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Get back in your shell

STRANGE days in education, with peculiar scenes in the nation's staffrooms, particularly among the over-50s. Some are surreptitiously examining brochures offering "third age" citizens six winter weeks in Majorca for the price of a fortnight, while others are moving about with a newly rediscovered light in their eyes, muttering about "having a good clearout and getting files in order".

Most notably, the 54-year-olds and 55-year-olds are openly rebelling and refusing to fill in term planners up till Easter because "it's not worth it". They are, of course, suffering from McCrone's Disease, sometimes known as "Throwing in the Towel Syndrome". Along with those who are already spending the extra pound;100 a week, they have snatched at the media-blown straws of hope escaping from the deliberations of the McCrone committee.

Apparently we are shortly to be faced with the difficult decision between retiring on a comfortable pension at 55 or staying on with a vastly improved salary in a brave new world of imaginatively reorganised educational splendour.

Well, as one whose Houghton was well and truly Clegged many moons ago, I would urge a little caution. I say this not just in the world-weary way of one with two and a half decades of experience of such negotiations, but also because I have received a sign - n eerie coincidence in the week when the world famous statue in the Irish town of Ballinaspittle is reportedly on the move again.

Regular readers will be aware that our depute head is blessed with superhuman neatness and attention to detail and when she entered the heidie's office and saw January still displayed on the calendar she had no choice but to turn the page. Imagine the horror when it turned out that the pages were glued together by a stray snail. Although a call for garlic butter might have been the professional response, I am reliably informed that, on this occasion, the air was split by something rather more urgent in tone.

The heidie, like all men of his august calling, essentially humane, offered what support he could to both senior manager and snail. The latter was left on the window-sill, with a promise of repatriation to leafier climes as soon as possible. Driving into school next morning, he realised that in the rush of Important Things To Do he had completely forgotten. Cover arrangements had to wait as he rushed into his office. Zut alors! The snail was not where he had left it, and is still missing.

As a message to all those fiftysomethings, I would lay even money it will reappear long before they are in a position to enjoy a comfortable, or early, retirement.

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