With changing educational fashion, the Opportunity Class soon morphed into the Remedial Department. We were all there to have our failings remedied. (Help me Oh Lord, a sinner!). But Opportunity/Remedial Groups had a number of advantages:
- Flexibility – nobody cared much what you actually did there, so long as it didn’t make any noise.
- Freedom – they were often tucked away in remote areas of the school site, a distant hut, an old woodwork room.
- Size – they were small, so everybody mattered
- Assessment – there was no marking, except face to face in class and few exams, except the homemade ones cobbled together to fit in with school requirements. .
As a result of this random combination of circumstances, “Remedial” often became a kind of sanctuary away from the confusing bustle and tedium of the Big School. (In one school I applied for, it was actually in the substantial old gatehouse of the original Victorian site and had set up its own rules and practices more suited to its inhabitants’ needs.) At the other end of the scale it could just be crap, but at least it got you out of the mainstream classroom to muck around with your mates.
When my mother died I was working in a large comp on a higgledy piggledy site with buildings ranging from 1897 to 1970. Us Remedials were, of course, in the very oldest part (it had actually been condemned by building regs and the fire service – I do not tell a lie). It was out of bounds to the pupils, except for those actually going to class there. But its big advantage was its own separate door to the outside world and the carpark.
When I returned to school after the whole grim business of funeral and houseclearing, I couldn’t face the sympathy of the main entrance and the staff room, so I sneaked in through our own secret door into the gloom of the old unlit entrance hall with its boarded up window.
From the shadows a small figure emerged. She had been waiting for me in the forbidden territory all on her own in the spooky darkness, sneaking off from where she was meant to be. It was Tracey who was scared of everybody and everything, but she had been strong enough to break the rules and brave the ghosts.
She didn’t say anything. She just walked up to me and put her arms around me and gave me the biggest hug.
Her own mother had died just two years ago.