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The return of Phil Harrass private HMI

I was sitting in the apartment watching video tapes of Countdown and wondering how many letters Carol Vorderman got from sad, lonely guys saying: "I'm sure we could work something out together." Maybe one day I'd send mine.

Work for the Special Teaching Service, the covert arm of the General Teaching Council, was thin on the ground under the new political management but I was getting enough school dick work to keep me in pakora. There was a rumour going around that south of the border the Man With the Dog was recruiting for a new task force. To be called the "Men in Black", they would identify and remove incompetent teachers. The word on the street was that the slogan would be "protecting the consumer from the scum of the teaching profession".

I was speculating whether it would happen here when the doorbell rang. Two suits and a power-dresser stood on and around my signed Morris Simpson doormat. "Hell, does it take three of you to browbeat me into buying double glazing? Well, take it from me, I won't sign until . . ."

The power-dresser cut me off. "We're not here to sell windows."

It was my turn to interrupt. "Lady, if it's religion let me tell you that I meet with my God driving along dark country roads when the radio plays a forgotten song."

"Mr Harrass," said one of the suits, and I recognised the practised suppression of exasperation that comes from a couple of decades of interviewing parents, "we are here on an educational matter. May we come in?" The VCR was on pause, Carol Vorderman frozen in time with a number 75 in her hand. I flicked her off and offered my guests a seat. "So what can I do for you?" I asked. "Lend your support to our organisation," said the power-dresser.

"What organisation?" "The Campaign for Longer Hours for Teachers."

I laughed: "Hell, you're councillors. I had you down as PTs. Time to hand in my badge if I'm going to goof up like that."

The dame seemed to be doing all the talking. "But you were right, though we have infiltrated the local authorities at the highest level. We are teachers who are fed up with our pay and status. The aim is to increase a teacher's hours to eight per day and have two weeks less summer holiday, to be used for curriculum development. In return, we'd expect a top-of-the-scale point of 30K for unpromoted teachers and no more jotters going home in hold-alls."

I wasn't impressed. "If I read you right, you're trying to make teaching a profession where those in it will no longer stand for the wages because there will be nobody left who's in it for the convenience of the hours."

Nobody said anything so I kept going: "That's about the oddest blend of soullessness and naivete I ever came across. We'll start with the naivete first. Teachers already took an increase in hours with planned activity time. Are they up there now with lawyers and doctors? The hell they are."

I was about to hit them with the soullessness bit and how they hadn't taken into account that there were plenty out there who taught because they thought it was worth it in spite of everything, but all three were at the door.

I flicked the VCR back on, shooting from the hip with the remote control.

"How did they think I could help them anyway?" I asked Carol Vorderman but she was too busy picking two high numbers to answer.

Gregor Steele

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