Change and decay in all around me

28th September 2001 at 01:00
Monday

I am beset with curricular despair. Simon Young has at last accepted the inevitable and agreed to implement the Higher English syllabus this year. And I begin to understand why he's resisted for so long.

Not only does it appear that my charges seem virtually capable of attaining Higher certification by the simple expedient of writing their names at the top of the (few) externally assessed sections of the examination; but it would also appear that the study of literature has been all but abandoned. My plans to embark on a 10-week diet of Hamlet have had to be cancelled. ("If we dinny need tae read this crap fur the exam," Brian Finlayson complained with some justification, "whit's the bloody point of it all?") Instead, we are embarking on a syllabus bereft of academic discipline but one which should prepare the students "for life", whatever that means.

It's not only in English that yesterday's standards and aspirations are crumbling. Today saw the start of Pamela Blane's poster campaign, leaked to me by her protesting assistant principal teacher, Angus Douglas. It is - somewhat chillingly - entitled "Languages for the Bright".

"It's frightening, Morris," he confided in me at morning break. "Ten years ago, we were promoting 'Languages for All' to try and ensure that tomorrow's citizens could hold their own in a multilingual Europe. And now I" "And now we're not!" Ms Blane cut across his bows on overhearing us talking.

"We've been through this 100 times, Angus!" she said, narrowing her eyes in fury at her disloyal lieutenant. "You know as well as I do that we've been loaded with the crappiest pupils in the world and they can't even speak English let alone French or German." Here she looked at me, as if I was responsible for this omission. "So it's time we cut our losses and appealed to our target market."

"Which is?" I ventured.

"Which is," she replied firmly, "academically motivated pupils with middle-class parents who want their kids to speak a foreign language."

I drew a sharp intake of breath. "Not many of them at Greenfield Academy, Pamela," I cautioned.

"Precisely," she smiled. "So think of the class sizes.

"Now, come on, Angus. Come and help me put up these posters: 'Modern Languages - they're harder than you think' and 'Warning: Modern Languages from 3rd Year onwards can seriously damage your social life (lots of homework, y'see)'. What d'you think? Catchy, huh?"

And off she went, posters under her arms and Mr Douglas trailing forlornly in her wake. It will be interesting to see how her campaign affects the option choices next year.

Tuesday

Donny McIntyre, the deviant exclusion case from Crosston High, has joined my Standard grade class, as if I didn't have enough to deal with, between the Gothic leanings of Joanna Grives and Kylie Paterson and the sceptical opposition mounted thereunto by the likes of Michael Willis and Peter O'Farrell. This group of "Chernobyl Children" (so named because their excessive and uncontrollable behaviour has been blamed on the year of their gestation) is a disciplinary nightmare, to be honest, with insults and obscenities being hurled across the classroom in a manner which would appal any independent observer. And now I've got "Moshers" too.

To explain, Donny proclaims himself a Mosher, a group whose ideological leanings are apparently poles apart from the Goths who previously held sway in 4C. He is building a strong following of the weak and disinherited and it is leading to some lively debates in class, to put it mildly.

Frankly, I've given up caring about it all, except for the fact that Donny lives six doors from our new home, which is still in the mid stages of construction. And now, adorned on its internal brickwork, is the legend "Moshers Rool. Limp Bizkit OK". I can't prove that Donny's responsible, of course, but my early encounters with him would suggest that the mis-spelling of "rool" is symptomatic of his wayward relationship with the English language.

Wednesday

It's almost a relief to go into work as our evenings are consumed with packing up the accumulated debris of the past seven years.

Alas, because our new house is so far behind schedule compared with the original end of September completion date (the latest is the end of November), we are having to move in with Gail's parents. Not that I have anything against them, you understand. It's just that they've never had any great respect for the teaching profession. As Gail's father insists on repeating whenever we meet: "I've got a saying, Morris. Those who can, do. Those who can't, teach."

I usually smile and pretend that it is the first time I've heard such a witticism. I suspect that such tolerance might prove difficult to sustain over a few weeks.

Thursday

The minutes of the ethos committee have reminded me of my duty to make nominations for the Staff Member of the Month. At the moment, the sole nominee on our noticeboard is Mr Dallas, the janitor - in handwriting suspiciously akin to his own. Although I don't approve of the scheme, I feel it my duty to ensure that someone with the children's interests at heart should win. So I nominated myself.

Friday

Parental involvement is all very well but not when it interferes in the smooth running of the school. To explain, it appears that Richard Dick's "Are You Being Taught Well?" campaign (another of his motivational initiatives) has reached the ears of several parents, with the consequential result of 15 telephone calls to our esteemed headteacher. They all were protesting that their offspring were "not getting enough homework" and so were educationally disadvantaged.

For once, I have sympathy with our senior management, in that one pupil's reasonable homework requirement is another's outrageous imposition, and Mr Dick was in agreement at the "whole school activity group" (bastard son of planned activity time).

"It's not the kind of positive feedback I was looking for," he conceded, "but we have to be a listening school," he said forcefully.

"Anyway, I've decided to close the 'Are You Being Taught Well' scheme until further notice.

"But I'm absolutely determined that our Staff Member of the Month award should remain and that is why I'm pleased to announce that Frank O'Farrell is the winner this month, in the light of his strikingly successful attempt to introduce a new academic - and publicity positive - discipline to the school curriculum in the shape of Higher psychology. Eight candidates last year and 48 this year is an enhancing result in anyone's book, especially with nine of the candidates being external ones.

"So I'm delighted to present Frank with this plaster-cast mortarboard and a set of vouchers for Marks and Spencer."

Some desultory clapping broke out, but most of us - including Frank - were too dumbfounded to react. Nobody recalled seeing his name on the nominations board, so this has clearly been a case of principal's privilege. In addition, it was a ceremony which plumbed new depths of vulgarity considering the human cost that Frank's success is wreaking.

It was only yesterday that Graham Jagger received notification that his services as history teacher were now surplus to requirements at Greenfield Academy and so he should expect a transfer to another institution under the authority's care. Mr Jagger is fighting this, of course, though why he wouldn't relish a departure from this toilet of a school is open to question. But the principle of a proud academic discipline losing out to a quasi-educational subject such as psychology to my mind sums up the problem with Scottish education.

Such thoughts were confirmed as I met Steven Austin and Stuart Monteith walking out of the school gates, their huge psychology texts carried like badges of credibility.

"I hadn't realised you were both taking psychology, boys. "Enjoying it, are you?" I questioned them.

"Aye, surr," said Stuart. "Ah'm daen coagnitive pyschiatry and seckshuall deviance and big Stevie's daen a serial killers proaject."

Big Stevie grinned an oafish confirmation and launched into an explanation of criminal motivation and practice that quickly had my stomach churning.

"Enough, Steven," I held up a hand. "I need to get home."

Change and decay in all around I see, I was moved to reflect. Suddenly, I was almost looking forward to moving house. At least it should take my mind off the state of our education system.

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