Charity begins

25th June 2004 at 01:00
The summer's here and things are definitely hotting up

The temperature is rising at St Brian's. I was warned about the last few weeks of the summer term, but nothing could have prepared me for the hell into which we have descended.

Lessons have become extended baby-sitting sessions for the ever diminishing band of kids who are bothering to turn up at school, and enthusiasm in the staffroom has suffered a similar dip. Those lucky enough to have secured posts elsewhere for the autumn have accorded themselves part-time status for the rest of term, while pollen counts and ozone levels figure prominently in the stream of early-morning phone calls being taken by the office staff.

Those who remain bicker bitterly about cover allocation, as the staffroom is transformed into an educational version of Neighbours from Hell; my rarely sighted head of department, Judith Crock, is the tallest leylandii at St Brian's.

The upshot is that I am seeing out the dog days of my NQT year as a makeshift Damp;T teacher. I am covering for the soon to be departed Cynthia Thyme, most of whose time is being taken up organising visas and getting quotes for life insurance cover in Colombia, where she has secured a post as a needlework teacher.

As if things were not bad enough, the acting head, Nigel Horsmel, has organised another "activities week" in a futile attempt to give St Brian's at least the appearance of an educational institution. Usually led by the arts people, events this year are being co-ordinated by the technology department after last year's blockbuster drama production resulted in the stage being stormed by parents and the scripts confiscated by the Obscene Publications Squad.

So this year a bunch of Year 9s, supervised by me, are attempting to build a machine to enter for a special schools edition of the TV show Robot Wars.

I am told the project meets the syllabus objective that requires students to "acquire knowledge of a range of materials and develop manipulative skills". It takes me 15 minutes to discover that the latter are already highly developed.

The other project, to design and build a replica of the White Garden at Sissinghurst, is being co-ordinated by the caretaker, Roy Striper, with a pound;10,000 grant from the DfES's Blooming Schools scheme. Roy hasn't been seen at St Brian's for a month and the school's outside space is still an asphalt wasteland of cigarette butts and condoms, but a member of staff who sneaked into Nigel Horsmel's summer garden party was greatly impressed by his stunning collection of old roses and oriental lilies.

The whole week is starting to look like an extended coronation ceremony.

Horsmel believes the headship is his for the taking as the incumbent, Alistair Scarlett, has shown no sign of returning from rehab.

At the culmination of the celebrations, a cultural evening where pupils cook food that reflects their varied backgrounds, I am nibbling distractedly on a chicken nugget when Horsmel steps up to the stage and begins to speak. "Colleagues, as the Romans would say: summa sedes non capit duos..." He is interrupted by a door slamming at the back of the hall and we all turn to see a familiar figure step out of the shadows. "Thank you, Mr Horsmel, but I don't recall St Brian's applying for specialist language status." As Scarlett titters at his own witticism, Horsmel stands rigid with shock.

The king reclaims his crown.

Next week: Armageddon outta here!

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