Surprise broadsides to end another year


At last, the final week of term! I spent a desultory morning clearing the massive accumulation of detritus from my pigeon hole. You name it, it was there: staff circulars, publishers' leaflets, council directives, the new referral scheme (now discredited and abandoned), Richard Dick's guidelines for his Staff Member of the Month initiative (equally discredited and abandoned), Scottish Executive initiatives on teaching styles, on probationer arrangements, on citizenship education and on public-partnership programmes. And so the list went on; all of it none the worse for going straight into the wastepaper bin.

There was only one piece worth salvaging, as far as I was concerned, and that was the union's cut-out-and-keep guide to salary scales, which at last sees me on something approaching a reasonable wage after 18 years in the job. And all without any significant commitment to continuing professional development either! I folded it neatly into my wallet.

Then I came across one final glossy sheet of coloured A5 paper at the bottom of the pigeon hole. It heralded "The National Debate on Education" and invited submissions "by the end of this week". I must say it was the first I'd heard of it, but Mr Grieg thought he'd seen a notice about it on the staffroom wall some weeks ago.

"Yes, there it is," he confirmed, lifting several pupil exclusion notices as well as George Crumley's listing of "Dangerous Parents".

"Started a few weeks ago, I think. There was a meeting in the town hall, if I remember rightly."

I shrugged. "Pity nobody told us about it."

Then I rolled the leaflet into a neat little ball and kicked it into the wastepaper bin. "One-nil!" I chortled with glee. "I should be in Japan, don't you think, Gregor?"

He shook his head sorrowfully and told me I was demob happy. Maybe he's right.


My end-of-term euphoria hit the brick wall of classroom reality this afternoon.

Darlinda George (S2) seemed to be having immense difficulty staying awake during my pep talk on preparing for Standard grades and I had cause to remonstrate with her on several occasions for allowing her head to droop.

"Darlinda!" I finally thumped my fist on her desk as she slunk once more into recumbent pose. "What on Earth's the matter with ...?"

"Check oot the lunch boax, sur!" called Stephen Rose. "She's bin oan the bevvy!"

Darlnda's eyelids rose heavily and her jaw sunk slowly as she sought her betrayer. "Whits ee shayin?" she slurred before surrendering to the arms of Morpheus once more.

I did as suggested and found the remains of an alcopop drink, complete with icebox to keep it cool. It was impossible to remonstrate with the girl herself, so I assured the class that I'd be dealing with the matter after the lesson.

Half an hour later I was on the telephone. "Mrs George?" I spoke hesitantly, unsure how Darlinda's mother would take the news that her daughter had been caught with illicit drink in her lunch box. I needn't have worried.

"Aye?" she questioned me after I had explained the matter. "So whit? It's her birthday, Mr Simpson. Ah pit the drink in hur lunch boax. It wis a wee birthday treat. Anythin wrang wi that?"

"Only the fact that it's illegal, Mrs George, not to mention the fact that it's in strict contravention of school rules.

"As Darlinda's guidance teacher, I'm responsible for her moral education, and I"

"But you didny even know it wis her bloody burthday, did ye? Some fuckin guidance teacher you are!" With which remark she slammed down the phone.

With a mother like that, is it any wonder Darlinda is as she is? I scuttled over to Mr Crumley's listing of "Dangerous Parents" and added Mrs George to the inventory.


Greenfield Academy is getting its own social workers. Alas, their presence is largely for pupil support rather than staff, as we learned this morning when Mr Dick introduced them.

"Sonia McEwan and Derek Jones are already known to some of you I" (my mind shuddered in a 10-year recollection of an arson attack during a holiday arranged by the social work department for two of our most recalcitrant pupils) "and they'll be starting as permanent staff members from the beginning of next term. They just wanted to give you a quick overview of their remit, if nobody minds giving up their interval? I've asked Mr Dallas to delay the bell until they're finished."

