A week of twists, turns and shocks

7th May 2004 at 01:00

There was a surprising curricular announcement on Richard Dick's e-mail to all staff this morning.

"I am considering slight amendments to the S1 timetable next session," it began, innocently enough, "and I would welcome the views of all staff, as it has never been my policy to impose change from above.

Rather, I want to move ahead on a consensual basis that has the backing of a majority of staff members."

"That'll be a first," I muttered to myself, before my eyes opened wide in amazement as I scrolled down the screen and read of our headteacher's plans to dispense with history as a core subject for next year's intake.

"In recent years, the subject has been increasingly viewed as less relevant to the needs of our pupils," it explained the thinking behind the move, "and option choices at S3 would confirm this view. We need to offer an education suited to the needs of our cohort and it is my intention to replace history with a broad-based series of modules on citizenship and vocationally related units which we plan to develop with Milton FE College."

I gasped in disbelief. Dropping history from the curriculum? Sandra Denver (formerly our principal teacher of history, before the job-sizing exercise) will be spitting blood, I thought to myself. But I soon realised that our Machiavellian headmaster had bought her off already.

"Well, of course it makes me sad, Morris," she explained when I made enquiry of her at morning break, "but with Mike Thomas moving north next session, the history staff would be down to one. So when Mr Dick suggested putting me in charge of citizenship rather than handing it straight to Frank O'Farrell in modern studies, well, it just made so much more sense."

"But surely you'll still be reporting to Frank if it comes under social subjects?"

"Doesn't bother me," she shrugged, "because I'll still be on the same salary as him, conserved, remember? And the other half of the deal is that I get an extra three free periods a week to prepare the citizenship materials.

"And the school will get HMI brownie points for attending to national priority number four. So, it's a win-win situation for everyone, Morris."

Except for anyone interested in cultural respect, I thought quietly to myself.

This was how it all started with Classics, of course: sideline the teachers into apparently important jobs and then wait for the subject to wither on the vine and the teachers to retire. Change and decay is not in it.


Tom Walker, our principal teacher of sport and leisure activities (formerly PE), is still awaiting a positive response to his application for early retirement. Having been in receipt of a bumper pay award as a result of last year's job-sizing arrangements, he has decided that he would rather concentrate on the latter part of his current job description, complete with a considerably enhanced final pensionable salary.

"I hope he gets it," I offered my views to a largely disinterested staffroom audience at lunchtime. "After all, he suffers terribly from sciatica and his hernia operation took a terrible toll on the extra-curricular activities."

"Hang about," chimed in Mr Walsh of computing. "Tom Walker's not taken a football team out on a Saturday since the strike of '86, so I don't think it was his operation that stopped all that."

"Well, no," I conceded, "but he did do the basketball on Wednesday afternoons for quite a while."

"Hah! Only so he could escape planned activity time back in the late '90s," retorted Mr Walsh.

"Well, maybe," I shrugged. "But I still think it would be good if he got it. They could use some young blood in the PE department."

Ms Honeypot froze me with a look and started to roll up the sleeves of her tracksuit.

"Present company excepted, Joyce," I assured her with a broad smile. Which was rather gallant of me: she must be well the wrong side of 40 by now.


"Coarse" David McManus, our former principal teacher of biology (thanks to job-sizing he now reports to our former PT of chemistry Mr Victor, who's now head of science and chemistry), was looking particularly woebegone this morning. I made the mistake of enquiring after his health and the even bigger mistake of using a literary allusion in so doing.

"Oh what can ail thee, Knight at arms, alone and palely loitering?", I asked solicitously. Sadly, he didn't get the reference.

"What the bloody hell are youse oan aboot, Morris? Huv youse been oan the drugs again?"

"No, no. Not at all. You just looked a bit down, that's all."

"Och, it's jist that it's ma berrs day, that's all."

"Berrs day?"

"Aye. Berrs."

