Friday, 3 December 2010

One day maybe I’ve got the van: A Berlin Wall for the Less Fortunates

One day maybe I’ve got the van; I’m dropping off a large musical instrument at School X; oh no, it’s gates controlled from the school. I’m parking the van, tail end sticking into the bus route of a road, I’m turning the engine off, getting out, going round to the buttons, and, if they've not been vandalised this week, giving whichever arrow seems the most likely a squeeze. No immediate answer. Is the receptionist on the phone, dealing with someone else, did they hear me, did I press the right button? Is there anyone there? I’m back in the van, waiting for the diesel lights to dim before restarting it, before the gates start closing again. My friend, Peter, left his car running once . . . . and then watched an ex-pupil drive off with it. Once I have gained access to the desired car park, I now have a choice between a ten mile hike from the far end, and furthest from Reception, then stagger up with said instrument, or I could put the van into a disabled slot, leave it there while I teach? I can’t do that.

Maybe the caretaker can help? The caretaker, once employed by the school, once part of the education team, now employed by the construction company, and there now only to maintain the building, now answerable elsewhere, now practising "You can't park here"

It was two years ago that the governor from partner school Y, who was conspiring to create an academy out of a school that was trying to remain a school, launched into self-congratulatory rant about how the new academy would be part of and central to the community, and how They would show the community how to come together. I loved the way that the middle classes were offering the Less Fortunate their ideas for passing time. I told him so at this meeting; I told him that I thought the Less Fortunate would be very grateful for all ideas on how they get through their dreary unfortunate lives. I had by now descended to heavy sarcasm: the lowest form of wit, but it went down well with 250 of the Less Fortunate, also at the meeting.

By their very design and construction the new-builds are separating staff from each other, and the community from their children. Peripatetic visitors: once the weekly, “Hey it’s the guitar teacher, Give us some Smoke on the Water, sir [or miss]” are now not allowed to walk unescorted up the corridor to their teaching cupboards [some things never change]. Only when they have offered up their third CRB check of the season, are they now allowed to make this journey on their own, but even then it’s with a huge bright blue ID card with the highly personalised [not!] VISITOR written across it, in a way that prisoners on visiting days must sit at their tables wearing their orange tabards. [Ah, the days when we had time to visit ex-pupils!]

As Head of Department I had to stand in for an absent colleague at School C. I was wearing my music service ID card as usual, which guaranteed that I was criminally vetted. “I’m covering for X,” I told the receptionist whom I’d known, at old and new building, for ten years, “I know my way,” “You have to wait for the Head of Music to escort you up the corridor”, she said. I was shocked and asked her if she didn’t recognise me. And then I went and taught in a cupboard on my own with a group of pupils, none of whom, as it happened, I damaged or abused in any way. Yes the receptionist did recognise me, but rules is rules. A huge Berlin Wall of a wall had been thrown up to divide the chosen ones from regularly visiting professionals, parents, anyone. We were all there with our big blue badges declaring that we were not part of this community. And, do you know, I think that we: the Less Fortunates had been right to be sceptical.

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