Appraisal, but not as we know it

20th September 1996 at 01:00
I had called in at Royal Terrace ostensibly to find out whether the Special Teaching Service, the GTC's covert operations division, had any work for me. My real purpose was to find out whether they intended to pay a fellow Skoda owner for a piece he'd written in their Link rag. There was a bottle of Irn Bru and a plate of pakora in it for me if I got a result. Finding no one who could help, I decided to visit Q in the basement.

I liked the short-tempered, old ex-science technician and he didn't seem to mind my company so long as I didn't look like damaging any of the devices he'd invented to make life easier for teachers.

"Ah, morning, Harrass," he said. "Been abducted by aliens again recently?" "Keep quiet about that," I said. "You're the only one who knows. What's this?" I asked. Some sort of weighing machine?" "It's an 'I speak your appraisal' unit. You stand on it, type in your targets for the coming year and it talks, then produces a print-out."

"Can it really assess a guy?" "Of course not, but it has one advantage over conventional appraisal. Watch." He put an old packing case on the machine, flipped a lever and pressed a red button. The case shot through a hatch in the ceiling. "This method actually gets rid of the bad ones," he said, displaying his rare smile.

"Who presses the red button?" I asked.

He didn't answer, but led me to a console with a whole bank of red buttons, each with a name under it. "This is a Foul Air Reduction Terminal," Q explained. "If a teacher has trouble with a persistently flatulent pupil he can activate an electronic sparker under the seat."

"Stop!" I yelled. "I've heard enough! Have you nothing to show me that isn't violent or scatological?" Q pursed his lips.

"There's this," he said, opening a cupboard to reveal what looked like a shop dummy with black shoes, grey trousers, a blue shirt with matching tie and a grey sports jacket. "It's obviously supposed to be a physics teacher," I said, "but what's it for?" "It's our latest aid for the 5-14 environmental studies programme," Q replied. "It uses the same speech chip as the appraisal machine but it's had a lot of phrases fed into it to help primary teachers with science" "How do you turn it on?" "Pull his tie."

I did so. The robot physics teacher clicked and whirred as it tilted its head downwards and raised a finger. "Ach, listen hen," it said, "just leave it to us at the big school. We'll tell you what they need to know for doing science in first year."

It's hard to talk when your bottom jaw is on the deck, but I tried. "What the hell use is that?" "Oh, it's not a teaching aid," Q shook his head vigorously. "It's a stress relief device. It's got a detachable head and comes complete with a baseball bat."

I joined in the headshaking. "Time to get out of Denver," I sighed, waving without looking back.

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