Popular Culture

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Ross Morrison McGill founded @TeacherToolkit in 2010, and today, he is one of the 'most followed educators'on social media in the world. In 2015, he was nominated as one of the '500 Most Influential People in Britain' by The Sunday Times as a result of...
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Have you ever attended a ‘school prom’ as a student or teacher?

Popular culture has embedded the school prom into the UK education system. It’s been a couple of years, but tonight I attend our year 11 school prom; a chance to celebrate 5 years of secondary school for every student. An opportunity to feel appreciated …

In today’s world, children fully understand the concept of quick-wins and celebrity lifestyle. That if one has a good voice, they can ‘go-all-the-way’ to the final of X-Factor and not have to ‘go back to work on those supermarket tills’, or ‘if I walk, dress and pout in this kind of way, I may get noticed on the high street’.

Yet, despite what any stereotype proclaims, to be the very best, all career demand some form of hard work.

Handbags and Gladrags:

” …They told me you missed school today, so what I suggest you just throw them all away. The Handbags and the Gladrags, that your poor old Grandad had to sweat to buy…”

Readers may be humming the theme tune to The Office, but I’m not writing about the famous television series. I’m referring to the lyrical meaning of a famous song that has particular significance at this time of the school year. The original song, penned by Mike d’Abo hit the big-time after Rod Stewart re-released his version in 1972.

It wasn’t until the Stereophonics announced their version of the song (2001), that the well-known lyrics entered the consciousness of the masses.

The song is about a girl taking everything for granted, resembling most young people growing up, believing that having the latest clothes will make them feel that they will fit in with their peers. What the vast majority of our young folk do, is that they forget that someone else maybe paid for their luxuries – their mother, uncle or a distant cousin – and that wearing the latest garments or gadgets will get them nowhere.”

… amazing how relevant this still is today in our quick-win culture.

Luxury or Rarity?

So, the questions I would like to pose to readers is this:

  1. How do we entice students, who are unfamiliar with celebration and/or luxury, to celebrate?
  2. How do we ensure school events are inclusive?
  3. For those who do not meet government benchmarks, how do we celebrate their achievements?

In much of my school experience and despite living in the capital, I work with families who survive below the poverty line.

27% of Londoners live in poverty after housing costs are taken into account, compared with 20% in the rest of England. Almost 700,000 jobs in London (18%) pay below the London Living Wage. (London’s Poverty Profile)

This number has increased for five consecutive years and many of our school families are (now) no-longer eligible for Pupil Premium funding. The government have increased the threshold for earners nationally, despite families in London with higher costs of living.

If living costs are higher, how can families afford small luxuries? And how can schools help?

“Planning and dreaming …”

The school prom culture is long-embedded into the UK education system and the word “prom” will no doubt have (or is) on the lips of most students at this time of year. After planning and dreaming, students become more and more animated as the event itself looms. Students become fixated with beautiful and flamboyant outfits, hoping to be crowned ‘Prom King/Queen’. Weeks and weeks of ‘what outfit to wear?’ stem from photos from magazines, with students manipulating costumes sourced from the internet and ripped pages from gossip columns.

It is of course, a fine-line between responsibility (in-loco parentis) and turning-a-blind-eye, relaxing with your students, celebrating five long years of school life. No doubt there will be some very, very loud music and a little ‘bump and grind’; but ultimately, they have made it.

They have made it this far through our complex education system, with all the external pressures we face as teachers that most students are oblivious too. We need to give our students the opportunity to celebrate.”

There will be those students who will make you smile, a shy-soul – wearing a borrowed outfit – who may be deserving of a cuddle, but the joys and laughter of a school prom are plenty and the celebration is ultimately determined by the character of the students and the conditions in which the event is set.

Whatever the context of your school prom, I say this: Put your gladrags on and join in with the festivities. Go see a side of school-life that will remind you that it’s all worthwhile. My only advice is, stay away from the dance-floor!


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