"I don't know why you bother, dear," Mrs Claus replied sympathetically. "I'm sure Snow-
land School would find someone else to chair the governors' meetings if you resigned. You've enough on every Christmas Eve, without going to another of those silly meetings."
He knew that Mrs Claus was right. Governors' meetings had become a chore, and he never understood why they always met on Christmas Eve. "I've got to go, I'm afraid," he muttered. "We're making a start on performance-
related pay for the staff."
Santa set off on his sledge, his breath condensing thickly in the cold night air. Dancer and Prancer were frisky, as usual, but Wally and Plonker, the two Snowland Private Finance Initiative consultants who helped out, kept crashing into each other. They were so used to competition they had no idea how to pull in the same direction.
"Can we start, please," Santa began, eager to commence what promised to be a brain-corroding meeting. "I know the issue comes up every year, but we've got quite a lot to do on performance-related pay." He noticed Uriah Heep, better known as Simkins the Slime, headteacher of Snowland, hovering at his elbow.
"Er, would you mind signing the attendance register, Mr Chairman," he oiled. Santa looked dubiously at the proffered piece of paper, wondering why it was folded in such an unusual way. As he untangled it his suspicion was confirmed. Immediately above where he would have appended his signature was a typed statement, which simply read: "I promise to pay the headteacher a pound;5,000 performance bonus."
Santa brushed him away gently. "Now the main item on our agenda is to draw up a proposal for performance-related pay for the staff." No sooner had he uttered the phrase "performance-related pay" than Mr Hardcastle, staff representative of the National Confederation of Snow-
land Teachers, leapt to his feet.
"You must know, Mr Chairman," he began, "that at our branch meeting last night the staff decided on a go-slow if PRP is introduced." Santa thought to himself that if Mr Hardcastle went any slower he would actually have to go backwards.
"Mr Chairman!" Santa shuddered at the sight of Mrs Farnes Barnes gathering to launch her glass-shattering tones on the now cowed audience. He suspected that she had probably been reading her sole source of information on educational matters, the "Do you know?" column on the back page of Horse and Hound Gazette. "I propose we give a cash bonus to everyone who uses phonics."
The banality of Mrs Farnes Barnes's pronouncements always hit the governors like stun grenades, pulverising most of their brains into suspended animation. "I don't use phonics much in my A-level physics class," Mr Hardcastle muttered with barely concealed contempt. Santa winced.
The complaint from Ofsted, about the time when Mr Hardcastle had called the lay inspector "a cretinous peasant", was still fresh in his memory.
He looked longingly out of the window where the snow was thickening. There was so far to travel, so many presents to deliver. Why did he do it? Mrs Claus was right. He should hand over to someone else.
Outside Dancer and Prancer pawed the soft snow, while Wally and Plonker, the two privatisers, tried to work out how much profit they would make if they sacked all the teachers and hired a robot. Santa looked at the rest of the agenda.
There were more government initiatives for the coming century.
All teachers were to be handcuffed to their desk, so they couldn't go home; a man with a red flag would walk in front of any child with a calculator; anyone opposing the literacy and numeracy hours would be put in the stocks so parents could throw rotten tomatoes at them; targets would be set for the length of governors' toenails; league tables would be introduced for the number of sticks of chalk used in a year.
"I'll just see in the millennium," he promised himself.
But given the number of targets to be met, he didn't actually say which millennium.