Bulldog teachers and other animals
Mr Walker, our assistant principal teacher of religious education, is awash with concern. Aside from his enduring worries surrounding the job-sizing exercise, which might see him reduced to a standard teacher (albeit on conserved salary), he is desperate to purchase a set of new textbooks for the religious studies Intermediate short courses, whose popularity has surprised even him.
"I've got pupils sharing one book between three," he explained to me this afternoon, "and there's a special offer on the textbooks."
He had apparently urged Richard Broadbent, our depute headteacher, earlier but all to no avail. "Even though I could get three for the price of two until the end of March, he said there was no way we could put anything extra through on the textbook budget.
"It just seems so tragic, when you consider the waste of money that's been ploughed into computer equipment and interactive whiteboards that nobody knows how to use."
It does seem a shame that he can't get his hands on the money, especially when certain areas seem awash with the stuff.
"Maybe it'll be better under the public-private partnership next year," I ventured tentatively.
He just snorted.
Sooner than expected, I had the chance to put my theory to the test following a surprise visit from Mr Bennett, the chief punkah-wallah (so to speak) of the consultancy firm acting as advisers on the renovation of Greenfield Academy. I say it was a surprise visit but personally I think that our oleaginous headteacher had it planned all along.
"Bill Bennett and I go back a long way," Richard Dick explained to the hastily convened staff meeting this afternoon, "and that's why I've been able to ask him the favour of coming along at such short notice to answer a few of the complaints I er I sorry, questions that seem to be arising in relation to our imminent PPP upgrading."
"Hah! Upgrading?" George Crumley challenged at once. "If everything I've heard about PPP is anything to go by, then it'll go down in history as the worst decision on school fabric since the 1960s flat roof contracts!"
Mr Bennett was, at once, at his most unctuous. "Can I assure you that it won't? We've consulted widely with teachers about the best means of classroom organisation and furnishing and I can assure you that ..."
"Who did you consult with here?" challenged Crumley. "Who told you what we wanted in Greenfield Academy? I don't remember any meeting about what we needed. Or did you read our minds?"
Mr Bennett looked a little discomfited but rallied well. "The authority had several wide ranging meetings with senior management at the school, who passed on staff and pupil requirements, many of which we've incorporated into the final plans I which are, of course, still subject to consultational amendment."
Crumley looked angry but remained composed. "Well, who told you we didn't want a staffroom?" he queried. "Because I've asked every member of staff here whether they want one or whether they don't and so far it's 64:1 in favour, with a few responses still to come in. So why aren't we having one? Eh?"
Mr Bennett held out his hands in mock surrender. "Oh, the staffroom!" he oozed in patronising mode. "If I had pound;1 for everyone who's felt strongly about the staffroom and then realised that it wasn't such a big issue after all, especially when they acknowledged that most of the business that gets done in your everyday staffroom can get done in the staff base ..."
"Oh really?" challenged Crumley. "So where would you hold a meeting like the one you're holding now?" He paused for effect and then raised both arms eloquently aloft to encompass the current accommodation.
"Ah, well, this is something a little different," Mr Bennett began to explain. "This is a whole staff meeting, which is slightly unusual, but ..."
"Exactly!" interrupted Crumley. "An unusual event, perhaps, but one where all members get the chance to express a view. That's something that could prove a little difficult when they're all locked into their staff base rabbit hutches, eh?'
"I really don't think ..."
"Precisely!" exclaimed Crumley with triumph. "You really don't think, do you, Mr Bennett? But we do and we'd like a staffroom please. Thank you very much."
It was a stirring plea and met with a tumultuous round of applause.
Mr Bennett promised to take it back to the architects and then moved on to the multifarious benefits of PPP provision, referring us to several recent articles in the education press supporting his contention that PPP was the best thing since pre-stressed concrete.
I'm not so sure. Personally, I'd like a staffroom.
Simon Sheridan (class 4C) has been behind my most recent embarrassment concerning mobile telephones. I can't prove it but I'm sure of it, believe me.
It was during my standard lesson on the war poets that I became aware of a plaintive mewing sound and subsequently stole closer to the classroom window lest a cat had become abandoned on the surrounding walkways.
Peter McLeish was just approaching the climax of his uncertain rendition of Dulce et Decorum Est (unsurprisingly, he had problems with the Latin) when the miaows transformed into the piercing yelps of miniature dogs in distress. I looked more closely out of the classroom window, only to hear the sounds suddenly transmute to those of a herd of elephants in apparent agony.
Around Greenfield Academy, one gets used to a wide ranging selection of visceral outpourings (especially from pupils), but I am profoundly aware that elephants are not included among our regular populace. And then it clicked.
"If that's anyone farting about with a mobile phone," I narrowed my eyes venomously at Sheridan, "then I won't be responsible for my actions once I've found out who's responsible."
I've often found that using their own language works wonders. That was the last I heard of the vaporous intruders until the end of the lesson, when after I had proclamed "Class dismissed!" every animal in the Ark seemed present.
Simon Young, my principal teacher, passed a leaflet around the English department this morning for a conference to be held next month. Attendance is voluntary and will cost pound;15, a sum that can not be claimed back from the authorities, and the event is on a Saturday. Under normal circumstances, a zero return might have been confidently anticipated. In fact, every member of the department has signed up, with the exception of Malcolm Saunderson (absent today).
The conference topic? Higher English: what do you think of the current syllabus and what changes would you like to see?
Clearly, people feel strongly on the matter. The last time we had 100 per cent showing for a Saturday event was in the heady days of industrial action back in '86.
Mr Walker has solved his textbook dilemma with a single bound. Or four single bounds, to be precise.
"There!" he cried as he sat back from the staffroom computer and set the printer to work. "Four applications to four different funds and I'm three sets of textbooks better off as long as I get the paperwork to the school office by 3pm."
"So did Mr Broadbent relent?" I asked.
"Only when I threatened to come off his working party on citizenship education and started asking about alternative sources of textbook funding."
"Like the Excellence Fund. That gave us half the money, because I've told him the books will help raise exam excellence, even if most of the pupils don't sit the exam at the end.
"And the Higher Achievement Fund."
"The books aren't for Higher, are they?"
"Not exactly. But the course could lead on to Higher, couldn't it?
"And then there's the Underachievement Fund and the Social Inclusion Fund.
I'm going to use these books with all those guys, of course.
"And as long as you can demonstrate curricular flexibility like that, then I might be in for another dole-out when the next bandwagon gets rolling."
"Which bandwagon would that be?"
"Curricular flexibility, Morris. That's where the next big pot of money is going to be allocated, believe me. As long as we can demonstrate curricular flexibility, then we'll be rolling in it!"
"It all seems such a waste of time having to go through so many hoops to get money for essential resources," I observed. "Why can't we go back to the days when everyone had a department budget and was trusted to spend it?"
"No way. That would mean there wouldn't be any jobs for those who had to authorise the spending," he explained.
I nodded glumly. It's a point of view, I suppose.
Next month: Whither Higher English? Plus, Mrs Harry gets gas-filled chairs in the business studies department.