On Wednesday I made my penultimate appearance before the college corporation to present a report on what the council had done since Christmas. When I do this for the sixth and final time in July, my Wilberforce days will effectively be finished.
We only had one normal meeting in January – the most memorable business being a question about Panini provision in the canteens – the other three were given over to outsiders. One week we were given a lesson on British values, and asked about what we considered to be integral to national identity. In the next we were given safeguard training – our assistant principal Ben Wallis took us through the college’s security procedures and taught us how to identify signs of radicalisation. The month was closed out by a visit from representatives of the University of Hull, who wanted a focus group to review their latest prospectus.
In February Mr Wallis returned to brief us on the Area-Based Review (this I learned at the previous corporation meeting in December but certain information was still classified). Having rejected the incentives offered by the government to convert to academy status, Wilberforce will instead be teaming up with Franklin, Wyke and John Leggott colleges to form a new federation (though I am told there is still a dispute about the name). We also began planning for a fundraising event for Comic Relief.
At the beginning of March the Council assisted with a voter registration presentation – handing out leaflets instructing students on how to join the electoral rolls. Our major triumph of this term was Red Nose Day, on which our sweet stall and archery competition raised just over a hundred pounds.
Aside from this, the persistent topic of debate during our weekly meetings was the problem of littering and vandalism on campus. In the previous year the litter problem had been far worse – certain communal areas being continually strewn with food waste and discarded packaging – but although the staff had taken measures this year to tackle the problem – repeated offenders being made to clean the college in high-visibility jackets – there were still frequent complaints from students who struggled to find tables not strewn with filth, and some of the boys’ toilets have been closed for months due to heavy damage. Sitting in on one Council meeting, the senior management told us that hand dryers were being kicked off walls, mirrors smashed, pipes bent and drains blocked with severe financial consequences for the college.
I confessed that we could not find any viable solutions beyond what had already been tried. Some councillors suggested greater use of closed circuit television and card scanners on toilet doors, but this was rejected on the grounds of expense (personally I also found the idea rather Orwellian in its implications). What staff (and governors) suggested to us was that students themselves needed to collectively enact a culture shift, and to act quickly when they saw their peers misbehaving. Doubts about this system were immediately apparent: Fundamentally the problem lies with the way that a sixth-form college is constituted in comparison with a school – the “ethos” as my old headmaster would say. Whereas a school environment is highly structured and controlled, with clearly defined boundaries of acceptability and an obvious presence of authority, a sixth-form college is by nature more open and decentralised. The lack of form groups or assemblies means that the didactic approach is unavailable (indeed, distributing any information to the whole student body usually proves an unreliable and cumbersome endeavour), and the resulting lack of any close-knit community, amplified by the high turnover of students from one year to the next as a course only runs for 2-4 years rather than 5-7, means that establishing any values in the collective student consciousness will always be an uphill struggle. The only remaining idea was to have lectures given by the learning progress mentors in the style of those on British values, though we cannot guarantee that sessions would be attended and attention paid.
Following my presentation, I was addressed by another governor, Diana Palmer, with a notice about Brain Tumour Research. She expressed a hope that the council could organise an event at some point in the Trinity term to raise money for this charity. I agreed to move the item at our next meeting – which was yesterday. In our twelfth and final plenary of the Lent term we agreed to stage “Wear A Hat Day” on Friday 12th May.
Our council now prorogues for the Easter holiday, to sit next on Thursday 27th April. Most likely our sessions from then on will be for another end of year event.
Not long left now!