A poor start to the week and a bad end

24th September 2004 at 01:00

The week has started badly. And it will probably get worse.

This morning I had the misfortune of arriving in the C wing of our new school just in time to witness the after-effects of a fire extinguisher being set off. And who should be paddling around the edges of the foaming mass, grinning like the gormless idiot he is? None other than "Mainstream" Michael Kerr, our socially-included educational iconoclast.

"Michael Kerr!" I spoke sternly. "With me. To Mr Muir. Now!"

"Whit?" he challenged me instantly. "Whit fur? It wisny me. Ah never done nuthin'!"

"That's right, Michael," I agreed, "and I understand that the Pope's just abandoned Catholicism."

He looked puzzled at the reference, so I simply accompanied him to one of our many depute headteachers and heard him protest his innocence. Kevin Muir was firm in his condemnation of the act and proceeded to arrange for a suspension to take effect from next Monday.

Although the affair was a severe inconvenience to all concerned, it was good to see senior management respond in such a firm and decisive manner. I feel certain it is a way of dealing with anti-social behaviour that would meet with the approval of the First Minister.

As if that hadn't been enough irritation for one day, much of my afternoon was taken up with assuring virtually every pupil I met that I wasn't the "Real Radio Fugitive", whatever or whoever that might be.

Matters came to a head with the third years, whose repeated claims that I "must be the Real Radio Fugitive" had me threatening punishment exercises all round and almost swearing at them in the process.

Mrs Harry, of business studies, explained to me at the end of the day that it was a radio station competition which had provoked the questions.

"They're offering pound;2,000 to anyone who can challenge him. Apparently, he is in the Rockston area today and he is wearing glasses quite like yours. And apparently he is quite handsome." She pursed her lips slightly as she tried to avoid laughing.

"Well, I can see that I fit the bill in many ways, Christina," I assured her calmly. "But I can't think of many teachers who would have 2,000 quid to give away. Can you?"


At last, the data projectors are being fitted in several classrooms, but at a quite inordinate expense, I might add. Understandably, there is a cost attached to ensuring they are fitted in line with health and safety requirements and fitted by a reputable firm with full public liability insurance. But when I think of the alternative ways we could have spent that money, it causes me grievous concern.

In any case, the lack of the projectors has been a minor inconvenience when compared with the staff discontent regarding our new school's heating and ventilation systems, which are already being blamed for three unexpected staff absences this term.

Mrs Harry, in particular, has succumbed to what her doctor has described unimaginatively as a "viral condition". She has blamed it on the warmth generated by the computers in her department, allied with the body heat of her teenage charges, plus the apparent lack of any efficient heating control system in her room.

Certainly, the dishevelled appearance of the business management pupils in the please-take class I had this afternoon would have drawn sympathy from any but the severest pedagogue. And given the state of near-undress displayed by many of the girls in an attempt to remain cool, it was just as well that a happily married man such as myself was in charge. In particular, Rachel Roy's unbuttoned blouse and low-slung tie, barely covering a thrusting cleavage, was a sight to behold. Or not, rather.


The social subjects department is in trouble with our ambitious new headteacher, Patricia Gibbon, because Frank O'Farrell has refused to accede to her request to accommodate a geography student from our local institute of education, or teacher training college, as I still prefer to call it.

Apparently, the college is having great difficulty finding placements for student teachers and Mrs Gibbon was keen to help out.

"No way was I taking a geography student!" boasted our principal teacher of social subjects and modern studies specialist. "We've not got a geography PT to look after her, and that's exactly what I said to Pat Gibbon.

"If the Scottish Executive wants us to keep training subject teachers, they should have kept subject heads. That's what I told her."

"But surely you benefited from the changes to management structures after McCrone, Frank?" I queried.

"Maybe I did," he shrugged his shoulders. "But that doesn't mean I have to put myself out for a college of education geography department, does it?"

"Well, what about Ms Hasler?" I reminded him. "She's a geography teacher and she's a principal teacher as well now, isn't she?"

"Ah, yes, but being the principal teacher of the ground floor B wing requires completely different training and management skills to those of a geography PT who can mentor a subject teacher.

"Now, if this student was wanting training in line management skills, or delegation of responsibility, or leadership for change, then that would be great, because these are things that we know a lot about in education these days. It's just a pity we've forgotten about the kids and the subjects they're supposed to learn, that's all I can say."

I sighed and left.

It had seemed odd to me that one day the newspapers were saying the Executive is recruiting abroad to fill the teacher gap, but the next day were saying that we don't seem able to train the ones we've got. After listening to Frank, I think I begin to understand part of the problem.


We have discovered that the labour force carrying out the installation of the data projectors isn't as fully insured as we had been led to believe.

Unfortunately, it took a near tragic accident to reveal the fact that our public private partnership contractor, Kostuss, had subcontracted the work to a Dell-Boy-type outfit, whose approach to the job lacked the necessary skills or any element of safety whatsoever.

Of course, it would need to be in my class that this became evident.

It had been a difficult enough period already with the fourth year, what with Tony McManaman and Darlinda George protesting that they wanted to do Standard grades and not Intermediates, as well as the constant buzzing and knocking from the floor below, where a data projector was being installed in the ceiling of Bill Dunbar's room. I at last got the class settled into some kind of peaceful and industrious endeavour doing a comprehension activity. Silence reigned for at least 40 seconds, and I was mentally congratulating myself on restoring order as I sat down at my own desk to get on with some first year marking, when suddenly a fearsome drilling sound started up once more, so fearsome that it sounded as if the drill was about to come through the floor.

Which it then did.

"Jeezuss Christ!" bellowed Tony McManaman as he jumped from his desk, scattering the contents asunder. "What the fu..."

"Tony! Sit down!" I shouted.

"No way, surr!" he countered me. "No' wi' big manky drills comin' through the flair!"

Sure enough, six inches of tungsten-tipped drill bit were protruding through the floor. And the point of Tony's left shoe appeared to have suffered slight damage.

I sent a messenger to the school office to record the incident in the accident book and to inform the foreman of the near escape. Then I declared the lesson over and told 4B to finish the exercise at home.

Hard to believe, I know. But true.


Repercussions all round today.

As you might expect, Mrs McManaman (never the most supportive of parents) was at the office door this morning demanding compensation and reparation for the physical and emotional damage incurred by her precious son in yesterday's drilling misdemeanour. Mrs Gibbon is referring her to the contractor's insurers. Good luck to them all, say I.

A more serious repercussion arose in the case of Simpson versus Kerr, wherein my authority - and integrity - have been called into question. To my intense fury, both have been found wanting.

Michael Kerr's social worker, Sonia McEwan, had started the ball rolling by reporting to Mrs Gibbon and Mr Muir that Michael had felt bullied, targeted and victimised by me over the fire extinguisher incident on Monday, especially as he had been innocent of all charges laid at his door.

Mrs Gibbon approached me this afternoon and asked whether I had actually seen Kerr let off the fire extinguisher.

"More or less, Pat," I assured her. "I turned the corner after he'd just done it and he was ..."

"But you didn't actually see him do it, Morris?"

"Well, as good as. I mean, it was obvious that he'd just ..."

"But you didn't see him do it?" she insisted once more.

I sighed heavily. You can guess the rest. Kerr's suspension has been rescinded and he will remain in school, free to cause havoc and mayhem on a daily basis, while the school's authority lies tattered and challenged - successfully - once again.

Educationally, I think we have lost the will to govern.

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