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Poisoned cups all round, then

Wednesday morning It felt strange coming into school today. The entrance hall seemed eerily silent, the floors suspiciously clean. The decorators were busy changing the name on the rectorial study door: gone was Mr Tod's name, so proudly inscribed thereon for the past seven years, and on went the legend "Richard Dick, BA Head Teacher".

"I never thought I'd live to see the day," sighed George Crumley as we foregathered in the library.

"What? Richard Dick as headteacher of Greenfield Academy?" "Partly that," he acknowledged, "but more the fact that I'd ever be stupid enough to come into school for an extra in-service day during the middle of the summer holidays."

"Mm," I conceded my surprise at seeing him today. "Hoping for the new assistant headteacher's post, then?" "Obviously. Plus, I want to make sure I don't get stitched up over the first and second year timetables.

"Ever since Fast Franky got modern studies in as part of the core social subjects groupings, it's been a constant ruddy battle to keep my numbers up at third year. And rumour has it that he's going to make a move for increased sections of first year slots in exchange for helping out with the football team.

"So, as he's away on holiday just now, I thought I'd come along to get an oar in before him."

"Looks like he's thought of that himself," I observed over the top of my spectacles as Frank O'Farrell glided quietly into the library.

"Bloody hell!" swore Crumley. "He's come back early just to make sure that . . ."

He stopped as Mr Dick bustled officiously into the room and invited us all to take a seat. "Good morning, ladies and gentlemen." He seemed coiled with excitement as he surveyed the 16 of us gathered there, all with one common interest between us: a burning desire for promotion.

"I can't tell you how pleased I am that so many of you have given up an extra day's holiday in order to lay the groundwork for a smooth beginning to the session. Let me have good men and true about me - and women, of course," he smirked.

"Anyway, your presence here this morning confirms my belief that Greenfield Academy's senior staff are a testimony to the professionalism of the, er, profession. And that's why I've invited a photographer from the Parkland Gazette to mark the occasion, to let the local community know that we're going to be unceasing and unstinting in our efforts to provide a first class education for the children of this parish. So if you wouldn't mind lining up together outside . . . " We all trooped dutifully to the front door, only too painfully aware of Mr Dick's not-so-hidden agenda. I could see the caption already. "New broom sweeps clean: 'We're not going on a summer holiday,' say Greenfield Academy staff as new headteacher Richard Dick convenes a holiday meeting in preparation for the new session." It was really rather pathetic.

"Right!" congratulated Mr Dick as we reassembled in the library. "That's the most important part of the day over. The next stage is to initiate four workshops on the areas I want to ensure we're covered for next session.

"One group will be looking at the ongoing implementation of Higher Still. In the absence of our English principal teacher," he remarked acidly, "I'd like you to chair that group," he beckoned to Angela Slater, our ambitious assistant principal.

"Secondly, I want a reassessment of our first and second year provision with specific reference to whether we're fully in line with 5-14 recommendations. Pamela?" he smiled at our principal teacher of modern languages. She paled visibly. "Could you chair that group please?" Pamela pursed her lips.

"Thirdly, I want a reappraisal of our staff development and review processes. Mr Crumley, if you'd be good enough to chair that one?" George raised his eyebrows in horror, then gulped his willingness.

"And finally," continued Mr Dick, "I want an electronic communications and website strategy organised by the end of the day. Mr Simpson, I understand you've done a lot of development in that area?" "Well, not exactly," I stammered. "Ms Lees and I did a little development work together, but I've only just got a PC at home, to be honest. We really got it for Margaret, and the educational software bundle that came with it, so if you don't mind . . ."

"Good!" exclaimed Mr Dick. "That's settled then. I'd like you all to report back by 3pm. I've arranged a working lunch in the canteen for 12.15-12.45pm. Meanwhile I've got a meeting with the building contractors about the piped music system that we're installing in the chill-out room. And if the results of the two-month assessment indicate that it's a success - as I fully intend them to - then I'll be able to make a claim for its installation throughout the school by Christmas."

Piped music throughout the school? Oh well. At least if I get fed up with explaining the joys of English literature, I can organise a singalong instead.

Wednesday afternoon The day gradually got worse. Our groupings, which seemed to have been arranged by Mr Dick with the intention of placing the least compatible personalities together (a favourite management technique of his, I understand), meant that a few tempers became occasionally frayed. And his choice of subject chairs for the groupings was clearly designed to ignite strong feelings, not least in my case absolute terror.

Angela Slater was first to report back at the end of the day. Her contention was that, in spite of the Scottish Qualifications Authority allowing a further year's delay in implementing Higher Still in English, she felt very strongly that the new award would be highly suited to the more vocational aspirations of our average pupil. "And so I propose to make it plain on behalf of our group," she outlined, "that we feel it imperative that every department gets behind Higher Still with a vengeance next year."

As the opposition of her neolithic principal teacher to the new examination is widely known, I look forward to an interesting departmental meeting at the beginning of term.

Pamela Blane, in contrast, found it difficult to conceal her derision for the latest 5-14 arrangements in her own subject: "Or at least as much of them as I know about," she shook her head scornfully. "As far as I'm concerned - and the rest of my group are in full agreement with me on this one - the whole 5-14 shenanigans are a waste of everyone's time and the sooner we get back to giving them a fresh start in first year without trying to merge in with the reporting systems of 15 different schools, the better!" Mr Dick wasn't terribly pleased. "That's not really the kind of negative sentiment I like to hear, Pamela," he said, jotting something down. "But I've noted your reservations about national assessment policies and I'll be more than happy to pass them on at the next school board meeting.

"George?,",he raised his eyebrows at Crumley.

George played things a little more safely. "Well, we're all in favour of a proper staff development and review procedure if it's funded properly, Mr Dick. And as far as we understand it, we're all entitled to two hours off - or, rather, two hours of personal reflection - before being paid at an hourly rate for the duration of our interview. If you can confirm that, then I think you'll find very little opposition to the scheme we've been examining this afternoon.

"Now, if I could just bring up the matter of time allocation for social subjects, then we could . . ."

"I'm sorry, George," Mr Dick said holding up his hand. "That's not on the agenda today. And although I can't confirm the exact details of what you've just requested in return for the new staff development procedures, I think you'll find that, in broad-brush terms, I've got every sympathy with what you're saying.

"Now, Morris," he turned to me. "What ideas have your team got ready to run up the flagpole?" I gulped and took a deep breath. "Well, we're all in agreement that the school needs an e-mail facility as a first priority and that we should be exploring the possibilities of hosting our own website as soon as possible. Mr Connolly should be able to help with the initial set-up, and . . ."

"Yes, but Mr Connolly's not here," he emphasised, "is he Morris? So, although I'm sure that the computing department will bring a lot of technical know-how to the scheme, what this project needs is somebody to drive it, Morris. And I think you'll be that man.

"Now, if there are no more questions, I think we should conclude the day with a discussion of how we can put the best spin on our SQA exam results once they're finally issued."

My mouth opened to protest but no words came out. Meanwhile my peers looked on with a mixture of pity and amusement. But mostly amusement.

Morris Simpson, principal teacher guidance and website development manager. Talk about a poisoned chalice.

John Mitchell Next month: a new principal teacher of biology for Greenfield. But just who is "Course Davie"?

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