Charity begins

7th May 2004 at 01:00
The computers aren't the only things breaking down at St Brian's

Bloody computer. Inputting pupil tracking data is painful enough without the intranet going down every 15 minutes. Oh look, a polite message:

"Sorry, but Assessment Mate has been disabled." Try telling that to the School Improvement Working Group and their bloody Joy Through Excellence initiative.

Saeed, our IT technician, pops his head round the door. "Sorry, Charity, but we've got another virus. Looks bad this time." I ask him if it's one of those terrible bugs you read about in the papers, the ones that attack the computer networks of huge multinational corporations. "No, looks like an inside job to me."

We stare at the screen. There's a pop-up of three people nailed to crosses and a speech bubble telling us to throw stones at them, "otherwise your F drive will be eliminated". Two of the figures are clearly modelled on Nigel Horsmel, St Brian's temporary head, and Amy Studds, the bursar. The identity of the third figure is obscured.

"This is the work of a real psycho," says Saeed. Well that narrows it down to just about anyone in the school. The trouble is that normal measures of sanity don't apply in education. People do and say things that would get them sectioned in any other walk of life, but in schools their behaviour is justified in much the same way that war criminals justify flouting the Geneva Convention: extreme circumstances produce extreme conduct. You do what you have to do.

Speculation as to the identity of the hacker is rife in the staffroom.

"Well, it can't be one of the old-timers," says John Baller, pointing out Les Twigg, who is animatedly telling Cynthia Thyme, the ghost of Damp;T, about his birdwatching holiday in Skegness. "Les couldn't tell a computer from a chaffinch."

My money's on Gabriel Mooney, our rogue RE teacher. I decide to test my theory, but as I arrive at the RE office, his head of department, John Bishop, is leaving, looking rather distressed. "I wouldn't go in there if I were you," he says, shaking his head. "He's speaking in tongues."

Gabriel is indeed mumbling incoherently. "What are you talking about, Gabriel," I ask. He looks up at me, his eyes shiny. "To the non-believer words are meaningless. I tried to help you Charity, I really did, but you don't want to be saved."

"Look, if this is about the other week, I'm sorry, but you really freaked me out." Just before Easter I received a visitation from Gabriel in the photocopying room. He was dressed as the Virgin Mary. I felt compelled to report the incident and as a result he has me down as a treacherous apostate. Today's events have confirmed my fears about his wellbeing, so I go to see Amy Studds. She is dismissive. "Mr Mooney is a valued member of staff. Anyway, it's virtually impossible to hire RE teachers these days."

"But he's barmy."

"Charity, we're running a business here. Mr Mooney represents good value for money in a, um, depressed marketplace."

Back in my office, I am absentmindedly throwing boulders at the acting head, when slowly the identity on the final cross is revealed. It's me, with a speech bubble that reads: "Let she who is without sin cast the first stone!" I make a mental note never to be alone with Gabriel Mooney again.

Next week: Has anyone seen the jobs pages?

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