Given the pathetic numbers of pupils that were in school, it hardly mattered, but there was a principle at stake here and several staff feathers were ruffling ever so strongly at the hijacking of their free time.

But, insensitive to the general mood, Ms McEwan proceeded to outline their strategy.

"We're here to act as a conduit," she explained ingenuously. "If any of the children have got a problem they can't discuss with anyone else, they can refer themselves to us and come for a 'time-out' from class."

There were some sceptical mutterings, but they were interrupted by Miss Tarbet asking a question, no doubt mindful of her fourth year home economics class: "And if we want to refer any of them?"

"That's fine," assured Mr Jones, "but the kids are at liberty to decline the invitation to speak to us if they'd rather not."

"Hang on a bit!" queried Frank O'Farrell. "So that means they can tell us they're going to see you, but we can't tell them they've to go and see you."

"That's right," smiled Ms McEwan. "It's all based on trust and confidence. We can access the pupils' personal records, but nobody on the staff can access the details of our conversations with them, not even the headteacher," glancing at Mr Dick, who was preening himself in the corner.

"Indeed," he confirmed. "This is quite a coup for the school, getting our own social workers, and I've got complete confidence in Sonia and Derek to do their best for the most disadvantaged kids in our cohort."

"And no bloody trust in his staff to let them know what the kids are worrying about," muttered George Crumley. "Or even to let them know what allegations the kids are making against us! Talk about a charter to make up stories.

"Wait until some of that lot get hold of their newest list of human bloody rights," he glanced over at his "Dangerous Parents" chart, at almost exactly the same moment that it caught Ms McEwan's eye.

"And I think staffroom charts such as that one," she inclined her head towards the wall, then turned to our figurehead, "don't really have a place in a school of the 21st century, Mr Dick."

"Couldn't agree more, Sonia," he agreed unctuously. "We'll remove it as soon as you're finished."

The staffroom was silent. Ms McEwan had just made 52 very angry enemies. For one so apparently sensitive to the emotions of highly charged individuals, she didn't seem to notice. Or mind.


Tonight was the end-of-term party for our senior pupils, now confined to school premises after every restaurant and hotel within striking distance had declined to accept a booking from Greenfield Academy's senior pupils. Experience is a hard taskmaster.

Despite this, they managed to cause the usual havoc and disruption to local residents that has become such a traditional part of the academic year's final social event. Karen Porter and Brian Finlayson, for whom I once held out hopes of academic promise, concluded their evening by being simultaneously sick over the janitor's prize rose garden, while Steven Austin and Stuart Monteith sealed their lifelong friendship with a ferocious and animalistic fight along Rockston Avenue that had every household light coming on and was only halted by the eventual arrival of a police patrol car.

It's a pity that such colourful procedures are unlikely to feature in the deliberations that constitute the National Debate on Education.


As I was completely bereft of pupils this afternoon, our last before six glorious weeks of freedom, I slipped out of school a little early. Not for me the staffroom buffet with its warm white wine and assorted nuts from a communal bowl. Rather, I wanted to be on hand to greet Margaret coming out of school after her last day in Primary 1.

It was an emotional moment: unlike her father, she wasn't particularly enamoured by the prospect of a six-week break. On the contrary, she was desperately sorry to be leaving Mrs Blantyre behind, as her tear-stained face betrayed when she faltered towards the school gate.

"Daddy," her lip quivered. "I don't want to stop going to school. I like it so much."

A lump of glutinous phlegm rose unbidden to my throat and I bit back my own tears as I picked her up to bestow a cuddle. And then I thought back to the past three days and realised that this was probably what Darlinda George, or Karen Finlayson, or Steven Austin, or even Stuart Monteith looked like and felt like at the end of their first year in primary school.

I wonder what we do to them in the 12 years after that? Now there's a subject for the National Debate.

Next month: more snagging problems in their new house make an unhappy summer break for the Simpson family.

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