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Further adventures of Phil Harrass, Private HMI

Hell, for a while I experienced something like job satisfaction. Any work in the summer was a bonus for a private HMI, but this particular job was something of a honey.

My superiors - which meant just about everybody in education - were getting worried. There were problems with the plan to set targets, particularly with the way the Schools Characteristic Index was obtained. A lot of heads pointed out that using the uptake of free school meals was misleading as different areas had different attitudes to claiming any sort of benefits.

As a consequence of the dissent and concern, I was given unlimited travelling expenses and told to tour the country until I found a more reliable method for calculating the SCI.

It was tempting to hole up somewhere peaceful in the middle of the wild country where a guy and his soul could get to know one another again. At the end of a month I'd emerge with the startling theory that the best indication of how a school should be performing in exams was its own exam figures.

Figuring I couldn't pull a stunt like that and expect to be given more work, I opted to take it seriously. I checked out the Herald and set off.

In my rear-view mirror I could see the nodding ferret I'd bought in memory of an old boss. It sat on the space between the rear screen and the back seat, its head bobbing sagely as if it rather approved of this whole target-setting idea.

I went north as far as Thurso. I hit the islands via the Skye bridge. With the scenery breaking over my bonnet in a bow wave, I toured the border country in brilliant sunshine. I did Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen, Stirling and Shotts. Hell, I even spent a few minutes in Dundee.

At the end of it all I had sheets of statistics. My contact in the world of number crunching, Johnston Millar, fed them in to one of his pet computers and the printout confirmed what I had suspected. The earring index was a perfect indicator of a school's potential. You counted the number of ears in an establishment and the number of earrings on male ears.

Female earrings were only counted if there was more than one per ear. The total number of earrings counted was divided by the number of ears and expressed as a percentage.

The idea went down well with my chiefs, though they continued to claim that they were making calculations based on meals in case headteachers insisted on compulsory piercing to up their SCIs.

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