A cause for some alarm

28th November 1997 at 00:00
Monday: A good deal of bitterness has erupted over Ms Lees's decision to axe the traditional fortnight of study leave for our senior students preparing for December prelims. Our deputy head has argued that the increasing percentage of modular courses renders the exercise a luxury which is inappropriate for the average pupil at Greenfield Academy. And she has a point: two weeks off school for a student taking one Higher and three resit Standard grades (that's one of our average pupils) was not, perhaps, the academic attainment foreseen by our forebears when instituting study leave.

But what Ms Lees forgot to take into account was the potential reaction of staff.

"Bloody hell!" swore Mr Pickup as he read the staff bulletin. "The only two weeks in the Christmas term that we can actually look forward to."

"And then there's the Scrabble championship," chimed in George Crumley. "I know it's only a mini-tournament this term, but I always felt it kept me in form ready for May's big competition at the time of the SQA exams."

"Ssh," whispered Pickup furtively. "She'll be wanting to abolish study leave for those as well if we're not careful."

I shook my head in dismay at the childishness of it all, and wandered over to the staffroom sale of goods from Miss Tarbet's social and vocational skills class, which included the usual assortment of garishly wrapped shortbread boxes, plus numerous highly illustrated stationery folders and a host of items speculatively titled "Christmas Gift Selection from the Greenfield Christmas Company". It was a tawdry collection of offerings, to be honest, but some of these pupils take their mini-enterprises very seriously, and I always reckon it worthwhile to encourage enthusiasms for the world of work that such a scheme promotes. It's the closest most of them will get to it.

I selected an item commended by Miss Tarbet as an "ideal gift for your little lady", and left my Pounds 1.50 in the box. She explained to me that it was a tastefully wrapped chocolate with an affectionate message inside, based on the successful advertising campaign of "Would you save your last Rolo for a friend?" At Pounds 1.50 for a single Rolo, some of these kids have clearly got a better notion of business acumen than I'd thought.

Tuesday: Gail was not amused at the gift from Miss Tarbet's SVS class, and I took up the matter with 4C this morning. She derived initial pleasure, certainly, upon unwrapping the tissue-enfolded offering to discover an inscription in delicate filigree handwriting: "Something tasty for your loved one - would you save your last one for a friend?" I had smiled in benevolent charm as I waited for her to discover the chocolate inside. Instead, her eyes opened wide as she hissed venomously, asked if this was my idea of a practical joke - and pulled out a strawberry flavoured condom.

I questioned Brian Booth, the managing director of 4C Enterprises (Inc), and took him to task.

"I' wis just a distribution fault, sir," he shrugged his shoulders carelessly. "Miss Tarbet's supplies wur supposed to be standard stock, but she goat a set o' the deluxe moadels by mistake - the wans wi' the coandoms in."

"You mean you meant to have some of these boxes with condoms in them?" I queried, incredulous.

"Oh aye - top sellin' range, sur. But restricted circulation, like. Only suppoased tae go tae the fourth years, like."

I was flabbergasted, and sent him to Brian Cooper with the recommendation that he be suspended on the grounds of encouraging sexual profligacy in the upper school, not to mention excessive profiteering - the condom versions were apparently selling for Pounds 3.50 each.

To my delight, Booth's suspension was announced at lunch-time, to last until the end of the week.

Wednesday: Mr Pickup has yet another bee in his bonnet, namely the latest Government plans to place Greenfield Academy at some currently unspecified point on a "school characteristic index".

"My God!" he thrust his newspaper on to the staffroom coffee table. "What next? As well as classifying us on the basis of how many kids take free school meals, they're planning to grade us according to how many parents in the school's postcode area have got higher level qualifications! It's completely barmy! They're trying to find out how many thick parents of thick children we're likely to have under our diocesan control, so they can run a pink highlighter through our name on the authority's list which assures us that - even though we only got 15 Higher passes last session - we're still doing 'the best we can for the kind of pupils we get'."

"And you think that's unfair?" "Not especially," he shrugged. "It's just a bloody stupid way of acknowledging that you can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear."

"So how would you do it, then? It's all very easy to be critical, but . . ."