"Oh, you mean bears? What's a bears day?"

"It's the day ah get ma Intermediate 1s, the berrs. Thur completely uncontrollable, completely unbiddable, completely bloody awful.

"Y'know, Morris, there ur days ah still love teachin. And they're all noan-berrs days, when youse wake up and think 'Thank Goad it's no a berrs day'."

Gosh, I thought to myself. If even Coarse Davie can't keep the lower orders entertained, what hope is there for the rest of us?

"D'ye know ah even resorted tae tellin them that joke about the police hoarse an the truncheon the other day tae try an get thum back oanside.

Nevur failed afore. Didny wurk wi this moab. They couldny unnerstaun it," he shrugged his shoulders.

That settled it for me as well. If the kids didn't settle down after hearing Coarse Davie's police horse joke, then standards must be falling. I wonder if I should let the Education Minister know.


Bill Dunbar (maths) arrived back at lunchtime from what I had understood would be a full in-service day aimed at examining and improving current cluster group arrangements for the implementation of 5-14 maths.

"Did it finish early, Bill?" I questioned.

"Nope. I did," he explained curtly. "I decided I had better things to do than being patronised by an educational development officer who didn't know anything about secondary maths teaching and had organised a conference for 150 people without thinking to lay on any morning coffee."

The woman's ignorance was understandable in Bill's eyes, but the omission of coffee was unforgivable.

"And then she had the cheek to round off the morning with a speech that assured us we were the 'valued people' in education. Hah! So valued that they can't afford a cup of morning coffee, apparently.

"And then the lunch they'd provided was a ruddy buffet, with only one side of the table available for serving yourself and a consequent queue full of 125 shrieking and gabbling primary wifies that, frankly, I couldn't face joining. So I came back here to get on with something that would really help the kids doing 5-14 maths - teaching them!"

I wasn't sure if I approved of his actions but I was certainly glad to miss the afternoon "please take" session I was due to do for him.

And Gail, who had been at the self-same course for her primary school, applauded his actions as I recounted the tale over dinner tonight. However, in the interests of primarysecondary liaison, I decided not to pass on Bill's description of her colleagues. Some things are better left unsaid.


Ms Denver's hopes for a new career in citizenship training look likely to be dashed. Mr Dick has announced his imminent retirement and there is a consequent freeze on curriculum change until a new headteacher is appointed.

This (extremely early) departure has taken everyone by surprise, not least Tom Walker, who still awaits a puff of smoke from the council offices.

In fact, if rumour is to be believed, it would appear that the limited funds available for early retirement packages this summer have already been allocated and announced. Included in these authority packages are, allegedly, four headteachers and a smaller number of classroom teachers.

"It looks as if the pool of money available has gone on the big guys at the top," Tom fumed bitterly as he shared the news with a sympathetic group of listeners. "So the halt and the lame, like me, are going to have to struggle on, whilst Richard Dick and his cronies bugger off to the golf course come next August.

"I'll tell you this!" he waved a finger angrily aloft. "If the new head thinks I'll be doing any extra-curricular sport after this kick-in-the-teeth, then he - or she - can think again!"

There were a few coughs and mutterings as everyone looked down at the floor. There can be a limit to group sympathy and Tom's mention of his extra-curricular efforts had closed the moment with some embarrassment. But it does seem unfair to him, that's all I can say.

From a more selfish viewpoint, I won't be sorry to see the back of Mr Dick.

His attitude towards me has been largely aggressive and offensive in turn.

I certainly hope our new head (who will surely have learned significantly better man management techniques through the good offices of the Scottish Qualification for Headship) will give better leadership to Greenfield Academy. It will be a significant time of upheaval, what with moving into the new building (if it's ready).

I'm moved to reflect that this will be my fourth headteacher since I started teaching at the school nearly 20 years ago. I wonder if it's too much to hope that this one might like me better than the previous three. It shouldn't be difficult.

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