Charity begins

26th September 2003 at 01:00
The deputy head is crocked as Judith returns

Judith Crock is back at St Brian's. It wasn't easy getting through my first week without a head of department, but it was hardly her fault. Two Year 11 gangs opened up on each other with air guns during one of her classes last term, and she was signed off with stress. But she doesn't seem particularly pleased to see me. In fact, she isn't talking to me.

When I was training, I had fond images of my first head of department: she would be a warm sister-figure in whom I could confide over coffee, someone I could share a laugh with. We might even go to the pub and get drunk together.

Instead, I've got Judith Crock. I should have suspected something last week when, each morning, the staff would crowd round the deputy head, Nigel Horsmel, as he pinned up the cover list. "Ha, ha! You've been crocked!"

someone would shout as a figure slumped to the floor, sobbing. Then there were the references to her two hysterectomies and the unusually high mortality rate among her grandparents.

She certainly looks ill. A short woman, perhaps mid-forties, with a slight stoop and a hobble that seems to come and go. A bitter scowl on a pale face.

I try to introduce myself but she just stares. Jason the Kiwi tells me she thinks I'm part of a conspiracy to get rid of her. I'm an NQT, and NQTs teach Year 7. All of Year 7. But because I'm one of only two permanent members of the history department, I've been allocated three GCSE classes.

Judith's classes. "I'm being timetabled into the lower school void," she wails to a man who is nodding furiously and tutting in a theatrical manner.

It's John Baller, the union rep.

Judith has been called to a meeting with Nigel Horsmel and Superhead Dr Alastair Scarlett to discuss her sickness record and "another matter".

John Baller is going to accompany her. He's in full 12 Angry Men mode as he and Judith finish their chat. He's going to tell the senior management team to poke their disciplinary procedure. How can they pick on a woman who was nearly killed in the line of duty and who's had a dozen serious operations in the past year? Judith's hobble has returned.

After the meeting, Judith breaks her silence. She wants to talk to me about the "other matter". She hands me a folder and a copy of Winston Churchill's History of the English-Speaking Peoples. Apparently Dr Scarlett has been appointed to a government thinktank that thinks history is too politically correct and we need to be more positive about the British empire. Our school is piloting the project. Dr Scarlett wants to encourage the young people of St Brian's to get a sense of who they are and where they come from. (I suspect they're only too aware that they come from Peckham.) "Sort it out please, Miss Casement," Judith hisses.

At lunchtime I'm speculating with Orlando Jones, our head of drama, about what resources might get 9C interested in the British empire. "How about a video of Zulu?" he suggests.

Nigel Horsmel enters the room, hunting fresh prey. "Where's Miss Crock?" he asks of no one in particular. Jason the Kiwi looks up from his copy of FHM.

"Gone home, mate. Grandad's been taken ill."

Next week: Charity joins a working party

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