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A Death In CLass

Further adventures of Morris Simpson

Monday: Our first in-service day of the session brought the relatively welcome news that all legal proceedings against Greenfield Academy have been halted. Mr Tod broadcast the news at the whole staff meeting first thing this morning.

"I'm pleased to announce that the region's legal department has been up to some smart work, and that the cases of Gary Sinnott against the school - for failing to get a decent set of examination passes; Kevin Elliott against the school - for breaking his own teeth on a dodgem car during last session's French trip; and Marlene Beveridge against Mr Simpson - for sexually molesting her at the third-year dance last June - have been dropped, since all the plaintiffs have been made to recognise that their cases wouldn't stand up in court. Even the one against Mr Simpson."

I blushed in recollection of the events, and made a mental note to make sure Simon Young doesn't give me Marlene's Standard grade class. Meanwhile, Mr Tod continued his usual litany of pre-term instructions, including the annual edict that the tea-urn be switched off when not in use and - good news for George Crumley and Mr Pickup - the announcement of a new smoking room.

Most proudly of all, our headteacher announced that this year's exam results had dramatically improved. Pickup snorted, but Tod continued: "And I can't thank you, the teaching staff, warmly enough. Six As, 17 Bs and 32 Cs at Higher might not sound a lot in the eyes of schools with better catchment areas than ours, but what we're looking at here is the value added during our pupils' school careers. And what's more, it means that we've moved up two places in the exam league tables."

"Which means," Pickup whispered from the side of his mouth, "that we're now third bottom instead of bottom."

I later took him to task for such a negative attitude so early in the term, but he wouldn't listen.

"Ach, Morris," he chided me, "you don't imagine for one minute, do you, that we've suddenly got a bunch of academic geniuses going out the front door at the end of the year? The only reason we've suddenly got a clutch of exam passes worth talking about is because the whole bloody exam system's going down the tubes and the exams are 10 times easier than they were five years ago! Talk about dumbing down the curriculum - you'd need to be brain-dead not to get something out of your school career these days, even if it is just a certificate that says you managed to write your own name at the top of the exam paper!" I sighed, and left him to his vituperative ruminations. I had some lessons to prepare.

Tuesday: This morning's year-group assemblies were all given over to Ruth Lees, so that she could introduce our stricter-than-strict uniform policy. Our new-found enthusiasm for a more militaristic approach to the business of school apparel has the whiff of Councillor Tyler about it: ever since the wretched man attended our awards ceremony last term, he's made it a point of issue in every local newspaper to labour his opinion that a uniform policy (sic) on uniform should be the aim of all schools in the region.

Personally, I agree, and I don't think there'll be any trouble persuading the first-year pupils how to dress; but I think we're going to have our work cut out with some of the seniors...

Meanwhile, Mr Pickup has been busy researching the exam results of Greenfield Academy in slightly more detail than Mr Tod was prepared to divulge yesterday. Interestingly enough, four of the six A passes at Higher level all belonged to Brigitta Moriami, the Swiss-German girl who spent an exchange year with us last session.

"So y'see?" declaimed Pickup. "She sat five Highers, only one of them in her own language, and got As in four of them, thereby boosting Greenfield Academy's exam rate by 84 per cent."

"What was the B for?" I asked out of interest.

"German," Pickup shrugged his shoulders. "Her own language. She obviously used too many words the examiners didn't understand; either that, or Pamela Blane gave her some duff advice about exam techniques, the same as she did with everyone else she prepared for modern languages. Either way, Pamela's appealing for her to get upgraded to an A: that way, she'll be the only department to have three A passes in the school."

"Gosh. So she got two others, then?" "Mmm. But one of them was in French, for Adam Parker - whose mother's French - and the other was for Mrs Wright, the adult returner who only came to about four lessons and did most of the work herself at home. So you see, Morris, why I'm ever-so-slightly sceptical about old Toddy's claim that we're about to become the Eton of the north, don't you? We've still got the same old dross we've always had, and our only major success this year was from a girl who was fortunate enough to be educated in another country altogether, while the other two with top grades probably got them in spite of us rather than because of us."

