Charity begins

20th February 2004 at 00:00
The head's had a breakdown. Long live Nigel Horsmel!

St Brian's is in the throes of regime change. Alastair Scarlett has finally cracked up; last week's public admission of adultery with the bursar proved a disaster too far for our superhead.

The night after he spilled the beans about his affair with Amy Studds, Dr Scarlett received a phone call from a governor asking if he was watching an interesting programme on BBC1. From Georgia with Love turned out to be a Panorama expose of how the east European mafia was laundering money through education action zones. And the main front organisation being used for this operation was Tbilisi Technology, our PFI partner. That put the kibosh on our bid to become a technology school.

At the subsequent LEA inquiry, other charges were laid alongside those of improper conduct and corruption. Rumours had been circulating for some time about exam fixing at St Brian's. During the January modular exams, someone had entered the hall disguised in a "hoodie" and attempted to sit an AS physics paper posing as a 17-year-old called Vincent McMahon who hadn't attended school since the previous October. When challenged, the lad, who turned out to be an unemployed former pupil, handed over a crib sheet of quadratic equations bearing the handwritten message: "Well done, Geoff, I owe you one - Alastair". The LEA team decided the matter should be referred to the General Teaching Council.

They even cast aspersions on the head's recent MBE, citing a photograph in the Daily Mail of him at lunch with Alastair Campbell and Carole Caplin.

So Scarlett's been signed off and is in Los Angeles "spending time with friends" (he's actually in the rehabilitation unit at the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center working his way through the health insurance cover he negotiated with St Brian's) and the deputy head, Nigel Horsmel, has taken charge.

During morning briefing, Horsmel vows to carry on the head's good work.

There is much talk of "bravery", "vision" and "destiny", but his tone is icy and clipped. The staff exchange troubled glances.

I am more bothered by the provenance of the Valentine's card I found in my pigeonhole after the open evening last week. Graham Love, the supply teacher from hell, is long gone, and the caretaker stopped inviting me down to the boiler room months ago. As I sit alone in my classroom musing on the identity of my secret admirer, Horsmel marches in, halting abruptly in front of the wall display on dictators of the 20th century.

He glances up at a picture of Stalin. "Now he was a remarkable man, Miss Casement. A good planner, knew a lot about targets." I try to hide my card.

Too late, he has spotted it and snatches it from my hand.

"You could go places, Charity," Horsmel says, without looking up from the card. "You just need a line manager who understands you... Of course, when Judith Crock is absent, that's effectively me." He winks, tapping my arm gingerly with the card before placing it upright on the desk. I calculate the percentage of time that Judith spends in school at about 20.

After Horsmel has left I read the inscription yet again. "Roses are red, violets are blue, you're an N-cu-tie and I want to monitor you." It's Year Zero at St Brian's.

Next week: A new face in the staffroom

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