In with the new, out with the time capsule

THE CONTINUING ADVENTURES OF MORRIS SIMPSON

Monday

Two weeks into the new session and already the summer holidays seem light years away. In spite of all my best intentions during the recess, I've had to do some last-minute lesson planning for my Higher English class, whose syllabus has changed beyond recognition since last I looked at it.

Admittedly, Simon Young, my principal teacher, had brought the matter up at a few departmental meetings last term, but I hadn't taken the changes fully on board until last week. Consequently, I've had to ditch a huge quantity of lessons that I used for the last syllabus, which introduced assessment in talking, listening and the myriad other skills that appear to have been abandoned.

At least the changes to the review of personal reading (now the Specialist Study of Literature) should help to avoid the unrestrained cheating that went on before, now that the presentation has to be made under exam conditions rather than with parental and Internet assistance to write it.

My only worry on the SSL front is persuading Donny McIntyre to choose a book that the invigilators will allow into the examination hall on the grounds of taste and decency: it's currently a choice between FHM's book of glamorous gussets and Irvine Welsh's new novel Porno, which purports to be a work of literary merit about the Trainspotting crew. Personally, I think that if Donny McIntyre is indeed reading the latest Irvine Welsh offering, then it proves the point that literary merit is the one quality that it can't possibly possess.

Tuesday

Mr Dick is still cock-a-hoop about the enormous percentage increase of our pupils who attained university places this year. To this end, he has clearly been milking every imaginable public relations ploy.

Last night, there was a dedication on Radio Rockston's late night chart programme to "last year's Greenfield Academy pupils starting their university careers". "Don't forget your old school, boys and girls, and remember to tell us how you're getting on!" read out the resident DJ (presumably before thrusting two fingers down his throat).

It was cringe-making, as were the 25 copies of the Parkland Gazette that littered the staffroom this morning. "Greenfield pupils go for university gold" blasted a headline which announced our enormous success in raising university placements "by a staggering 75 per cent".

What it failed to mention, of course, was the fact that Greenfield has been selected as an underachieving inner-city school to receive "special entry conditions" in a socially laudable but educationally dishonest attempt to level the playing fields for university entrance. Nor did it reveal the exact number of pupils who are actually going to university. (There are eight of them.) Nor did it elaborate upon the academic rigours of the disciplines they will be studying (media studies and sociology for the most part, with one reading psychology).

Nor - most tellingly - did it explain the fact that each and every one of them is there on the basis of compensatory awards that were misinterpreted by UCAS as genuine SQA Higher passes and to whom the placement offers were made before the mistake was discovered.

Wednesday

As I had a non-contact last period this afternoon, Mr Tod agreed to my early departure so I could allow access for the builders' "snagging team" carrying out repairs to our eight-month-old house. This was to be their fourth visit and I looked forward to a resolution of certain problems that continue to annoy me intensely.

Alas, it was to be another case of "hope deferred maketh the heart (extremely) sick" (sic).

Sandy, the team foreman, met me at the door with a puzzled look on his face. "We've goat another line fur ye, Mr Simpson," he explained solicitously. "But it looks like the same things we came fir last month."

"It probably is, Sandy," I bit my bottom lip fiercely. "I told your office that they still needed doing and they said they'd organise a call this afternoon. Which is no doubt why you're here ..." My voice tailed off in threatening fashion.

He shrugged his shoulders. "Mebbe they waant me tae send in a status repoart, because some o' these things oan the list areny covered in yur guarantee oanywey, an' some o' them, weel, ye need tae get the sub-coantractors oan the job ..."

I seethed quietly and asked for elucidation.

"Well, the cracks in the inside walls are doon tae settlement, so we dinny touch them. The scratched windaes areny us; that's the windae coantracturs. An' the garage door that willny loack, that's the garage door coantracturs. An' the roughcast ootside, that'll need the roughcastin' guy tae come an'

inspect it. An' the kitchen taps that're no workin' right, plus the smell in the doonsterrs toilet, that'll be the plumbers. An' the ..."

"Hang on!" I held up an arm. "You've told me what you can't do. Could you tell me what you can do? Like, what's on your precious line?"

He brought out a very small memo pad and squinted closely at it. "Ye've goat some Artex oan yer dinin' room ceilin' that's no' right," he smiled uncertainly. "An' that's doon tae us. But the Artex man's oan hoaliday jist now. Kin we come back next week fur that?"

I shut the door in his face and went to open a bottle of wine. In the circumstances, it seemed the best thing to do.

Thursday

I have been receiving several e-mail messages from former school classmates as a result of joining the Friends Reunited website last month. As yet, I had still to avail myself of full membership facilities, being somewhat reluctant to divest myself of the pound;5 fee.

However, I had become intrigued by the large number of entries from former pupils at Greenfield Academy (and its previous incarnation as Parkland High ), whose chat-room recollections required full membership to access. A swift, on-line revelation of my credit card details allowed me full and unrestricted access at last. And what a shock I got!

It was certainly interesting to learn of Tommy McShane's enormous success in the undertaking business and Marlene Beveridge's prodigious talents in the world of topless modelling. But I was completely unprepared for the scurrilous and unwonted attacks on my pedagogical methods as posted on the Parkland Former Pupils' Notice Board.

"Who remembers Tosser Simpson?" read one such entry. "I failed my O grades because of him."

"Me too!" rejoindered another. "He was completely hopeless. I think he spent most of his time shagging Miss Strangelove instead of marking our essays."

"And what about the time he crashed the school minibus?" asked another. "What a dobber!"

At least that comment had veracity on its side, even if it was a very long time ago. But as to the others (and a few more that I haven't time to document), the electronic conversation had been a tissue of scurrilous lies. No matter how much attention I might have foolishly lavished upon Fiona Strangelove, I can only repeat that my amorous endeavours were entirely unrequited.

And as for the attacks on my professional integrity, well, perhaps it's safest to say that I intend leaving the matter in the hands of my lawyer. I think the proprietors of Friends Reunited might live to regret their electronic initiative!

Friday

This morning, I decided to throw out all my Higher English teaching notes and start again, until Mr Young caught me in the process of filling my fourth black refuse sack and gave me pause for thought.

"Hang on, Morris," he cautioned. "Isn't that a bit wasteful?"

"I don't think so," I shook my head. "I've spent three years trying to keep up with the new syllabus and now they've chucked half of it out."

"Well, they have for now," he warned patiently. "But remember Mr Pickup's theory of circumlocutory reform?" he reminded me of our late - and cynical - colleague. "He'd be laughing at all of this because the English Higher is now virtually the same as it was 15 years ago, except it's easier.

"Mark my words, Morris. Put these lesson plans in a time capsule and in another 10 years people will be asking 'So what's new?' Because in five years somebody will start chirruping that it's unfair to base so much on the external exams and why don't we assess talking and listening skills because they're so essential to English? And they'll set up review groups that suggest taping talks, monitoring discussions, making videos of speeches and all the rest of the ruddy paraphernalia that we've gone through since the last reform.

"Keep your lessons safe, Morris," he advised sagely. "Label them 'To be opened in 2010' and you'll be first in line for the next decade's bandwagon. If we're all spared until then."

It was an unusually negative comment from my principal teacher. But I decided to heed his words and retrieved the binbags. Just in case.

Next month: an old flame gets lit up on Friends Reunited. Are marital problems on the way?

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