Arnold's world

1st May 1998 at 01:00
I appreciate that it is dangerous to draw conclusions about the state of our schools from anecdotal evidence. This is especially true when the anecdotes are exclusively those of the headmistress of the small comprehensive where I am privileged to serve as governor. I met up with her recently to discuss which VIP we might prevail upon to distribute prizes at Speech Day, and found her in unusually expansive mood.

Although she is a Girton scholar who achieved one of the best Thirds of her year, as well as a Blue for Cribbage, her once razor-sharp faculties have been dulled. She blames this on the stresses of the job; others blame the alarming cocktail of Prozac, Oil of Evening Primrose and Harvey's Bristol Cream upon which she relies to sustain her through the terrors of a typical working day.

She hasn't read a newspaper since education's rudder was in the firm grip of Sir Keith Joseph (whom, incidentally, she stalked throughout most of the long holiday of 1979). But her chiro-podist does and, while persevering with a peculiarly persistent verruca, told her about the remarks Mr Blunkett made to the teachers who staged the angry protest at the NUT's Easter conference. Having chastised them in no uncertain terms, Mr Blunkett added: "The great comfort is, you're a very, very tiny minority!" The headmistress believes that he is being dangerously complacent, as she explained to me, over a succession of large sherries at our meeting. She conceded that the trouble-makers on her staff amount to no more that an insignificant, if persistent, handful. But, she added, from small acorns do mighty watchamacallits grow. Teachers, she warned, are becoming increasingly belligerent. She explained that she had only managed to assert her authority at the last staff meeting by announcing that, if provoked, she was prepared to use tear gas and water cannon. Apparently, the threat was met by an embarrassed shuffling of feet, and, apart from the few who offered to drive her to our local cottage hospital, staff dispersed in stunned silence.

She is convinced that this is merely the lull before the storm. With obvious regret - and obvious slurring of her speech - she shared with me her growing conviction that there will be an inevitable escalation in hostilities. She believes, for example, that the RE department is about to issue a fatwa against her, that special needs is importing arms from Libya, and that modern languages now has a provisional wing.

Her morale, however, is surprisingly high. Despite the delirium tremens, she has lost none of the steely determination that once made her the scourge of Girton's cribbage tables. She has already decided to devote the monies originally allocated for supply cover to hiring a crack squad of SAS-trained mercenaries to act as her Praetorian Guard. She has also applied for lottery funding to purchase an M45 grenade launcher with which to arm the one deputy who remains loyal.

Of course, the governors have begged inspectors to visit the school, but the only ones who have done thus far are a group from the United Nations, following an erroneous telephone tip-off (the voice was female) that the physics department had the wherewithal to manufacture a small nuclear device.

It's going to be a long hot summer. But it does, at least, help us to resolve the problem of finding a suitable guest speaker for Speech Day. We have invited Ms Kate Adie.

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