Of boxer shorts and bullying

8th December 2006 at 00:00
Monday

Today sees the dawn of anti-bullying week, and our head is eager to jump on another bandwagon to get us in the local newspaper. Hence an oily reporter from the Parkland Gazette spent the morning in Pat Gibbon's study being fed a raft of stories about how "any school that claims it doesn't have bullying is lying, but here at Greenfield Academy we have a multi-level positive disclosure strategy designed to nip it in the bud. Bullying can take many forms, be they physical, verbal or emotional, and the staff in this school are committed to spotting it and stopping it!"

Well, that's what it said in the press release she copied to us in her "all staff" email. I wish she'd take some of her own words to heart: I'm still smarting from the dressing down I got when I showed her the letter I planned to send about "derived grades" in exam results to The TESS last week: "Morris!" she had threatened, "if you send that letter with our school's name on it, then you'll have me to answer to."

"But, Pat," I had insisted, "it's a disgrace how they're wiping this derived grades stuff under the carpet. For years we've been telling them it's unfair on schools like ours, and for years they've been telling us it's an efficient and accurate way to assess the likely grades of several hundred students without the need for unnecessary appeals."

"Well, maybe it was," she countered weakly, "but that was then, Morris, and this is "

"Outrageous, that's what it is! From what I can see, the figures for derived grades have been staggering - more than 90,000 for Standard grade alone - and the vast majority of them to better-off schools with better-off parents, and better-practised teachers at pulling the wool over the SQA's eyes! It shouldn't have been 'derived grades' - they should've called them 'contrived grades'!"

"Send it anonymously if you must, but if you so much as whisper Greenfield Academy in the content or the signing-off, you can wave goodbye to the next reference I write for you."

I wonder if the anti-bullying helpline extends to staff?

Tuesday

I have never been so embarrassed or so angry in all my years of teaching. I had just finished explaining the intricacies of a complex sentence with 2C - probably unwise with that group - when I turned my back to point out the benefits of precise punctuation on the whiteboard. "So you'll see," I moved a comma with my pointer from one clause to another, "how a simple shift can change the meaning entirely, and - what the bloody hell?"

I broke off as I felt hands around my waistband, which then proceeded to pull my trousers down! Unbelievable, but true.

Aghast, I bent down and snatched them up, but not before most of the class had borne witness to my spotted boxer shorts, and not before a gale of hilarity engulfed the room. I quelled it as instantly as I could - it took some minutes - and stopped the lesson by issuing four worksheets and a request to Jason Bonetti to wait behind.

Wednesday

I've received many sympathetic messages about yesterday's incident, but am distressed to report that little action is to be taken against Bonetti other than a punishment exercise and a one-day suspension. "I'm sorry, Morris," explained Kevin Muir, one of our many depute heads. "I know it sounds crazy, but the boss doesn't want to stir things up. Apparently, Bonetti was being bullied by a few boys, and the only way he could stop it was to accept their dare to pull your trousers down. And with the stuff she's hoping the Parkland Gazette will print this week about our anti-bullying initiative, she reckons it's better hushed up."

"So it's official then, Kevin?"

"What is?"

"The lunatics have taken over the asylum?"

Thursday

I lost my fourth year class for half the lesson as they were bundled off for interview by a chap with a clipboard, who wanted to ask their views of the Standard grade examination syllabus.

Asking students like Ryan Hedgcock and Melissa Chalmers what they think of any academic syllabus is akin to the question one might ask of turkeys as they approach Christmas-tide, and so it proved. "Ah told him ah hated it, surr," Melissa reported on her return. "He asked me if ah thought it wis too soon tae be gettin' examined, an' ah said it wis."

"Me too," confirmed Peter Westhouse. "Ah said ah'd rather no' huv any exams, mebbe no' until fifth year, when we wur leavin'. Or none at al* I "

It seemed suspicious to me, and my concerns were confirmed by our principal teacher of English and communications at lunchtime. "He's a plant from SEED!" blurted Simon Young.

"The Education Department's horrified at the expense involved in keeping Standard grades going but they've not managed to get enough schools to ditch them. So they're sending these guys round to try and get the pupils to say they don't like them so they can claim popular support when they get rid of them. Machiavelli could have learned a thing or two from this lot... "

Friday

Ms Gibbon's hopes of "hushing up" Tuesday's incident have been dealt a blow by the Parkland Gazette's front-page splash this morning. Alas, their reporter had chosen to ignore most of her 20-page policy document and six accompanying case studies to concentrate instead on the most recent incident of bullying at Greenfield Academy, namely the one perpetrated by 2C on their teacher and recorded for posterity by a grainy - but identifiable - mobile phone picture. The headline, "Greenfield Teacher Gets Happy Slapped In Pupil Bully Outrage", probably wasn't what she wanted to see at the end of national anti-bullying week.

My embarrassment aside, I was secretly pleased to see that at least somebody was taking the matter seriously - even if it was only the Parkland Gazette.

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