Leader magazineASCL - Association of School and College Leaders

House rules

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Friday night is bingo night at the homeless shelter and Gill Pyatt reckons there are great similarities to her school maths lessons.

I park my car and walk towards the hall wondering what will transpire. Will somebody let off the fire alarm or end up walking out because they don't like something?

I enter the hall, lock my coat away and sign in for my shift at the shelter for the homeless. Fridays are regarded as the highlight of the week as it's bingo night but, unlike the maths groups of my day job, where the rewards are house points, this group play for real prizes donated by the local supermarkets.

This group is as territorial about their chair and tables as classes are about their desks in classrooms; there is pushing and shoving to ensure they secure the right seat.

Mike is a young guest who likes to be the class prefect and persistently asks if he can give out the pens and 'bricks' (local parlance for bingo sheets). I give him the box of pens with my instructions imitating those of a few hours ago: "Count them out and then count them back again at the end." This box of pens was 'acquired' from the local bookmakers but we gloss over that.

Mike goes round chatting happily to everyone as he distributes the pens. I call out to him to hurry up and he smiles. "Just like year 10," I think. He then collects the bricks from me and distributes them causing consternation among the guests as they do not necessarily have their favourite or special numbers on their respective forms.

I call the numbers very slowly and carefully, "Number 56 - that's a 5 and then a 6" and so on. There are no esoteric descriptions of the "Gordon's den - Number 10" variety as that would generate too many requests for repeats, questions about who Gordon is and why he smokes ten a day.

We plough on in a rather mechanistic way until Frank shouts, "Yes!" His mates tell him he has to shout "Bingo" or "House" to which his reply is unprintable.

Frank brings his brick to me for the assessment process. I have learnt it is absolutely vital for all the guests to see the number checking process. I ask Frank to call out his numbers, he says "Three and five", I look across the board and hold up the ball with 35 painted on it, the guests cheer and clap, Frank nods and smiles and so it goes on.

Frank is pronounced winner of this brick. He waves in triumph to the guests who are clapping and cheering. Full of embarrassment, he approaches the prize table and spends ages examining the bars of chocolate, turning over the pairs of socks, looking at the packets of biscuits, dismissing the Bristol Rovers scarf.

Then he sees the coloured bags filled by the afternoon shift. He examines them and then says, "I'll have that pink one." One of the assistants tries to encourage him to have a blue bag but he insists on having a pink one. He collects it to loud cheering and clapping from his mates and marches back to his place.

Frank rips off the fastener and pulls out items of ladies toiletries - soap, toothpaste, face cream, nail file and a large floppy bath puff complete with plastic flower. His mates whistle, stamp the floor and call out "Poofter." Some guests stand up to see what has caused so much hilarity.

This has a similar feeling to being in a playground before a fight breaks out. I hold my breath and look for potential back-up. Frank stuffs the items back into their bag and says, "I can give this to my girlfriend."

The tension subsides; they return to their seats and begin to look for their pens while Mike asks the name of Frank's girlfriend. At that moment Sara, one of the assistants, brings in a tray of tea. Frank looks round and says, "She's called, er, Sara."

There is stunned silence which quickly turns into overwhelming admiration for Frank and generates a few slow wolf-whistles.

As I collect my coat from the office and go on my way, I reflect how similar these sessions are to my day job and begin to wonder why the system appears to have failed the group - but that's a bit too philosophical for a Friday night.

Gill Pyatt teaches at Barnwood Park Arts College, Gloucester.

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