Alice Jones: Unlock the mysteries of the staffroom and its raison d’être disappears


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The Independent Online

It is one of life's great mysteries. What really goes on in the staff room – among the territorial easy chairs, beneath the fug of chalk dust and Kenco fumes? Their power lies in their mystery, of course.

At my junior and senior schools, you were expressly forbidden even to knock on the door. Instead, you had to wait, pathetically, like ... well, a naughty schoolchild, for a teacher to emerge, catch their eye and hope that they might be kind enough to go back in and drag Mrs Bayley out to see you about your French homework.

In fact, at my senior school, where the staff room was at the top of a winding staircase and the end of a long, forbidden corridor, they removed the door so you couldn't possibly knock on it even if you had been brave enough to do so.

I did, as an adult, make it over the hallowed threshold of a staff room once – the perks of being a teacher's daughter! – and discovered the chamber of secrets was nothing special. There were coffee-stained mugs, pigeonholes and piles of homework and netball bibs; nothing more incriminating than copious KitKats, some empty wine bottles and a Chippendales calendar. It was, simply, a haven from the rest of school life – somewhere for teachers to chat, discuss troublesome pupils in private, do their marking in peace and have a breather. Somewhere, in short, to feel like a human rather than a drone.

Now Michael Gove, apparently aiming for a record number of demerits from the nation's teachers, is cooking up a plan to get rid of staff rooms, removing the planning rule which states that every school should have "accommodation for use by the teachers, for the purpose of work and for social purposes". The move has been seized upon by beleaguered teachers as divide-and-rule tactics, removing their right to get together and moan about the little tykes that blight their day – whether pupils, management or Education Secretaries.

You can see why they are annoyed, but you can see the Government's point too. Why should teachers have an oasis of calm to retreat to in the working day when so many don't? In fact, why stop at schools? The Government should roll out a closing-down programme on all spaces where workers might gather for solidarity-boosting chats and refreshment immediately. It could start with the four staff bars in the House of Commons.

* There were topless men, guitars, couture wimples, even a rapper: Carbon Life was no ordinary night out at the Royal Opera House. Wayne McGregor's new ballet features a score by Mark Ronson (the producer behind Amy Winehouse), costumes by fashion's enfant terrible Gareth Pugh and guest spots for Boy George, the lead singers of The Drums and The Kills, among others. It is also brilliantly danced by the best of the Royal Ballet, which didn't stop most critics giving it so-so reviews. Their sniffy verdict was no doubt shared by many of the Royal Ballet's core clientele, including my neighbour in the gods who sighed at the curtain call: "Well, you can't say that we don't sit through everything they throw at us."

And that's the point. The Proms deliberately pair tried-and-trusted classics on its programme with harder-to-swallow contemporary pieces. It's a way of infusing the classical repertoire with new lifeblood and shaking up audiences, which is arguably what art should do. A longtime fan, I don't subscribe to the stereotype of ballet as old and fusty, but as a pink-haired Alison Mosshart stalked around the writhing bodies of Edward Watson and Olivia Cowley, while snarling into a microphone, it felt unusually exciting, a little like watching the future. The gods were certainly full of the audience of the future, crammed with young people, lured in by the music, no doubt, but also by tickets which started at £3 and were capped at £42 (compared with £114 for top-price seats at Swan Lake, say). For the first time in a long time, Covent Garden buzzed not only with talent on the stage and wealth in the stalls, but with electrifying possibility. Encore!