Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Metaphor one: disciplining the boarding house

I’d be the first to suggest that analogies between the management of government and school classrooms are a little forced, but it just can’t be resisted this week: watching the police squirm and News International being disciplined by the normally absentee supervision has reminded me of nothing so much as an incompetently-handled boarding-house shenanigans. Allow me to indulge us by playing it out. I make no apologies for using only Guardian links – they’ve been the only parent suggesting all along that this might not be appropriate behaviour for the school to tolerate…

First, there were rumours that some of the third form were misbehaving, even beyond the normal bounds of gossip / abuse / intrusion associated with juvenile delinquency. One very badly behaved boy, Glenn Mulcaire, was expelled, but several others apparently associated with breaking into the staff room and mucking around were let off. The impression was that the example being made of one boy would put the others in their place.

It began to become clear over time that, in the referred intrusion, several staff members’ mail had been read. One or two foolish individuals had personal effects in their pigeon-hole and felt this was a real intrusion, but those who weren’t directly affected thought it better to let it go – and besides, the third form are a bloody handful (especially that boy Coulson – vicious, I tell you – and his stepfather’s paying for the new swimming pool, so…) and staying onside with them is a VERY GOOD IDEA (notice my raised eyebrows.) Best not to be seen to be the one complaining. They know it’s wrong – they know we know they did it and that we know it’s wrong – they’ll be grateful for the leniency we offer. Good God, let them be grateful for the leniency… Besides, Coulson’s stepfather is very prone to sponsoring a rugby trip or two if that’s to your liking…

Of course, there’s a nice middle ground here. We put a couple of chaps from the Sixth Form onto it. Everyone knows the Sixth really set the tone in the boarding house. Everyone knows they do the real disciplining. Put someone vaguely competent but not too driven onto it – that Peter Clarke should do. Enough intelligence to let them know they’re being watched, but not enough to catch them unless they’re obvious. And we’ll put Andy Hayman on duty with him: he’s got “street smarts”, a bit of kudos with the rough boys, that should work. We’ll give them the keys to their boarding housemaster’s office so they can conduct a thorough review in private.

Of course, we should have seen Clarke and Hayman would bollocks it up: the former had no clue what was going on and backed off the moment the third form told him they didn’t know nothing, and the latter was so delighted at finally getting some authority that he lost the plot: Hayman was caught drinking with said suspects (and then he protested it was our fault for giving him the keys and we were only demoting him from prefect “cos I is black”, even though his own peer the Head Boy told him that “getting p*ssed with the third form isn’t the point of being a prefect”) and Clarke has had to be taken to the san with a terrible headache. Meanwhile, the pigeon-hole saga goes on – turns out they rifled the old Headmaster Gordon Brown’s mail too (why we would have imagined they thought it OK to rifle through others’ mail and not his, who knows), nicked stuff belonging to other students and even went through the possessions of the poor second-form girl who died, and more. Well – at this point we really had to do something. We’d already tried putting a more aggressive prefect onto them, the ambitious and (we thought) competent John Yates, but it turns out he quite fancies the House Captain slot and didn’t want to spend any effort on anything other than polishing himself up nicely for it. So he just told the housemaster he’d checked everything and it was fine. It took us months to realise the third form were all still stealing our staff handbooks and j*zzing in them for a laugh, the filthy little grubmonkeys. We laughed ourselves, actually, at how poor his explanation of this was – pretty crap, dare I say? – but then straightened our faces and added that it wasn’t a laughing matter. His housemaster Boris seems to have colluded in the disinterest, while other prefects were bribed to keep telling staff that everything was fine and the third form certainly didn’t know any staff network passwords – what’s yours again, sir? Turns out, in addition, the third form were blackmailing both prefects, who had been taking a little illicit stuff on the side. Best it’s just all covered-up, eh? No harm done?

Well, at least (at last) the shock of their mistreating the memory of that poor dead girl has got folks unified in annoyance. The chair of the PTA, Ed Miliband, went fully mental about it. Normally he’s supine in balancing the Headmaster’s view of the ethos of the school, but this time he even stopped ranting about striking to talk about the scandal. Under evident duress, our supreme leader, Headmaster David Cameron, finally acknowledged that the third form are a problem – that they must be stopped – that this wanton j*zzing-in-handbooks and listening to dead people’s phones might just, just, be a slight tad over and across the line. He called an emergency staff-and-governors meeting then ran off once everyone realised that, as well as irritating Coulson’s stepdad Rupert, he’d also pissed off Coulson’s older girlfriend, Rebekah Brooks. She’s normally a brazen strumpet with serious attitude, but suddenly went all coy over this. It therefore became clear the head (as well as Coulson’s stepdad) had been shagging her all along, and the Head had possibly been shagging Coulson too – although it’s not clear who was the donative and who the recipient in any of the complex love-web entailed. But that, obviously, this had nothing, absolutely nothing to do with why the Head couldn’t attend the special meeting about it just after he’d grudgingly agreed to hold it. He had to be in Wales. Or something like that. Meanwhile, at the much better school up the road, the staff have started investigating the behaviour of Murdoch’s other children abroad – perhaps it is all in the blood, after all.

So, three discredited senior prefects, one absentee Headmaster, the third form knowing no laws or bounds at all, a lot of rifled mail and an emergency meeting later the conclusion is – Rupert Murdoch has withdrawn his offer to build a new swimming pool for the school in case his poisonous adoptive offspring j*zz in that as well, and corrupt any more of the body politic of our fine institution and nation. God Save The Queen. Read the staff handbook again. It’s all going to be just fine.