I shuffle in the corridor. I nod a lot as she drones on. A large White Rabbit passes behind her. Nod. Drone. A figure in a Mad Hat zips past. Nod. Drone. Two terrifically portly fellows waddle towards us, sporting sharp suits, silly caps, flashy spats – and T-shirts with the legend “OFSTED RULES OK”. The inspector cannot choose but see them.
“Who are these?” she wonders. “We’re Tweedledee and Tweedledum. We’re National Curriculum.”
They chant to a vigorous reggae beat, while effecting a deft soft-shoe shuffle “All right, then sir!” says Mr Dee.
I know these boys and am much amused. The inspector is not. She is much baffled. Is this the Academy’s new Victorian Dress Code? Was she fed opium in Double Science? I’ve no time to explain. Some of us have to actually teach round these parts.
So who are these wandering theatricals? Pupils, of course, rehearsing for the school Christmas/Winter/Solstice Panto – Alice in Wonderland – the highlight of the school year. The place stops being an exam factory and becomes a proper community, buzzing with creativity.
The darling Drama teachers adapt the show to involve most of the school, all years, staff, faiths – and hundreds of pupils. Some even come in at the weekends to toil on scenery, security, sound, lights, music and costumes. Talents, hitherto trashed by the curriculum, are suddenly harnessed. Lucy works on some boogie-woogie, Ching Lan on some Bach, Decibelle on medieval carols, Leroy on dancing on his bonce, while the entire 7th year frolics charmingly round a giant Chessboard.
All are made to feel important. For once they are not being measured. Dennis Plum as the Mad Hatter will not fail this time. He will get at least three curtain calls. Magic. Will his life get any better? His mum will blub and his chums will cheer him on and have more fun than any West End show.
Kindness, empathy, generosity – and that “interactivity” stuff by the boat-load, all enhanced by free mulled punch. What delights! I must leave some Christmas freebies for the inspector. I check out the Dress Rehearsal. The two portly fellows go through their moves. They are, of course, brilliant. They are, of course, my prize delinquents, Dave Mania and Shaka Lynch. Their routine is even better than their transgressive turn as Bill and Ben during a recent Staff Briefing.
All together now! “We’re Tweedledee and Tweedledum. We’re off the National Curriculum!” A Christmas number One? At least.