everything OK in the end?’
‘Thanks to you, the inspectors didn’t see any of what happened.’
‘Oh, thank goodness. But what about our grading? Did we make it?’
‘Well, I was going to break the news to you all together at the briefing . . .’
‘But I don’t suppose it’ll make any difference if I tell you now. What’s done is done.’
My heart sinks. ‘Oh. I see.’ ‘Yes.’ There’s a twinkle in his eye. ‘We did it.’ ‘What?’ ‘A 2. We managed to retain our “good”.’ I clap my hands together. ‘Oh thank God for that!’ Mr Goodheart smiles. ‘Yes, we even got “good with some outstanding features”. Not bad at all. The official report will arrive in the next few days, of course, but for now, we at least know where we stand.’
I can’t keep still. ‘That’s fantastic, Sir. That’s brilliant. Everyone will be so pleased.’ And then a thought stops me. ‘And Cavalier and Furious? I know Furious is still in hospital, right? He’s sent me a few texts saying he’s OK, but nothing more.’
‘Yes. He’s lost a few teeth, and the gash on his head from the bottle is pretty bad. Looks like he’ll be in the hospital for about a week.’ He cups his chin in his hand. ‘As for Cavalier . . . the police are dealing with him. I think Furious’s parents may press charges.’
Tuesday 24 June
Munchkin is always in trouble these days: always sent out of lessons for disruption, always pushing other children around, always getting into fights.
Saturday 28 June
Hadenough comes round. ‘I’ve finally done it. I’m out, and this time I’m not going back. That 3 from the Ofsted inspector was the last straw. My girlfriend wants to move out of London. Maybe I’ll get a teaching job out of London somewhere. Or maybe I’ll just quit teaching altogether. In the meantime, I can just do supply. You never talk about leaving. You’re insane. All you want is to work in a difficult inner-city school. What’s wrong with you anyway? Eh?’
Wednesday 9 July
I’m holding the whole of my Year 8 class in at lunch for a ten-minute detention.
I use the time to try and talk some sense into them. I explain that the more they chat, the more they fall behind. I try to make them see the bigger picture by mentioning other classes and drawing the school up into a kind of race, saying that they are now ten minutes behind everyone else. They listen but, ultimately, they don’t really care.
‘You don’t understand what you’re competing with. You don’t know what the kids are like at other schools,’ I say. ‘You’ve never been inside Wineaton, for example. You don’t know what their lessons are like, how everyone is quiet all the time so the teacher is able to plan and manages to teach so much more. You don’t know how much they get done every lesson and how hard their homework is. You only have each other to compare yourselves to.’
Fifty scowls. ‘Ha! Homework! Why would we want homework that’s hard?’
‘Because hard work makes you into successes. You want to keep your doors open. You want to keep on succeeding so that, as you pass each step, more and more doors open for you. You don’t want your decisions to close doors, you want to get to university.’
Cent’s eyes open wide. ‘So where’d you go then, Miss? To university?’
‘I went to Oxford.’ Adorable smiles. ‘Miss was clever at school.’
I point my index finger at them. ‘But that’s the point! I was no more clever than any of you. It’s just that I worked hard. I didn’t talk when I was told to be silent and I did the best that I could. So I kept doors open for my future.’
Munchkin winces. ‘Yo, Miss, that makes no sense. If your doors were open, then why you teaching us?’
I sigh, dropping my arms down by my side. ‘Why do you kids always say that to me when I tell you where I went to university? Why don’t you get that I want to work here? I chose this job.’
The entire class looks confused. Cent frowns. ‘But who would want to teach here?’
My eyes nearly pop out of my head. ‘I do!’ The class is buzzing with excitement. Imagine that. Miss chose to be here.
Thursday 17 July
I feel like I’ve been in a boxing ring. I jump through Ofsted hoops just like everyone else. I stuff my lessons full of games and cut them up into tiny pieces so that the kids don’t have to develop any kind of concentration span. I couldn’t help Furious – and look at Cavalier. I should have seen that coming. I should have been able to stop it. What about Stoic? What about Munchkin? What about Seething? And what about the students who we’ve helped go to Oxford? We’re still losing the battle.
Thursday 24 July
‘OK, you lot, last lesson before the summer holidays!’ My Year 8s cheer. I ask them all what their plans are for the summer. They explain to me that they don’t have any. They aren’t going anywhere, they aren’t doing anything. They’re going to spend the summer watching TV and playing on their PSPs.
‘Remember how I went to China last year? Well, this is what one of the girls at the school I visited in China gave to me.’ I hold up a letter. And then I read it aloud to them:
To Miss, with love:
‘Nothing is impossible if you put your heart into it.’ I hope to visit England some day. I am a girl who has a dream, and she will work hard for that dream. She never gives up until the dream comes true.
A Chinese girl
I read them the letter and they listen in absolute silence. It’s amazing how still they are. When I finish, Cent lets out a gasp. ‘Wow, Miss, they really want to work hard in China, don’t they?’
‘Rah!’ They all laugh. ‘Glad we don’t live there!’
‘Oh, for goodness’ sake!’ I burst into laughter and pretend to throw the letter at them. ‘What are you like! Aargghhh! Try to pick up a book this summer,’ I shout.
I have to laugh too. They’re so funny. I do love them. ‘See you in September then, everyone. Have a good summer!’
‘Yeah! You too Miss, man! You too!’
No one hears the voices of my children. No one listens to my colleagues when they shout about the shocking behaviour, the dumbing-down or the chaotic leadership of our education system.