I scolded Pickup that our esteemed headteacher had never made any such claim about approaching the grandeur of Eton; but his research gave me food for thought...

Wednesday: My first meeting with 2N: they look as if they're going to be quite a handful. Apart from the appalling behavioural tendencies displayed by several of the boys during my 30-minute introductory talk on "The Rules of Mr Simpson's Classroom", I was irritated by a series of electronic bleeping sounds, whose source I found it impossible to locate for a full 15 minutes.

Eventually, I traced the culprits - for there were several - to a collection of hand-held electronic "Tamagotchi cyber-pets". Apparently this latest craze requires the owner to "feed", "water", "clean up" and do a million and one other things to, or for, their "virtual pets" by simply pressing a correct button or two when their want is audibly signalled. Hence the beeping.

Here was a chance to stamp my authority on the class, so I immediately forbade the feeding, watering, or touching in any way of these damned machines. Suitably reprimanded, the class remained silent for the next eight minutes. And then Lisa Charles burst into tears.

"Awww!" she wailed uncontrollably. "Ma cyber-pet's went an' choaked it! He waanted feedin' sur, an' you said we couldny. An' now he's deid. An' it's aw your fault!" Her hysterical outburst set in motion a chain of complaint from six other girls whose pets, they claimed, were in similar danger of imminent death should they not attend to their quickening needs for electronic sustenance. Luckily the bell went. But I've told them not to bring their beloved darlings back into class, or there'll be trouble. And there certainly will.

Thursday: Mr Pickup's getting a real bee in his bonnet about these exam results. Today was the first time he had actually bothered to check on the successes and failures attained by those candidates he had presented himself.

"Look at this," he waved a results sheet under my nose. "Craig McConechy's got a 2 for his Standard grade religious studies."

"Good for him," I applauded. "And good for his teacher."

"But you don't understand, Morris!" he complained once more. "Craig McConechy can hardly remember what day of the week it is, never mind set about an essay on post-deluvian prophecies of the Old Testament. No matter how much they dumbed down the curriculum, there's no way that a pupil like Craig McConechy should get within sniffing distance of a grade 4 pass, let alone a 2. The marker must have had his eyes shut. It's a complete bloody travesty, and simply confirms everything I've said this week about the quality of the exam passes in the country generally, and in this school in particular!" I advised him not to pass on his views to Mr Tod.

Friday: Marlene Beveridge is in my Standard grade class. In spite of my precise request to the contrary, Simon Young has responded by giving me the little minx for five periods a week, accompanied by the suggestion that I keep my hands to myself and my eyes on the blackboard. So much for professional support, I thought to myself.

Meanwhile, I think that Pickup's unreasoning fury against the Scottish Qualifications Authority is about to tipple over into insanity.

This morning he announced that he plans to appeal on behalf of one of his pupils over the level of an examination award. At first, I took this to be a welcome sign of commitment to his charges, until he revealed that the pupil was Craig McConechy, and that far from appealing to improve a grade, he was appealing to have it reduced!

"You can't be serious!" I charged, but his jaw set itself firmly.

"I certainly am. I've asked the science department to back me up on this - the boy got a grade 3 for science, yet he had to do his practical experiment seven times before he got it to work.

"But they don't want anything to do with appealing to lower his grade, 'cos they'd decimate their pass-rate. But I'm sticking to my guns, Morris, and it's because I care about the standards of education in this country!

"If Craig McConechy doesn't get his religious studies grade reduced to a 4 at the very least, or a 5 if they're going to be accurate about it, then I'm going public with this!" "Have you gone public with Mr Tod about it yet?" I queried hesitantly.

"Nope. But I'm just going to."

I think it's time he was offered early retirement.

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