6. The first assembly
Updated: Jan 22
Do or die were the words came into my mind as I awoke. That morning was when the Year 11s had to return to Eydon Vale. Determination and curiosity were uppermost. This was the moment for which my whole career had prepared me. I knew what had to be done. Would I be able to convince the pupils that I meant business? I drove to school like a madman, filling my blood stream with adrenaline.
As the children filed into my first assembly, class by class, I stood at the front, surveying them with my hardest stare. None of us knew how things would go. We were all completely quiet. The atmosphere was quite unlike anything I had ever experienced. I held the silence for a moment, then introduced myself. The reading was from one of the wisest and most resonant chapters of the Bible.
“I am the new Deputy Head. I was asked to come here because of my experience in rescuing failing schools. The section from the Bible that you just heard suggests that there is a time for everything. There are times of success and and times of failure. This is just as true of schools as it is of us. Fifteen years ago, Eydon Vale was a good school. More recently, though, behaviour and results have deteriorated. Things will have to improve again. Otherwise, the Government will close us down. The new building you have been promised for so many years will stay on the drawing board. You and your friends will be scattered. This building will be bulldozed.
“As you have just heard, there is a time to cast away stones and a time to gather them. Be under no illusion. The Government would shut the school at a moment’s notice if they felt Eydon Vale was unsafe. Your exam prospects would count for nothing. Many of your hopes and dreams would be lost. Some lives would be wrecked. Our time here together would be nasty, brutish and short. The contracts for the buses to take you to all your different schools have already been drafted. You'd hardly see your friends again. We won't have long to prove we can do the job.
"It's simple. If you want to keep Eydon Vale open, you will have to learn and obey the new rules. If you follow them, you will be rewarded. Your teachers will praise you. They will shower you with chocolate bars, commendation slips, certificates and letters home. The pupils with the most merits will get a pass for the new tuck shop.
“If you choose to break the rules, though, you will be shown no mercy. I shall be out on the corridors, checking on your behaviour every break and every day. You can expect me to visit your classrooms two or three times a week. Eydon Vale is not the first school I have had to turn around. I can promise that most of you will notice an improvement pretty quickly. You will feel safer and work harder than you have ever worked before. Your exam grades will be higher than you thought possible. Now let us bow our heads for a moment of silent reflection about what this day will bring.”
In the event, only one pupil had to be given a fixed-term exclusion on that first week. Gary defied one teacher and then jostled his Head of Year. He was excluded for one week. Even as the school refilled, the corridors and playground initially remained clear of internal truants. A retired couple, whose bungalow lay across the school field, phoned Rhiannon to ask if anything was wrong. For the first time in years, they could not hear the racket from the classrooms.