I always find end of term assemblies deeply depressing. They are unapologetically, shamelessly used as a vehicle for the indoctrination of our children and the dissemination of liberal-leftist dogma. To paraphrase Bob Parr – aka Mr Incredible, that font of unrivalled knowledge and insuperable wisdom – we are always finding new ways to celebrate mediocrity. But, perversely, if anyone does anything truly exceptional, it’s ignored lest the others feel inadequate. Our end-of-term, so-called Celebration Assemblies are used for this very purpose.
Brenda, our Deputy Principal and rabid exponent of Karl Marx’s egalitarian principles (she once urged me to ignore the victor and, instead, shower approbation upon the pupil who came last in a school race), is standing at the front of the hall, patiently
awaiting the quiet attention of our young scholars. They continue to talk, ignoring Brenda’s rather tenuous attempts to secure their quiescence. Trainers, scarves, coats and mobile phones litter the canteen-turned-assembly hall, accompanied by the odd baseball cap, of course.
nominally impoverished, it is curious to note the large number of pupils unstintingly devoted to the concept of conspicuous consumption. Somehow, despite being the beneficiaries of Free School Meals, many have the best, most up-to-date iPhones, most fashionable trainers and, as demonstrated on non-uniform days, the most sought-after clothes. It really is an enigma. Let’s not forget that welfare cuts are egregiously inhumane, though, and, as a consequence, unthinkable. But that’s another story.
Eventually, after another couple of minutes they fall silent…almost. Instead of scolding them and railing against their rudeness and indiscipline, though, Brenda proceeds to thank them for being attentive. I chuckle sardonically to myself. She has just celebrated, in one instance, an act of considerable mediocrity, even failure – and the assembly’s only just begun. Their entrance was atrocious, deserving of manifest admonishment rather than unqualified praise. How depressing.
“We are here,” she begins, “to celebrate your incredible achievements in terms of, among other things, attendance and behaviour.” Brenda has the irritating habit of using the phrase “in terms of” in just about every sentence that effuses, unconsidered, out of her unprepossessing, distended cake-hole. Clutching a veritable plethora of certificates akin, in their combined bulk, to a copy of the Yellow Pages, she continues: “First of all, let’s recognise you in terms of your attendance this year.” There she goes again. I don’t think I can bear it! She then proceeds to call out a seemingly never-ending list of pupils with 100 per cent attendance. It’s obscene – and I’m not talking about the size of Brenda’s hands, nor her considerable girth.
After applauding the miserable, slightly embarrassed-looking award winners, she goes on, clearly without any conception of irony, to do the same for their well-behaved peers – you know, the ones that have not violated, or at least been caught violating, our rather lax behaviour code. Unsurprisingly, the same pupils with, of course, one or two exceptions, again navigate the bags, coats, chairs and other obstacles obstructing their paths before receiving their certificates and standing, stony-faced, beside Brenda.
How can we be so stupid? I ask myself. Why are we celebrating behaviour that should be a mundane expectation? The kids realise how worthless these awards are, courtesy of the unexceptional nature of the behaviour being celebrated, not to mention their superabundance; that’s why the winners look so dejected and embarrassed, after all.
And just in case you were under a misapprehension, end of term assemblies aren’t the only places where we distribute awards like they’re confetti. We have become so wedded to the mantra of “all-must-have-prizes” that we have lost sight of what exactly deserves to be celebrated. Have you got your pencil with you, Chris? Well done! Ten merits. Are you wearing the correct shoes? Excellent! Twenty merits. Is your name Bob? Great! Fifty merits. Okay, perhaps I’m exaggerating with that last one, but you get the point: we are literally handing out awards for anything and everything.
We are, moreover, even expected to distribute a weekly minimum number of awards allocated by Brenda and the rest of the leadership team. Perhaps more shocking is the monthly league table that posits us according to the number we’ve awarded during that given period. This goes up on the notice board, just outside the staffroom, for all to see, including the kids.
The perennial problem is, of course, that just like any nation’s money supply, which has to be painstakingly restrained, if you hand-out too much of anything it becomes debased and, as a consequence, worthless. Alas, that’s what’s happened to our system of rewards. The kids no longer trust nor covet our currency, so commonplace and thus devalued has it become.
In addition – as a result of the public floggings being dispensed by a leader intent on humiliating her staff and, through such acts, implementing, along with her acolytes, a destructive, Marx-inspired orthodoxy – the kids suspect our motives, too. In their eyes, we’re handing out these rewards because we have to (browbeaten by a deep fear of public condemnation at the hands of the dreaded monthly league table) rather than because we want to.
The kids have thus given up. For them, we no longer have any rewards worth chasing. As a depressing consequence our standards drop, behaviour deteriorates and, ultimately, our results suffer.
Oh no! Brenda’s about to announce the winners in our final category: the award for pupils with more than 500 merits. This could take forever!
First published on www.conservativehome.com on 15th December 2014