Silent Corridors, Still Lives

An extract from “Zero Tolerance” by The Old Grey Owl, available from and for Overseas readers, from

Learning, Fifties style

To help little Gavin Williamson, the UK Secretary of State for Education out, I’ve reproduced an extract here from my new novel, “Zero Tolerance”. He’s clearly been badly advised on schools and behaviour policies by that nasty Mr Cummings and needs some alternative advice. Because the book is 400 pages long and has a lot of long words in it, I’ve produced this particular scene that deals with the behaviour policy of silent corridors specifically for Gavin. Gavin, if you ask him nicely, I’m sure Dominic will read it to you when he tucks you up in bed tonight

He strode out into the middle of the corridor, where it widened out to accommodate traffic from four tributaries, and checked his watch, walkie talkie in one hand and a letter in the other. The silence was broken by the shrill tones of the bell, and the doors opposite him and further down the corridor opened, spilling students of all shapes, ages and sizes into the thoroughfare. Soon, it was a raging torrent, a white water surge of kids and he stood in the middle of the corridor where he had a sight of all four corridors that led into this larger space. He was like a huge rock in the middle of spring meltwater. At six foot four, he towered above the rapids careering past him, kids on their way to their next lesson.

“Oi, don’t do that you chief….”


“Where’s English this year?”

“We’re out in the huts, I think.”

“Ah man, it’ll be freezing out there come December….”


“Kelly! Kelly! Wait up…..”


“Eh, did you see Eastenders last night?”

“It’s lame, man…”


“You done your Science homework, Deepak?”

“It’s not for today, is it?

“Yeah, man.”

“Oh, nah. I thought he said Friday.”


“Is your Mum alright then?”

“She’s gotta go hospital today, so I dunno. I’m waitin’ for a message.”


“Love those Vans, man. Seriously. Has no-one seen you wearing ’em yet?”


“It’s Messi, obviously bruv.”

“Messi? Don’t be weird. He can’t head the ball, man. Ronaldo is the king…”


“You goin’ rehearsal after school?”

“Nah, forgot my cello, innit.”

“Sir’ll let you lend his, betcha.”

“Borrow. It’s borrow.”



“I jus’ don’t get why Trump was voted in. Pussy grabber.”

“Terrible hair, as well. It’s like a flap or something.”

“I swear it’s like a wig, you know.”


“Have you read it? Its brilliant. Like Harry Potter, but cooler.”

You got it then?”

“Yeah, I’ll lend it you if you like.”

“Will ya? Brilliant. Bring it tomorrow, yeah?”


“Remember, Miss said she was gonna blow something up in the lesson today.”

“Oh, yeah. Come on then..”


“I reckon Miss is havin’ a baby y’ know.”

“Nah, she’s just got a bit fat.”

“I’m tellin’ you. She’s pregnant. I reckon it was Mr Brooks, as well..”


“Come on, Darlene, our group is goin’ first. We gotta get the scripts and everything..”

“Yeah, man, whatever.”

“Darlene, come on, it’s important.”


Far above the tide of humanity that swept past him, he bellowed his usual litany of instructions, exhortations and threats, and took his part in the regular conversations that the children attempted, always returning to the key message: Get to your lesson quickly.

And then, almost as quickly as it had sprung up, the surge died down to a trickle and then eventually the riverbed was dry, with just the odd straggler to chivvy along. At this time of year, it tended to be small, bewildered Year seven kids, bent double under their new school bags that seemed bigger than them, blinking around, desperately trying to locate room B26 without looking like a loser or in any way drawing attention to themselves. Satisfied that the changeover had been successfully managed, he turned to the letter in his hand and it read it again. He had read it so many timed he would have been able to recite it if asked. The message it contained was not improving with repetition

Dear Parent, Carer or Guardian,

I am writing to you to inform you of a change to our behaviour policy that will come into effect from next Monday, September 10th.

Building on the remarkable success of last year, when the new leadership of the school transformed the behaviour of students in lessons, we are now planning to turn our attention to behaviour in the corridors. Last year a lot of learning time was lost by students arriving late for lessons or, when they did arrive, causing disruption by their unruly, noisy and boisterous behaviour. To prevent this lost of focus during lesson changeover, we are introducing a new system where students will be required to walk in single file on the right hand side of the corridor in silence. This will ensure that they arrive at their next lesson on time and in the correct frame of mind to begin learning at once.

To make sure that this new policy works from the beginning, all staff have been instructed to be in the corridors between lessons. Any student who breaks this new rule, either by talking, running or by not being in single file, will be given a same day detention of one hour. Students committing the same offence again will be placed in the internal inclusion room for two days in the first instance. Further infringements will result in Saturday detentions and exclusions.

I am sure I can count on your support as we continue to transform Fairfield High School into the best school in the area, a school of real excellence. In parallel with this development I would also like to announce a change to lunchtime arrangements. Lunch will now be taken in the dining Hall in Form groups, supervised by Form Tutors. Form tutors will lead their form through structured discussion of topical issues taken from the day’s newspapers. This practice, common in many Private schools, will teach Fairfield students how to interact in a calm and quiet manner at mealtimes and will also train them to take part in civilized debate about current issues.

