Charity begins

5th March 2004 at 00:00
God did it in six days, but Horsmel reckons he only needs five

I can't quite believe what I'm hearing. The acting head is talking me through my new responsibilities under his "workforce reform initiative".

"But I'm an NQT, Mr Horsmel," I plead. "How can I possibly control a class of 75?" I produce the sheet of induction regulations that I printed from the DfES website in anticipation of our meeting. "Look, it says here I should be on a 10 per cent reduced timetable. But you're giving me 40 minutes of non-contact time a month. And what about this bit about verbal and written feedback? The only feedback I've had is a Valentine's card someone left in my pigeonhole."

"Ah yes," says Horsmel, smiling but blushing slightly. "The old ways. Well, things have changed, Charity. Welcome to the world of blue-skies thinking - let there be light!"

What's changed is that the head, Alastair Scarlett, has had a nervous breakdown and Nigel Horsmel has seized power. He's announced a five-day lightning improvement plan that will transform St Brian's from bog-standard, one-size-fits-all comprehensive into a "moving" school, "a school that David Miliband would be happy to visit". (One of his first acts has been to hang a portrait of the schools standards minister in the foyer.) The first day consists of each member of staff being called in to be told about the new workload agreement. John Baller, the union rep, points out that we haven't agreed to anything, but Horsmel says he won't be sidetracked by semantics. We're to be a cross-curricular, multi-tasking mean machine - NQTs included. "Induction is the enemy of innovation," he says as I leave his office.

On day two of Year Zero the bursar, Amy Studds, and other members of the SMT thought to be too wedded to the old regime develop mystery illnesses and are put on indefinite sick leave. Horsmel announces that finances will henceforth be centralised in a new-initiative fund - and the leak in the hall roof does not count as a new initiative.

On Wednesday, the Mr Burger van is back in the playground. The local fast food joint used to be the school's official sponsor until a joint dawn raid by the Department of Health and Customs and Excise nabbed a group of Year 8 pupils scraping rotten flesh off a pile of condemned chicken wings. But Horsmel says that learning to cope with illness is an important life skill and, anyway, Mr Burger offers good value for money, particularly this week's special deal of 24 nuggets with free two-litre bottle of cola (pound;2.99).

By the fourth morning we have received an email informing us of a change to the school's calendar. We're moving to a one-term year, running from March to November, with a three-month break in the middle of winter to save on heating costs.

Then on Friday we are assembled in the hall, where Horsmel asks us to welcome "Team St Brian's". A group of disgruntled-looking classroom assistants, dinner ladies, cleaners and blokes from the council who mow the playing field shuffle in, led by Roy Striper, the caretaker.

"Roy and the lads will be taking charge of co-ordinating bids for cash," Horsmel informs us. "Dionne from the kitchen will be doing cover and Rose the cleaner will be analysing attendance figures and inputting performance data. It's a new beginning, everyone. We're all teachers now!"

Next week: RE with a twist

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