Students at St Helena Secondary College in Eltham dress and dance to mark muck-up day. Photo: Justin McManus
Call it dress-up day, celebration day or carnival day, anything but muck-up day.
At St Helena Secondary College in Eltham North, principal Karen Terry said there had been no muck-up day for 10 years. “We've never called it that – we just call it the last day of school,” she said.
This year 200 year-12 students took advantage of the sanctioned opportunity to dress up and cut loose on Thursday, their final day of "normal classes" at high school. “Well, as normal as classes can be when students are dressed as Teletubbies.”
At lunchtime, a DJ took over the courtyard. Friday night is the school formal. The extended farewell continues on Monday with a picnic at Funfields amusement park, where the students had their first day out in year 7, the event bringing their high school life to a "full circle" close.
Such controlled celebrations are now the norm, taking place en masse this week and next throughout Melbourne. This is the changing face of muck-up day (oops, there's that label again).
But in their efforts to contain the chaos, are schools increasingly sanitising a rebellious rite of passage?
Muck-up day is an example of a cheeky "ritualised" challenge to authority, Monash University senior lecturer Tony Moore said. "I actually think it's kind of healthy unless anyone is injured."
Dr Moore said muck-up day should be about "satire or subversion" driven by the students, provided other peoples' rights were respected. "It disrupts the normal rhythm. Its aim should be entertainment."
He said schools that took too much control over the day risked ruining a healthy tradition. "Then students become consumers and not producers of culture."
The prevailing zeitgeist has its advantages, however. There is no longer merely an expectation to be silly - going a little wild (even if a little mild) is now a bona fide and formalised right and responsibility.
Schools across Victoria are offering students tree-planting ceremonies, carnival rides and costume parties where popcorn, fairy floss and crepes will be served.
Social media is awash with students complaining about bans on everything from Silly String to sun glasses that hide hangovers.
Melbourne University student well-being lecturer Debra Tyler said schools were trying to help students unwind without the drunken antics of years gone by.
"I think alcohol has become an integral part for the means by which they celebrate," she said. "I think schools are trying to offer an alternative to that. It's a big task."
Students are warned early about the consequences of bad behaviour but at St Helena, Karen Terry can't remember the last egging on school grounds. Kids know that if they go too far they could be punished by sitting their exams at another assessment centre (but only in drastic cases).
“We always have one or two who get carried away and do something silly," she said. "But the formal is really the only big thing we can hold over them. Formal and graduation.”
Parents Victoria executive officer Gail McHardy said parents were pleased that schools were seeking to contain outrageous pranks and wild behaviour. She said schools had to bear the cost of destructive high jinks that "crossed the line".
"Often the fund-raising arm of the school is called upon to recover those damages," she said.