14. Half Term Break
Updated: Apr 1
The blame culture Ofsted initiated had little place at Eydon Vale. Praise and rewards were the key to the development of learning skills at Eydon Vale. . We had to motivate all 40 of the targeted Year 11 students. So, high intentensity, catch-up sessions were laid on during half term. All my top set came with another 10 specially selected pupils. Among these were Peter Sangster, Eydon Vale’s alpha male. The first session was in English, focusing on key passages from their set nineteenth-century novel: Jane Eyre. The pupils reread the scene where Jane comes face to face with Mr Brocklehurst. Elroy Samson spoke on the implicit racism in Charlotte Brontë’s image of Brocklehurst as “the black marble clergyman”.
There were sniggers from Peter, but I silenced him with a stare and we moved on. “Excellent start, Elroy. Does anyone else want to look at the implications of what Elroy is alluding to in the rest of the book?”
Gillian Newsome put up her hand. She may not have had Elroy’s originality, but she always listened carefully in class. “It's different now as Elroy said. But for contemporary readers, the colour black would have held associations with cruelty and horror. You can see the same sort of thing in Charlotte Brontë’s representation of Bertha, the Creole woman in Rochester’s attic. She's characterised as ‘a wild animal’ and ‘a clothed hyena’.”
Many other pupils in the group put up their hands. One of Peter’s crew noted the implicit comparison between Brocklehurst and the “white stone” image that Charlotte sees in St John Rivers. “Excellent! So, what do Brontë’s words tell us about these two men?” I asked.
“They are both clergymen and both hard-hearted,” replied the pupil, as I threw him a chocolate.
Not to be outshone, Peter Sangster argued: “At least St John puts his money where his mouth is. His behaviour might be patriarchal, but he was no hypocrite. St John rescued Jane when she was lost and starving on the moors. He encouraged her to set up a school for the poor. He was prepared to sacrifice his health in India. What makes Brocklehurst so objectionable is his sanctimony.”
“If you use long words like that in the exam, the markers will be asking themselves, ‘Which school does this one go to - Harrow or Eton?’ Chocolate for you, too, Peter!”
Alice Lawton, the pilot’s daughter, thought Charlotte Brontë used colour to dramatise moral values. “The adult Jane is dressed in ‘Quaker grey’ to show her integrity. In this extract, there is a contrast between the meagre ‘brown uniforms’ that Brocklehurst bought for the pupils and ‘the spread of shot orange and purple silk pelisses and a cloud of silvery plumage’ in which he dressed his daughters. All these colours form a background to Jane and Brocklehurst as he singled her out for punishment when they met again at Lowood School. In getting Jane to stand on the stool, Charlotte Brontë wants us to foreground the disparity. He is not just cruel: as Peter says, he is a hypocrite. He puts a label on Jane as a liar. There is both passion and irony in this scene. She’s so angry with the world, she lets herself become a martyr for the truth.”
After the open discussion, there was a PowerPoint summarising the points that the examiners would probably be seeking. The group then wrote a timed essay. This pattern of quiet reading, debate, teacher presentation and timed essay was repeated after the mid-morning break. There were further sessions on Modern Languages, Science and Maths that half term.
Everything seemed to be going well until the last day, when Peter taunted Elroy and took a swing at him. Elroy broke Peter’s nose and was suspended.