Brawl chases off petty woes

23rd February 2001 at 00:00

Teacher shortages in maths and physics begin to make four-day weeks seem a distinct possibility at Greenfield Academy, and Mr Greig was at pains to apologise about my third physics please-take in a week.

"I'm sorry, Morris," he shrugged his shoulders this morning as he collected the Fun Physics Crosswords that had kept the third-year moderately silent for the hour I'd watched over them. "I haven't had much time to prepare alternative lesson plans for the please-takes, what with the Higher and Intermediate unit assessments to get ready."

"No problem," I assured him, before asking whether he anticipated similar problems with unit assessments to last year.

"I certainly hope so," he nodded firmly, before going on to explain that he is in full support of a continuation of last year's data processing arrangements which saw several of his pupils attain significantly higher grades than expected. The Scottish Qualifications Authority has apparently announced that it's "not mission critical" to amend the system and Mr Greig agrees wholeheartedly.

"It'd be mission bloody impossible if they did change it!" he informed me. "If they reduce the number of internal assessments I'm sending in that count towards the final grade, then there's no way I'd get as many passes as last year . . . "

"Let's just hope you don't get moderated too closely," I reminded him mischievously, whereupon he laughed in my face.

"Ha! Don't give me moderation! Last year I got all my bundles together for retrospective moderation and they never even left the premises after that shambolic bloody lot at the SQA cocked everything up. So we certainly weren't moderated, and neither were 80 per cent of the schools in the country as far as I'm concerned."

"Same here," chimed in George Crumley. "And it'll be the same this year as well. As far as I'm concerned, there's no point in getting the things ready, because nobody will ever look at them. And even if they did, I've had it on good authority that they're automatically passed unless they're a complete dog's breakfast. So I'm saving myself a lot of trouble, and we'll just concentrate on getting them through the exam."

"But how will you decide the results of their assessment units?" I queried.

"I'll estimate them," he shrugged carelessly. "I know what each and every one of them would get. I'm simply saving myself the trouble of marking them to prove the point. And anyway," he added, "I probably won't send the results in."

"Why not?"

"Because they'll lose them or claim they didn't receive them, and they'll ask me to send them again. And again. And then, when they haven't arrived for the third time of asking, I've got it on equally reliable authority that the default after non-receipt of assessment tasks is just to pass the candidate anyway, so they get the 'benefit of the doubt'. So what's the bloody point? Talk about the gold standard of Scottish education!" I can understand his frustration, but it seems a high-risk strategy to me.


Mr Crumley's bluff looks as if it's about to be severely called. Mr Dick has announced that he's calling on the SQA to send an external moderator so that we can have an internal audit of our assessment procedures that we send for moderation. Apparently, it costs pound;100 per moderator, and Mr Dick is planning on three such invitations in geography, English and physics.

"My God!" George smote his brow at lunchtime. "Just so he can get his name in the local paper again! I can see the headline now: 'Greenfield Academy Ensures Moderation's Up to Scratch'! Ach, sod it," he declaimed forcefully. "It'll never happen anyway."

"Why not?"

"The SQA haven't got enough moderators to moderate everything in the first place. So they're hardly likely to be able to send moderators in to moderate the bloody moderation, now are they, Morris? As far as I'm concerned, it's business as usual."

It's a point of view, you have to admit, but I'm appalled at what's happening to the veracity of our exam system.


Sandra Denver's implementation of the Brainscape programme with some senior pupils continues apace. Kylie Donahue of 5C assures me that her awareness of the brain's limitless potential to arrive at new means of assimilating information has been transformed.

Or, as she put it herself: "It's great, surr! A kin kinda see it all in ma heid, surr, like a kinda . . . like a kinda . . . er . . . like a kinda picthur, sur."

Never one to quash the inherent human desire to learn, I nevertheless can't help thinking that the presence of Damien Steele in Ms Denver's lunchtime meditation and revision sessions will have added much to the attraction for Kylie. The boy has never possessed an enthusiasm for academic revision of any sort, and I suspect that the occasional chance to get into a "brainstorming huddle" with the object of his considerable desires will have been partly responsible for the couple's attendance.

"Ye should come tomorrow, sur," enthused Kylie. Miss Denver's teachin' us aboot 'joined-up thinking' - she says it'll make the difference between an A grade at Higher English and a B."

I jolted in surprise. If Sandra Denver's raising expectation of performance like that, in a girl whose intellect has never been apparent to any but the most diligent of seekers, then I think she's doing her a dis-service. Maybe I will go along tomorrow after all. Sandra Denver is a woman of enthusiasms. And I've always found that such people can be dangerous.


Another please-take, for maths this time. It was an extremely difficult lesson, made more so by the behaviour of Michael Willis and Peter O'Farrell, both of whom are on behaviour report cards for the 16th week in succession. Their behaviour was appalling throughout, and consisted of verbal abuse directed at their classmates as well as at me, plus an unending parade of petty mis-demeanours that halted the flow of academic progress no less than 14 times.

It was with a sense of relief, therefore, that I welcomed Jack Boyd, our educational psychologist to take both of them away for a 'golden hour'.

"A what?" I asked him.

"Golden hour. They amassed enough good behaviour points last week to allow them an hour of video in the referral unit, so that's where I'm taking them."

Both boys looked decidedly smug, as you might expect, and smirked their way out of the classroom. Myself, I didn't know whether to be relieved by their disappearance or infuriated by a system that allowed such flagrant bending of normal behavioural rules. In the end, I opted for the former.


A torrid day in the history of Greenfield Academy, wherein Sandra Denver's threat to society proved minimal compared to the loutish behaviour of the vicious thugs who set off our fire alarm and then proceeded to launch an all-out attack on the senior school's finest.

To explain, I'd just dropped in to Sandra's room, where her Brainscape session was just beginning.

". . . so by the end of today's session," she was encouraging them mightily, "you'll see that the way to joined-up thinking is to recognise the interconnectivity of the millions of brain cells that make up that phenomenal piece of engineering inside your skull. But as usual, we'll start with a session of reflective meditation that will allow us all to confront our inner fears and increase our awareness sensitivity. Ah, good afternoon, Mr Simpson!" she suddenly noticed me just inside the door. "Coming to join our little group, are you?" "Well, I'm here in more of an observational capacity, Miss Denver," I explained, "but I don't mind trying to . . ."

Alas, at this stage, the fire alarm erupted into a cacophony of noise, and the room emptied swiftly as we joined a seething mass of adolescent humanity making its way into the school playground - and into the biggest ambush since the charge of the light brigade.

Waiting for us outside - or waiting, more especially, for Damien Steele, Steven Austin and Graham Farr - was a vicious assortment of local thuggery comprising a host of former Greenfield pupils plus an assortment of unauthorised absences from our nearby partner schools. The occasion of their displeasure was apparently related to a territorial dispute in the housing estate where most of them live, and their chosen method of settling it was to launch a pitched battle using stones, fists, feet, and anything else that came to hand.

Mr Dick did his level best to halt the fight and to prevent Kylie Donahue from getting too involved, but his was a fruitless task. A well-aimed blow to the head by an ear-studded skinhead bearing a Rambo tattoo soon lessened his interest in proceedings, and it wasn't long before real blood was being shed around the playground.

After what seemed an eternity, the police arrived (followed swiftly by the fire brigade, of course), and it was with a heavy heart that I watched Steele, Austin and Farr, along with several other members of the fifth year plus their original assailants, being handcuffed and bundled into a police van.

My worries about moderation integrity at the SQA suddenly seemed terribly irrelevant.

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