Beware Ruth the dope fiend

31st January 1997 at 00:00
MONDAY: Chaos still reigns over the bussing arrangements for our pupils, but I'm having nothing more to do with the affair. Ever since Sam Paton's fleet was impounded last month because of serious breaches in safety regulations, the Parkland Gazette has been full of angry letters. Most of them accuse the education authority of endangering children's lives by awarding the school transport contract to a company whose entire maintenance system seemingly comprises an annual windscreen wash.

Meanwhile, the authority has responded angrily, in a series of politically induced accusations, that Government policy simply forces it to accept the lowest possible tender.

In effect, it seems to have washed its hands of any responsibility. And that's exactly what I'm doing over my report to the senior management team about indiscipline on the buses. Ruth Lees didn't seem too concerned when I mentioned it, to be honest. She's still too busy drawing up a register of children she considers to be suffering from Attention DeficitHyperactivity Disorder. At present it consists of over half the school population.

TUESDAY: Ruth has got Jack Boyd on the case now. Our deputy head was deep in staffroom conversation with the school's educational psychologist this morning and I couldn't help but overhear their wrangle.

"But Ms Lees," Boyd was imploring. "It's simply not possible that this many children are suffering from ADHD." He held up a fistful of computer print-outs. "Disruptive, yes, attention-seeking, maybe, but I can't possibly accept that a clinical diagnosis of -" "Well I can," insisted Ruth angrily. "That course I was on last month gave us a bucketload of specific indicators and ways to explain to parents that their children were suffering from -" "But that's exactly the problem," Boyd countered. "Most of the parents you're talking about are simply delighted to have an ADHD label attached to their children. It takes away any responsibility they should have for disciplining their children themselves and makes it a medical condition which they want cured by doctors and nurses and medicine."

"And by educational psychologists," Ruth reminded him. "And that's why I've called you in on this, Jack. The course leader insisted we get psychological reports before we can start recommending medical treatment for our worst cases and -" "But you've got 50 'worst cases' here," Boyd protested. "It's just not statistically possible that -" "Jack," she interrupted gravely. "I don't think I need to remind you that there's a chance we might soon be having to buy in your services rather than have them automatically provided. Do I?" Boyd looked puzzled. "I wasn't aware of that."

"No, well it's pretty hush-hush just now, but I gather there's a strong chance of the educational psychology service going the same way as the colleges and the trainers pretty soon. If we want you, we pay for you. If we don't, we don't."

Boyd's eyes widened. "But they couldn't do that. There's a legal responsibility upon every authority to provide -" Ruth shrugged. "Maybe there is. And maybe it's just a rumour. But we've had a lot of things happen in education these past 10 years that we never dreamt of. And I'm only passing on what I've heard . . . " she tailed off with a knowing look.

Boyd admitted temporary defeat. "Look, I'll see what I can do. But I'm not compromising my professional integrity for a quick-fix solution to the problems of recalcitrant parents."

"Oh?" Ruth arched her eyebrows, before muttering quietly to herself, as Boyd left the staffroom, "It's never stopped you before . . . " WEDNESDAY: Confusion still surrounds the role of our advisorate. Sandra Denver was bemoaning the situation at lunchtime, in particular the lack of expertise displayed in her own subject.

"It's ridiculous," she complained bitterly. "He's supposed to be advising me in history curricular development, but he's never taught anything except geography and modern studies. So you can see just how clued up he'll be on my subject's needs."

She narrowed her eyes in the direction of George Crumley on the other side of the staffroom, currently enjoying the fruits of a last-minute "quick-spend", allegedly bestowed upon his geography department with the approval of the self-same adviser.

"Consider yourself lucky he's even in the same discipline," chipped in Pamela Blane, acting principal teacher of modern languages. "Our adviser's got responsibilities in modern languages and European education. But he can't speak French. Or German. Or anything."

"And what about ours?" added Mrs Harry. "She's an enterprise adviser who's mainly taught in primaries. And meanwhile our old business studies adviser is looking after the language and expressive arts policy!" And so it went on. Further discussions revealed that of the 14 advisorate members in our newly-convened authority, only one of them has responsibilities in an area of particular expertise. Mr Welsh is the exception: as adviser for computing studies, he has apparently ended up in the subject for which he holds the relevant qualifications, expertise and respect.

