Friday, 24 March 2017

Stress and Strain

The atmosphere at Hampstead School hasn't been so palpably tense for several years - at least not in my experience. In the bland style of a liberal columnist, an awkward reference to the "era of political upheaval which we now inhabit" is due, as is some spiel about how life imitates life, and the endless slew of fights are somehow reflective of how Marine "A" La Penn is polling.

But really, there are problems. Joe and Jane SLT are as anal as ever in their neurotic enforcement of  their rules. By 9:00 AM, after harassment at the gates, at least a third of the school has developed a very clear conception of where exactly they can shove it. At 10:00 AM, if your lesson has been cancelled or moved without you being informed, you may end up caught out on the verge of cardinal sin; going down the up stairs. As "every minute is a learning minute", regardless of how many steps up the stairs you have taken, a cow-faced member of the SLT is more happy to send you further up the staircase and all the way around, making you roughly two minutes late to your lesson. After another hour of the pointless and mundane, it's break. Like when dogs are let out of the cage, but not out of range of the whip, there is a unique electricity in the air. The kind that makes you too anxious to notice just how crap your over-priced, undersized carton of "Chocolate Flavoured Milk" is. Like scum, the entirety of  the lower school (Years 7 to 11) are often (usually for the first 10 minutes of every break) forced to queue on one side at the entrance to the dining hall, as Sixth Formers saunter by, waved in to Cricklewood's most exclusive party establishment. There is still something of a commitment to equality however, as everyone is forced to remove their coats at the door. In the spirit of the season, cuts are made to everything deemed non-essential, with students often being told that break is over 5 minutes before it actually is.

Lunch is no better, with the communal mess dining hall being heavily overcrowded most days, as Year 10s push past Year 9s push past Year 8s... All of them vying for a stop in the queue for the ever-shrinking, ever-more exensive food on offer. Naturally memebers of Hampstead's Red Army of Prefects are required to take a role in the chaos, securing back-doors and reprimanding those who use them. Previously, each Year Room would require staff supervision, and indeed some days would require more staff. It wasn't quite so haphazard though, as, ya know, it wasn't the entire school being served within a space no larger than three Year Rooms.

There are fewer banners than ever, yet something even more deceptive and sinister seems to be going on. It may be a bit of a stretch, but it seems that the mechanisms of denial and doublespeak have been fully internalized, both in school policy and in school action and reaction: "It doesn't matter what they're doing, or why". That's not to say the school's sustained mistakes and mistaken policies don't cause considerable frustration or anguish to students, but it is simply the case that many people's reaction to this is to simply leave at the end of Year 11, after years of watching it happen, having had enough.

DISCLAIMER: This is a critical article and so is comprised of the personal opinions of the author.

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