Today's in-service day saw the opening of a seminal academic session, one which will witness the final spasm of Standard grades. Alas, whilst their introduction in the 1980s was accompanied by an influx of substantial funds for training and resource materials, any such largesse this time around seems to be in short supply.
However, one similarity to the 1980s is that our new exam plans don't have the wholehearted support of the profession yet. Frank O'Farrell of modern studies, in particular, remains scathing about what the National 4 plans mean for his third-year "guinea pigs", as he reckons that qualification to be worthless. "I'll be starting this week with the South African option," he explained this afternoon, "and because they'll be getting taught at N4 and N5 levels, they'll be able to see a real example of apartheid in action. I'll be able to tell them that "in 2014, some of you will sit exams at National 5. And some of you will not. Thereby highlighting the perfect example of an entire generation of kids being disenfranchised by removing their opportunity for some sort of valid certification when they leave school!"
It seems a harsh judgement on the credibility of future internal assessment by his peers, not to mention the moderating activities of SQA.
The new first-years seem a pleasant bunch, as I pointed out to Kevin Muir, our depute head, this morning: "That Samuel Smyth and his pals in 1N are delightful children, really keen on joining the Scripture Union."
"Ah, yes, he's part of the Abbotsgrange diaspora," Kevin explained. "I think there were about four or five of them went to Rockston Primary when."
"Abbotsgrange?" I queried. "The private school that closed two years ago?"
"Yep," he confirmed. "When they shut up shop, most parents sent their kids to other private schools. But some decided to save themselves eight grand a year, and pitched their lot in with the state sector. Hence the likes of Samuel, Thomas and Mark joining us, and thereby letting us inch a little closer to being truly comprehensive! Not to mention Tabatha and Mary, of course - delightful children, all of them," he agreed.
Not all of the first-years are proving as biddable as "The Apostles" (as depute head Mr Atkinson has rather aptly termed Sam Smyth's little coterie). In fact, some of them seem to be exhibiting behaviour patterns whose prurience is well beyond the norm for their age group, as reported by Stephanie Bowman of art and design this afternoon.
"My God!" she exclaimed. "You wouldn't believe it! I've spent hours of time, and sackloads of money, on making my classroom a warm and welcoming haven of creativity and reassurance, with the biggest collection of cuddly teddy bears this side of a Steiff Festival around every window ledge. And, d'you know what 1N had done while I was in the store cupboard getting felt?"
Frank Atkinson sniggered, but she silenced him with a look. "Old joke, Frank. Shut it. Anyway, the little buggers had rearranged the whole display, so that every single teddy was in a position of copulation with another one! And some of them were in threesomes!"
Apparently, Sam Smyth and his friends were the only ones to avoid suspicion: Stephanie reported that each and every one of them had covered their eyes while she silently, grimly, restored each bear to a position of decency before starting the lesson .
I saw Bill Reid of maths this morning, for the first time this term. "Gosh," I conceded admiringly. "You've lost weight during the summer holidays."
"Yeah, Morris," he confirmed. "I think it was mainly down to the time I spent at SQA this summer."
"But how did that help you lose weight?" I queried.
"Well, in the old days, we used to be compensated for the lousy money on offer `cos they booked us into a decent hotel with a decent lunch, plus some cookies and filter coffee for our breaks. Now we're crammed into a rabbit hutch in their own offices, issued with a single Nescafe sachet each, plus a Rich Tea biscuit for morning break - and the lunch arrangements are on a par with my father's community meals service - ie, a small dish of reheated soup and a couple of sandwiches.
"I've told them they should patent it as `The SQA Diet' and start up in competition with Atkins and the like. After all, they're looking for any new sources of income they can find these days."
I realised that Ms Bowman was having more trouble with 1N this morning when I walked past her door and saw her holding a small brown teddy bear aloft, her face a picture of outrage.
"Right!" she was shouting loudly. "Wednesday's rearrangement of my teddies was mildly amusing, but this has gone too far. I want to know who has sodomised Barclay, my favourite bear!"
Closer inspection of Barclay revealed that he was sporting an extremely thick wax crayon from his rear end, an action that had clearly sent Stephanie over the edge. I didn't reckon much for her chances of identifying the culprits, but she told me later that she'd had an anonymous note fingering Dylan Galloway and Darren Harris.
"Well, it wasn't that anonymous," she conceded. "It came with a little Bible text appended, saying `By their deeds shall ye know them'."