A tough career to tackle

2nd April 2004 at 01:00
The continuing adventures of Morris Simpson.


This week sees the third year away on work experience, and I have to say that I've been delighted to lose the responsibility for making the necessary arrangements, having been stripped of my guidance responsibilities under last summer's "McCrone" implementation.

At last, some of our senior management are discovering the diverse nature of problems that such events can pose - not least, the issue of interpreting exactly what our careers programme's software recommends when the third year key in their interests and ask for suggested life-paths.

Mary Baxter, for example, had assiduously entered her life-long devotion to animals, supplemented by a more recent biological enthusiasm for understanding their anatomical composition, only to be advised by the subsequent print-out that she might consider a career as a "quality butcher".

The girl was singularly unimpressed, so it was just as well that her father had pulled some Rotary contact strings at work and had got her a more appropriate placement at the local SSPCA (Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) office instead.

More difficult to place was Tanya Thomas, upon whom Kevin Muir spent an inordinate amount of time. Muir is one of our recently-appointed depute heads, and he had struggled to find a local hospital that could accede to Tanya's wishes for "ER-style operating theatre experience".

He had, of course, explained to her that such excitement was unlikely in the placement he had secured, but she departed for Parkland General this morning, leaving classmates agog with the news that she is going to "clap eyes" (and I quote) "on a whole pile o' men's tackle" when (as she anticipates) she witnesses a series of vasectomy operations.

Personally, I doubt whether the hospital will allow a 15-year-old schoolgirl such close proximity to operations of this nature, but she seemed fairly certain, so in the absence of any direct knowledge concerning her placement, I simply wished her all the best for the week.


Mrs Jackson has mounted an enormous publicity drive to press home the message that her department is henceforth to be recognised for the provision of additional support needs rather than the outdated terms "learning support" or (heaven forfend!) "special needs".

To this end, she invited the Parkland Gazette to record today's departmental prizegiving for the first and second year Underachievers Achievers' Awards, the latest in a series of oxymoronic celebrations designed to assure the sub-literate members of that population that there is indeed a point in turning up for school of a morning.

By the simple expedient of recording 80 per cent attendance and completing a fairly basic set of life-skills worksheets, the children in question are being honoured with cinema vouchers and - if progress continues apace - the prospect of a half-day off school next term.

Of course, I'm more than happy to support encouragement by any means possible, but it does strike me that it gives the wrong message to our more industrious pupils when the likes of "Mainstream Michael" Kerr, Peter Westhouse, Ryan Hedgcock and Melissa Chalmers are all lauded to the heavens for "achieving" what most of us would regard as a fairly standard aspect of school life.

On the other hand, I can hardly argue with the enthusiasm that this morning's photo session had elicited in the breast of "Mel C", as Melissa likes to be known.

"It wis pure dead brilliant, sur," she reported to me this afternoon. "Mrs Jackson goat us tae dae a big poster tae publicise additional support needs, so me an' Ryan did a huge banner, an' we strung it up acroass the back o' Mrs Jackson's room, an' the Gazette guy took loadsae photies, sur.

He says we'll be famous, an' everywan'll want wur autographs.

"Dye think they wull, sur?" she questioned anxiously.

"I'm sure they will, Melissa," I muttered quietly, fingers crossed quietly - but ever so tightly - behind my back.


Work has restarted at our new school building after another construction company took on the work abandoned by Kostuss, the multi-national corporation whose collapse into administration caused the complete cessation of all building activity at the turn of the year.

Surprisingly enough, all of the personnel involved in the original building process seem to have reappeared on site, and it looks for all the world as if they are returning from holiday, rather than recovering from the body-blow of their employers being declared bankrupt.

Richard Broadbent (another of our deputes) explained to me that this was fairly standard procedure in the building industry, and that everything was now proceeding in line with expectation regarding our new school. Except for the money that the authority's lost with the original contractors, of course.

Meanwhile, Sandra Bradford (principal curriculum teacher, maths and home economics) is extremely anxious that we move into the new school as soon as possible. She has grown understandably frustrated with the tall - and very open - stairwells that form such a major part of our temporary accommodation within the former Rockston FE College.

"If I've caught one child trying to spit down the stairs, I've caught 50!"

she explained angrily as the lunch break finished, "but today's been the final straw. Some little bastards have been at the top of the stairs when I was in the stairwell trying to organise the first year lunch queue, and d'you know what they did?"

The staffroom shook a collective head. "Emptied a can of Irn-Bru from three flights up!" she announced to a sympathetic audience. "Just look at my hair!" she ran a dampened and sugary hand through a bedraggled cranium.

"And by the time I realised what'd happened and looked up, well, they'd gone, obviously. But if I ever get my hands on them..."

Her expression bade ill for the miscreants, but I don't reckon much to her chances of catching them unless we install CCTV.

Personally, I think I'd start organising the lunch queues from within the dining hall itself, and put the first years in the stairwell instead.


The roof repairs at Rockston Primary are gathering pace. Having spent the last 15 years with a leaking roof, my wife's school is at last being given a new coating of felt to its stubbornly flat surface.

Gail wonders why they can't just put a slope on it and stop the rot once and for all, but such a sensible solution doesn't appear to be in the running. Anyway, the repairs this week mean that her class continues to have lessons in the gym hall while the contractor attempts to finish the work - and have his invoice submitted - by the end of the financial year. I worry that this could result in a case of "more haste, less speed", but we shall see.

I was explaining the situation at lunchtime to a sympathetic audience when Sandra Bradford chanced into the room on her way to lunch duty.

"Hmmph!" she commented scornfully. "At least she's only got to contend with rainwater flushing down upon her. How would she like to deal with the first year lunch queue at Greenfield Academy!"

I raised a hand in submission, and conceded her greater danger. But I probably annoyed her slightly with my subsequent comment as she left the staffroom.

"Gardeyloo, Sandra," I called after her. "Gardeyloo."

She stopped in her tracks and frowned severely at me.


"Hope is a good breakfast, but it is a bad supper."

Thus, Francis Bacon. And thus, alas, Tanya Thomas and Mary Jackson.

First, to Miss Thomas, whose revelatory hospital experiences proved significantly less exciting than anticipated. Her hopes of witnessing several vasectomies had apparently been based upon Kevin Muir's explanation that she would be "working in the sterilisation unit" of Parkland General's operating theatre.

"It wis crap, sur!" she complained to me in English this morning, having signed herself off a day early. "It wisny sterilisin' like ah thought, wi'

seein' guys' wullies, an' that. It wis jist that ah wis helpin' tae bile up instruments fur oaperations, an' makin' sure they were sterile, like. It wis dead boarin', so it wis, sur."

I assured her that her contributions to the safe workings of the NHS would have been extremely valuable, and successfully managed to conceal a snigger.

Which is more than I managed to do when I opened the Parkland Gazette at home tonight. Because there, in all their glory, were the assembled ranks of Mary Jackson's first and second year classes, pictured in front of the poster designed by Melissa Chalmers and Ryan Hedgcock. It should have read "Achievers' Awards for Additional Support Needs".

Unfortunately, the apostrophe was misplaced (which was probably to be expected, if Mary Jackson was involved), so that it looked as if there was only one award-winner. More seriously, she had failed to check Melissa and Ryan's banner in any other respect, especially that of the need for two vowels in the word "Needs".

Consequently, we had a picture of Mary Jackson. plus her entire S1S2 cohort, in front of a poster that proudly announced the "Achiever's Awards for Additional Support Neds".

It was an unfortunate mistake, given the First Minister's current concerns...

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