Cash galore for the enterprising
The local authority is pressing ahead with plans to close almost a quarter of its schools. Parental outcry is enormous. Somehow, I seem to have beFen here before, on a quinquennial round of closure threats, climbdowns and renewed closure threats once the council elections are over. But this time it seems serious.
The plans are set to make Greenfield Academy a "super-school".
The idea is, of course, risible in educational terms and horrifying in a numerical context: if it goes ahead, we will jump to 1,800 pupils. I just wish they'd thought of it before building the new school for 1,200 last year.
Enterprise education is the current flavour of the month. Apparently, we are one of the authority's pilot schools for this initiative, although I have to say it was news to me and most of the other staff.
However, we now have an enterprise officer, in the somewhat unlikely person of Helen Tarbet. Although she experienced keen disappointment at the time of the faculty principal teacher appointments (she was second in a field of two for PT of home economics and maths), we thought she had reconciled herself to a life of conserved-salary ease.
However, the enterprise post allows her a few extra shekels, plus the chance to miss significant amounts of teaching time.
She came to our English departmental meeting today to advise us on our enterprise policies, but I can't say that I left any the wiser. According to Miss Tarbet, it turns out we're already "doing enterprise" in much of our daily work and we just need to tweak it a little with the right sounding names and invite a few local businesses to get involved with some projects.
"But surely that's not encouraging enterprise, Helen?" I queried.
"Well, maybe not," she shrugged her shoulders, "but the Scottish Executive's said they want enterprise education in schools and they're chucking money at it like there's no tomorrow. Nobody's got much idea of what to spend it on, so if you want to get something extra through on the requisition, then dress up the purchase descriptions a little.
"Enterprise by any other name would smell as sweet," she winked a literary allusion in honour of her audience, and thanked us for our time.
I find it all very exasperating, all this nonsense about teaching enterprise (which is something that I reckon cannot be taught). It reminds me especially of Billy Connolly's old routine about music appreciation, where the teacher calls out "Appreciate! Appreciate!" while the kids listen to a record. Our call to arms is "Be enterprising! Be enterprising!"
If the MSPs behind this splurge of money could only see some of our kids at first-hand for 24 hours, then they would realise they are living on a different planet. To the majority, "Enterprise" is either a spaceship exploring the galaxy or the name of a car-hire firm.
Meanwhile, of course, Miss Tarbet's classes are being covered by "the McCroneys", so they're learning even less than they usually would, if that's possible.
Gail returned from Rockston Primary with horrendous tales about a playground fight this afternoon.
I shook my head in sympathy over the tea table, questioning a scuffle over toy ownership or some such triviality.
"Oh, it wasn't any of the pupils who were fighting, Morris," she explained.
"It was the grown-ups. Margaret Bruce went out to the playground to see why it hadn't emptied after all the buses had gone, and discovered an enormous circle of parents and pupils watching the mother-and-father of all fights between two men. Kicking, gouging, punching; it had everything. She called the police at once, and they arrived very quickly, but even by then the young guy had a pretty bloody nose and the older one a serious cut across his eye."
"How much older?"
"Oh, about 18 years, I think. One was a Primary 1 boy's dad, who's about 22, and the other one was his grandfather, who's about 40, from what I can understand."
"The father and grandfather of the same child? But what on earth where they fighting about?"
"Well, we're not exactly sure, but it seems that they'd had an argument over who was picking up the boy from school."
I couldn't speak for several moments, after which I bemoaned the fact that, in the Rockston area, it seems that both the procreative urge and a degree of over-aggressive tendencies have been distributed by the Almighty in fairly equal - and extremely generous - measures.
Gail agreed, before confessing that it had lightened up the day a little.
"We got some great pictures on the school's digital camera," she continued.
"The zoom feature made all the difference from the staffroom window."
If the previous events of this week had suggested to me that the educational system was beginning to change beyond recognition, then today seemed the apotheosis of unreality.
This morning I chanced past the gymnasium and heard the raucous sound of thumping music. Thinking that the fifth and sixth years had taken the building over for a temporary common room, I put my head inside the door to ask for a diminution of volume. I was met instead by the startling sight of 10 third-year girls dressed in sparkling cheerleaders' outfits, complete with fluffy colourful pom-poms and the occasional twirling baton.
I didn't recognise the teachers in charge, so I interrupted Gregor Greig, as he was passing.
He grinned. "Latest council initiative on health education, Morris. The girls don't like doing PE any more, so the authority's dished out several thousand pounds to the Sally Smith Dancing School after the eponymous Mrs Smith approached them with a bid for using their Executive Health money.
Persuaded them that three months of cheerleader formation dancing would burn off all the calories the girls could handle and would be more enjoyable than climbing up ropes or swinging from the wall bars. She's got a contract for six schools in the authority."
I peeked inside the gym again and sighed. While some of the trainee cheerleaders might have made the cut at a junior league American football game, the majority were anything but an advert for our putative healthy nation. Most of them sported two-piece sequinned outfits with stomachs bulging alarmingly in the middle, looking for all the world as if they were in the second trimester of a pregnancy. Worse still, as if to draw attention to their rounded contours, many of them displayed extremely novel navel jewellery, so to speak, in the form of dangling adornments that jiggled with every awkward and lumbering movement they made.
My suspicions of the long-term efficacy surrounding the cheerleading dance contract were amply confirmed by the breathless declaration of Tanya Thomas to her friend Mary Baxter, who was at the end of the line nearest the doorway.
"Aw, bloody hell, Mary," she whispered audibly. "Ah'm knackered. An' ah'm effin' starvin'."
"Me too," agreed Mary. "But ah've goat two packetsae Moanstur Munch fur efterwards an' a cannae Irn-Bru."
"Great! Bring'em roon the back sterrs. Ah'll bring the fags."
I drew myself away to ask Mr Greig what the PE teachers were doing if their classes were being taken by Mrs Smith.
"McCrone cover for Helen Tarbert," he explained.
"But I thought 'the McCroneys' were doing that?"
"They were. But they've been moved into maths and languages to cover two long-term absences, so Joyce Honeypot and Tom Walker are taking home ec."
It would be an interesting exercise to quantify the percentage of our students who are taught by someone who is a specialist in the subject.
Dammed few, I suspect.
Unbelievably, Sandra Denver (our history teacher and keen advocate of the BrainScape mind-training programme when that was at the zenith of its popularity) has persuaded our headteacher to pump money into yet another populist wheeze: a stress-busting relaxation course for senior exam students next month. The cost, needless to say, is frightening. The measurable results, I suspect, will be scarce or non-existent.
But why should I be surprised? If I've learned anything this week, it's that money is available in education for all sorts of things if you know how to dress them up.
The best way our kids can learn about enterprise is to look at the cash that's been soaked up by every half-brained initiative from learning specialists, through dynamic leadership courses, to pom-pom dancing and relaxation classes.
The laws of enterprise have been evident since the days of the Wild West: find a recipe for snake-oil and then find as many people as possible who are gullible enough to buy your product. It's just a shame - and a little ironic - that so many of those people are employed in the field of education.