Pickup held up an admonitory hand. "The answer's very simple, Morris. They ask us, the staff. They send us a questionnaire. Forget about the postcodes. Forget about the free school meals index. They just ask one simple question. Is your school - a) a thriving educational establishment with a school uniform, a rigorous homework policy and a parent teacher association? Or is it b) a sink, like most of the others? Or is it c) a complete and utter toilet? And I'd tell them, old son, where Greenfield Academy fitted into that little multiple choice!" I sighed long and hard. The most worrying aspect was that I actually found myself beginning to agree with him.

Thursday: Brian Booth is exacting a particularly tiresome act of revenge on the school for our having suspended him.

We can't prove anything, of course, but the five fire alarms that we endured today were almost certainly his doing. The rain was pouring from the heavens, of course, and the first alarm and excursion was timed to coincide with the conclusion of this morning's fourth year assembly. For 4C, it provided a welcome alternative to a kind of pre-mock-examination. Instead, I found myself in the playground along with 580 pupils plus assorted staff.

"False alarm!" announced Ms Lees quite shortly. "Back to your classes. "

We had been obeying her injunction for all of three minutes when the alarm went off again. Once more, we dutifully trooped into the playground and stood in regimented, rain-soaked lines until the all-clear was sounded.

It was during our third excursion into the playground that I noticed Brian Booth standing outside the school gates. Although not so naive as to expect that he was pining for the educational ministrations to which he'd been so recently denied access, my first thought was that he was pining for the physical proximity of Marlene Beveridge, 4C's answer to Scary Spice (but with a bigger cleavage).

It was only when we trooped into the playground for the fourth occasion that I began to realise that his narrowed eyes and self-satisfied smirk signalled something more significant than a frustrated libido. My suspicions were confirmed at 3.20pm, as those pupils who were left in the school (many had taken the 3pm alarm as signal for early release) foregathered in the playground for our final impromptu assembly of the day. Booth was grinning from ear to ear, and had both thumbs raised in salute to his 4C cohorts - until he saw me glaring fiercely in his direction.

And then - smiling triumphantly back at me, and clearly having thought back to the events of the day - the little tyke raised both hands in two-fingered salute and gestured vigorously and frantically through the railings.

Friday: Today was the end of Brian Booth's suspension. And the first day of the rest of my life, as the old saying goes.

We had a guidance staff summit meeting this morning, wherein the ransom to which the school had been held yesterday was forcefully discussed. To cut a long story short, it was decided to counsel Brian Booth and, if possible, refer him to the school's educational psychologist.

I thought Pickup was going to burst when I told him. "So that's the best guidance staff could come up with, is it?" he interrogated me. "Some little swine disrupts the entire school for a day, and all they can suggest is - oh bloody hell!" A strident klaxon told us that it was yet another fire alarm. We strolled briskly along the A floor corridor to reach our muster stations, when we chanced to see Brian Booth turning a corner ahead of us.

"Booth!" Pickup bellowed so fiercely that the boy was halted in his tracks by sheer force of volume. Gathering pace, Pickup reached him just before I did. Contrary to all professional guidelines - and glancing swiftly around to ensure that no witnesses were in evidence - Pickup grabbed the boy's arm and thrust it half-way up his back.

"Listen to me, you little twit," he spat into Booth's ear, before embarking upon a vitriolic tirade of abuse that mentioned the word castration on more than one occasion, as well as calling into question the matter of Booth's parentage, and left little doubt in the boy's mind about where blame was being fairly and squarely apportioned for our recent spate of fire alarms.

"If we have just one more fire alarm, Booth, just one more," continued Pickup in vengeful and awesome mood, "well, Mr Simpson and I will simply refuse to be held responsible for our actions. Isn't that right, Mr Simpson?" I gulped. Thoughts of GTC dismissal swam before my eyes, but I decided to bite the bullet. "That's right, Brian," I attempted a snarl, though it came out rather higher pitched than I'd intended.

Pickup inhaled deeply, and looked at me with new admiration before thrusting a foot into the small of Booth's back and sending him on his way.

"That's my boy, Morris," he clapped me on the shoulders. "That's my boy. Fancy a drink at 4 o'clock?" I blinked twice and thanked him for the offer, as well as for his disciplinary intervention. Needless to say, it was our last fire alarm of the day.

Maybe there's something to be said for a firm hand. And foot.

John Mitchell

Next month: it's Christmas party time at Greenfield Academy. Subscribe now, and don't miss December's tinsel-laden episode

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