Who's Ebenezer Scrooge in an education Christmas Carol?

It's Christmas Eve, and headteacher Bob Cratchit has had new DfE guidance...Yvonne Williams retells the classic story
10th December 2020, 1:07pm
Yvonne Williams

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Who's Ebenezer Scrooge in an education Christmas Carol?

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Coronavirus & Schools: Guess Who Is Ebenezer Scrooge In An Education Christmas Carol

It was Christmas Eve. Bob Cratchit, headteacher of Marley's Academy, was sat at his computer, reading the latest guidance on track and trace, which had arrived just before midnight, as he was preparing to lock up. 

The howling seasonal blasts from the open windows nipped at his nose and his feet; the heating bills were already astronomical. 

He sat hunched over the computer, grateful for the small warm cloud emitted from the fan, and plucked up the courage to open the belated response to the email he'd sent to Mr Ebenezer Scrooge MP, secretary of state for education, only last half term, asking for money to pay the bill for supply staff and the electricity company's final demand.

Scrooge's reply read: "Have we not learning assistants and support staff to stand in front of classes? Must we squander the surplus from last year's budget to cover the cost of self-isolating teachers who can teach from home?

"Have we not savings from the summer budget to put towards laptops?

"Have our children not got tracksuits, school uniform and heavy outdoor coats to work in?"

Bob shook his head, and wondered whether he dared to ask for Christmas day off, let alone point out that there had been a cull on learning assistants and support staff in the last efficiency savings; that the promised laptops had been a fraction of the number required; and that the children could hardly move in the layers that still failed to keep out the cold.

Coronavirus: Ghosts of education past and present

Working from home in order to keep others safe, Ebenezer Scrooge MP, secretary of state for education, pressed "send" on his last missive, and clicked on his out-of-office autoreply. It had been a tiring evening ensuring that the latest guidance reached headteachers just before midnight, and he was feeling sleepy… 

He didn't know how long he slept, but suddenly he became aware of a strange presence in his office.

"Who are you?" he faltered, wondering what had happened to the burglar alarm.

"I am the Spirit of Education Past," the presence said.

Scrooge was eager to point out how many improvements there had been to the education system under his watch, and how well budgets were now managed, but somehow his voice failed him.

"Your past," said the spirit, and whisked an apprehensive Scrooge away to his old school, which lay emptier than he remembered it.

"Where has everyone gone?" he asked.

The spirit laughed. "Why, it's the Christmas holiday!" he rumbled. "Everyone went home seven days ago. No one works over Christmas - they won't be back until well after the new year."

The wind blew and, before he knew it, Scrooge was back in his office. The fire seemed to have gone out. 

But that wasn't the reason for his shivering. For there, in front of him, was another spirit. Scrooge smiled wanly at the figure.

"I expect you're going to take me to another education Christmas past," he said. "And I'd be more than happy to show you the reforms we have made…"

But the spirit shook its head. "That's not quite in my remit," he said. "But I can show you Christmas Present."

Scrooge guffawed. Who knew better than he the state of the nation's education? Hadn't he meticulously read all the balance sheets and the data charts, the reports from all the focus groups, and the report from the prime minister's office?

Sailing confidently through the air alongside the spirit, he was surprised to find himself in a residential street, and then walking through the outside walls of a house and into the living room. 

It was well past midnight, and the Cratchit family were placing presents in stockings. The doorbell sounded, and a cheerful young man entered. 

"Tim!" cried Mrs Cratchit. "What a lovely surprise. But I thought you were in your support bubble in Spain."

"I came home early to self-isolate, just so that we could have this Christmas together." The young man nearly gave her a hug, but remembered to elbow-bump her instead. "But where's Dad?"

His mother sniffed. "He's still at Marley's Academy - said he was just checking that everything was properly locked up and he was just going to finish off the budget statement for the term. But, knowing him, he'll have opened his emails. 

"This is getting to be a very crowded marriage, with him, me and Mr Scrooge. I never get a look in. I just thought for once we could have our supper without the sound of WhatsApp messages arriving from track-and-trace contacts. With all that beeping, I've forgotten what Christmas bells sound like."

What's happened to Christmas for teachers?

The clock struck four. Scrooge woke abruptly. "What happened to Christmas?" he cried.

But the Spirit of Christmas Present had vanished, and in his place stood a hooded figure: Father Time. Scrooge knew instinctively that he was not going to like the next outing. But the spirit held his hand tightly as they flew over the bright Christmas trees of Downing Street, where the lights were all off now.

"Where are we going?" asked Scrooge. "I've been visited by the spirits of education Christmases past and present. You must be the Future, the Christmases to come?"

The spirit inclined his head and Scrooge waited fearfully. They landed inside Number 10.

The prime minister was shaking his head at the latest opinion polls. Scrooge looked at the report on the desk: the retention report showing heads taking early retirement and teachers leaving their jobs, despite the recession. 

School budgets were sky high, because there were no learning assistants to cover sick and self-isolating teachers and no support staff, and no one was willing to take on the top job. 

Things didn't look good. A Cabinet reshuffle was imminent, and Scrooge couldn't see his name anywhere on the list of promotions. 

The spirit whisked him away to the Cratchits' house, where the celebrations were muted, and Mrs Cratchit wept quietly.

"Where's Tim?" asked Scrooge. "And Bob Cratchit?" 

"Tim's gone back to the airport. Said if his dad was too busy tracking and tracing to see him, then he might as well start his next quarantine now," whispered the spirit in his ear.

Scrooge remembered his school's Christmas Past, and the prime minister's list. There had to be a solution to all this. But the departmental budget would not run to buying turkeys all round.

"Please let me go home," he begged. "I'll do anything. I'll give them an Inset day at the end of term. That will help, won't it? Then Bob Cratchit won't have to spend Christmas tracking and tracing. Please tell me that will make everything all right."

But the spirit just shook his head sadly. "It's too late, Scrooge," he said. "It's too late."

Yvonne Williams is head of English and drama in a secondary school in the South of England. She has contributed chapters on workload and wellbeing to Mentoring English Teachers in the Secondary School, edited by Debbie Hickman (Routledge) 

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