A second hour from a day in the life of the school you never knew existed
At approximately 11:45 the fire alarm went off. Fortunately it wasn’t raining which was nothing short of a miracle. You might expect a civilised exodus, perhaps a bit of talking or a pupil not walking as fast as they should. The rolling of eyes and ‘for fucks sake’ that staff internalise in these situations was aired with gusto from the two pupils nearby. We turned to make our way down the corridor, guiding the two pupils in the appropriate direction and reached the first door without event. On stepping through the door I nearly trod on Ethan. Ethan was lying on the floor refusing to go outside. Ethan is fifteen years old and sound of mind, there was no real justification for this action other than he simply did not wish to go outdoors. The teacher I was with stopped to join forces with the one already present in trying to get Ethan moving and I continued out of the building and onto the school field with the two pupils I was with.
The school playing fields opened up before us as we turned the corner. The football pitch taking up the bulk of the field, an area supposedly for Outdoor Education off to one side and the muster point in the other direction at the furthest point from the buildings. The alarm blaring relentlessly triggering and dysregulating those for whom sound was an issue. There were multiple pupils of various ages stood with their hands firmly held over their ears. The racket went on for longer than usual and pupils struggled to stay in the vague vicinity of their tutor group. There were two stuck in the football nets trying to climb up to the cross bars — one of whom was upside down and had his foot stuck. Two more were on the trim trail at various places, one of whom was clinging on to a rotating log for dear life whilst it spun rather furiously in an anti-clockwise direction. Mark was in the outdoor Education area sat in a large hole playing music from youtube having detoured and barged past a teacher on his way out of the building to get into a room and take a laptop.
Three of the older pupils were intent on running from staff and trying to outwit the fire marshals to get back into the building. An elated shout followed a loud thud and the hall door was smashed open. Key staff pursued the troublesome trio as they began their rampage around the building. The alarm stopped, the all clear came over the radios and a cheer rose up from the pupils as they started trooping back towards the school. Five seconds later the alarm went off for the second time and a loud groan filled the air. It stopped and a second cheer rose.
Whilst the building had been given the all clear, as had the other school that shared the site there was a fault in the system so although it was safe to go into the building, around every thirty seconds the alarm would blare for a few seconds. Now this might not sound like too great a problem and in the average mainstream school it wouldn’t be but this is the type of school you didn’t know existed and our pupils are a particular type of clientele. As the alarm sounded so the locks on all of the doors were released until the alarm went quiet again. That gives free access to every room in the school and the three that had managed to enter the building ahead of time had already realised this. Their excitement was almost visible in the air around them and it drew others in towards them as they made their way indoors.
Ken Robinson may well tell you that education stunts the creativity of young people in his Ted Talk but he clearly had not set foot in this school. A gang of feral youth were roaming the corridors looking for any opportunity for deviant behaviour. Spoons from the cantine were modified to break into the first aid room and turn the showers on. Teamwork was evident as one boy timed the gap between the alarms going off so they could co-ordinate entry to multiple locations simultaneously. Howard quietly pickpocketed several radios from staff and shared them amongst his peers, the cacophany of sound on the airwaves making staff communication fall somewhere between ineffective and non-existent. The glee on the faces of pupils as they shot into rooms they knew they shouldn’t be in was enough to make me chuckle to myself. Steve flew into the staff room, dipping his hand into a handbag as he passed it. As he came out, two lads exited the stationary cupbaord and a TA was trying to stop the initial three gaining access to the other establishment on site through a connecting door. A visit that would certainly not be appreciated.
At the back of school the scene was not better. Mark was trying desperately to get dining tables down the ramp and onto the playground — they were on wheels you see, this would open up another avenue of pleasure for the already heightened pupils. Kian was with a gaggle of reprobates who had kicked through a ‘secure’ door during the few seconds when it was locked. The prize connected with this action was that the lump of metal that held the door closure had come loose and Kian was clutching this prize tightly, wielding it and the two screws sticking from it at anyone who approached. A trio of boys had liberated a badminton racket each and smashed the head off them so that they had a weapon with which they could hit and prod others. The scene was not one which civilisied society would easily be able to visualise. Frankly if I wasn’t in the midst of it I wouldn’t believe it myself.
More than an hour after the fire alarm originally went off and after staff had dealt with dozens of incidents throughout the school I deciphered the Heads voice coming over the airwaves requesting I return to class as I had pupils waiting to be taught. I skirted round various skirmishes and eventually made my way back into my class where, somewhat ironically, the calming classical music was still playing in the background. The carnage outside of the class raged on.