"Must be a mistake," muttered Mr Pickup over the top of his crossword as he followed the discussion from afar. Little did he know . . .

THURSDAY: We had an unexpected visitor to the staffroom this afternoon. Mr Tod, ourelusive headteacher, decided to march in just as afternoon lessons were about to commence. He looked furious.

"Hullo? Who's that geezer at the door?" whispered Pickup from behind what he considered the safety of the tea urn. Unfortunately, Tod's hearing is pretty sharp and he directed an angry glance in Pickup's direction. Sensibly, though, he chose to ignore the comment and instead launched into a fierce tirade about staff punctuality for classes.

"I thought I'd made it perfectly clear in this week's staff bulletin that I wanted staff to stop lingering in here after the bell's gone," he started, "and I -" "But I don't think the bell has gone, Mr Tod," insisted Miss Honeypot.

"It most certainly has," bristled Tod, checking his watch. "At least two minutes ago and I'd be grateful if you'd all display a little more professionalism in your approach to starting work for the afternoon."

At which point he marched out of the staffroom. Pickup's reaction was to hasten to the Bullywatch Logbook he initiated last August in anticipation of Tod's increasingly volatile mood swings. He opened it grandly and entered a record of what he proudly informed us was Incident Number 97.

"It's a bit unfair, anyway," I said defensively. "I never heard the bell and obviously neither did you, Joyce?" I added to Miss Honeypot. "With all the racket in here at times you sometimes don't hear it. And I've a good mind to tell him that!" "You do that, Morris," agreed Pickup solicitously. "You do that."

I was going to thank him for his support, then remembered seeing a similar gleam in Pickup's eye on so many occasions before. Maybe I'll give myself time to cool down first.

FRIDAY: Ruth has added another folder to the staffroom table. It's entitled the ADHD At Risk Register and is intended to enlist staff' help in identifying children with Attention DeficitHyperactivity Disorder. Apparently Jack Boyd needs a wide spectrum of evidence to support any diagnosis of the 50-odd children Ruth wishes to pacify through the medicinal route of Ritalin, as recommended at her in-service course last month.

To this end she has posed some extremely leading questions about the children, all cleverly framed to secure the responses she wants.

Pickup shook his head sadly as he thumped the folder shut this afternoon. "My God, Morris. To think it's come to this: mass doping of the weans so we can all get a quiet life. And," he added with a nod towards the folder, "with a drug that's going to end up being sold on the black market by half the kids in there that she'd want to give it to."

"Oh really?" I widened my eyes in amazement.

"Yes, really," he confirmed. "Kevin Elliott's big brother would give his eye-teeth to get hold of some Speed like that and -" "But I thought it was a drug to quieten them down?" "It is," he explained patiently, "but it does that because it's actually a stimulant to the part of the brain which doesn't get stimulation in a truly hyperactive child and which otherwise results in excessive uncontrollable behaviour. The drug kind of accommodates the excess mental surges if you like. Given to the wrong person it can have a very different effect from quietening them down, believe you me - I read something about it in the paper.

"If what you said about Jack Boyd to me the other day was right, then it's the first piece of common sense I've heard from the man in 15 years, 'cos he's right: this HDAD thing's just like another dyslexia panic - a small minority of genuine cases getting swamped in the rush for attention by parentslooking for any excuse to justify their problem bloody children!" It was one of the longest - and most serious - speeches I'd ever heard from the man and I didn't know quite where to start in response. Fortunately, I didn't need to, because George Crumley arrived in the staffroom with news of further alterations to the advisorate structure. Apparently Brian Welsh has joined the merry-go-round of shifting personnel in an egalitarian attempt to ensure justice for all.

"It's true!" he beamed with delight. "They've decided that if every other subject hasn't got an adviser with specialist knowledge of the subject they're advising in, then it's unfair for computing studies to get special treatment. So they've put him in charge of technology instead and shifted thereligious education chap into computers - he's got a big Dell at home, I gather."

"But isn't technology about computers?" I queried.

"No, no," Crumley scoffed. "Technology's about design, and textiles, and food labels - the kind of thing the home economics wifie was into, before she went away to run the primary training programme."

I sighed in despair. It can't be that long to the summer holidays . . .

Next month: Mr Tod solves the problem of staff not hearing the bell and Ruth Lees starts a positive discipline strategy. Don't miss this motivational and reward-laden episode . . .

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