Both of these measures have been implemented in several schools across London, run by the most inspirational and impressive young Headteachers who are prepared to think out of the box and challenge the way things have always been done. These early pioneers have been very successful, and some of the most challenging schools in London have been transformed, attracting the attention of ambitious and forward- thinking educationalists across the world. In following a similar path, Fairfield High is blazing a trail and challenging the sloppy approaches to Education that have held us back for far too long. One day, all schools will be adopting these methods, and they will be trying to catch up with us, not the other way round.

Remember, the next stage of our transformation starts on Monday September 10th.

Yours sincerely

Camilla Everson


He looked around the empty echoing corridor and thought of the energy and vitality and community of just a few moments before. All human life had been there, good and bad, and now it was to be crushed. Stamped on. Excised. He shook his head and, screwing up the letter in his hand into a tight ball, set off for his office. With every step, he recalled the incandescent fury he had unleashed at the Senior Leadership meeting the day before. His policy of withdrawing from comment, of keeping his head down and just getting on with the job had disappeared the minute he had sat through the first of the assemblies that Camilla had called to introduce the new policy.

By the time Rick had walked into the Senior Leadership meeting at the end of the afternoon, he was a coiled spring of outrage. He had spent the day stoking the fires of his opposition, heaping fuel on the fire by seeking out like -minded people to chew it over with. If only Avril had still been there. There was no way she would have taken this lying down.

He took his seat and a second later Camilla arrived.

“Well, good afternoon everyone, if we can get straight down to business. I’ve got another meeting to go to after this, so we need to be quick. Item one on the agenda is..”

She wasn’t able to tell everyone what exactly item one was. Rick interrupted her. There were horrified glances around the table and the sound of hell freezing over.

“No, Camilla, we can’t get straight down to business actually.”

She stared at him, an eyebrow raised.

“What on earth do you mean Rick?” she said, a tone of menace in her voice.

“You can’t seriously expect us to just sit here and discuss paperclips when you’ve just announced an utterly monstrous change to our behaviour policy without any consultation whatsoever.”

“I can and, what’s more, I do, actually,” she replied. “What you describe as a monstrous change is seen by the silent majority as common sense. What’s wrong with being the adults in the room and imposing silence on unruly kids? What’s so marvellous about allowing pupils to run amok in the corridors, so that they burst into lessons late, loud and disruptive?”

“Run amok? My God Camilla, what’s wrong with you? Why on earth did you become teacher in the first place if you hate children so much? You can’t stand them being human beings and talking to each other, can you? Or the staff either, come to think of it. Yes, it’s messy and a bit ragged at the edges, and you are not in complete control of it, but that’s life. You can’t control everything.”

“Oh, you’re such a cliché Rick. A bleeding heart Guardian reading liberal. ‘The poor children, how can we be so mean to them?’ Get a grip, for goodness sake, it’s embarrassing listening to you. This will deliver better results for the children because they’ll learn more. That’s what they need, tough love. It’s a hard world out there, and they need to be ready for it. We have to prepare them.”

“Prepare them?! What sort of world do you think this is preparing them for, exactly? Which profession or employer wants its workers to move around the building in silence? Not the prison service. Not the Army. Are we training everyone to take Holy orders with the Trappist monks? Have you heard of the Human Rights Act? Or is that being a big wuss as well? Did you read George Orwell at school? Did you ever stop to …”

“Enough!” Camilla screamed at him, her face contorted in reddening fury, “That’s enough. How dare you question my decisions in such an offensive manner.”

She banged the table with such force that their cups rattled. All the other members of the team looked down with set faces at their paperwork, and fiddled nervously with their pens.

Camilla, liberated by her unusual loss of control, carried on.

“When I took over this school, it was a madhouse. The children were rude, ill-disciplined and scruffy. The staff weren’t much better. And now, after a lot of hard work, in the teeth of opposition from dinosaurs like yourself, someone who’s more like a union rep than a Deputy Head, the school is a place of order and calm.”

“The school is a place of fear, and repression and bullying. And all you’ve done is got rid of the kids with the most challenging needs.”

“Be quiet. Nobody has the right to disrupt the learning of others.”

“No-one except you, apparently,“ Rick snapped back

“I make absolutely no apologies for insisting on a scholastic atmosphere in this school.”

She carried on in the same vein but Rick switched off at the ‘no apologies’ line. In his experience, any authority figure , a school leader or a politician, who used the phrase, “I make no apologies for..” were inevitably going to justify some appallingly draconian change. He imagined that petty dictators throughout history had done the same. “I make no apologies for………” (insert the example of historic abuse of human rights of your choice) Hitler, Pol Pot, Stalin – any of them would have appealed to common sense of their victims and the commentariat in the same way.

To read more, why not buy the book. “Zero Tolerance” is available from the links below

Overseas buyers should use the following link:

Or you could just go to the opening post on my blog:

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