Charity begins

10th September 2004 at 01:00
Scarlett's returned from his summer retreat - now he's really on the run

We're all filing into the hall for the annual bout of mutual recrimination and self-loathing known as the head's results presentation. John Baller, maths teacher and union rep, is standing outside pretending to be a souvenir seller. "Hairshirts! Whips! Burning hot coals! Please leave your self-esteem at the door!" It's a noble effort to lift spirits, but no one is smiling. The escapable fact is that St Brian's is entering its fourth year in special measures. Massage that, Dr Scarlett.

Dr Alastair Scarlett MBE strolls to his lectern looking bronzed and rested.

He has spent the summer in Los Angeles with friends he met during rehab last year. He closes his eyes, breathes deeply, smiles and begins: "That which is received must also be given. And if we do not give, how shall they receive?" We all stare at each other dumbfounded. Orlando Jones, the head of drama, drops his hip flask. The Kiwi supply teachers look up from their card game.

Scarlett is fiddling with a bit of red string wrapped round his wrist.

"Christ, John, what's going on?" I whisper to Baller. "It's a Kabbalah bracelet. He's been on one of those bloody retreats. Come back barmier than ever."

The head is rattling on about the quest for perfection and how we must shine the light of truth on our performance when someone I don't recognise interrupts him loudly. "Well let me enlighten you, Dr Scarlett. St Brian's is the worst school in the borough. And it's your fault."

Faces turn towards the speaker, a woman in her late thirties dressed in an expensive-looking beige linen trouser suit and wearing hoop earrings. John groans. It's Oriel Grier, the LEA adviser. "They call her the angel of death down at the civic centre," he says. "A troubleshooter." Apparently she's also the regional kick-boxing champion and a Shaolin kung fu instructor.

Scarlett is stammering now, and, before he's finished, Oriel is on her feet. She commends us on our pass rate in the baggage-handling GNVQ but tells us the school improvement plan will have to be "revisited". Scarlett sits down and starts tugging at his bracelet. I suspect the head will be doing some revisiting of his own very soon: another trip to the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center looks imminent.

As we leave the hall I remark to John how much I envy Cynthia Thyme, the elderly needlework teacher who left last term to take up a post as tutor to the children of an army general in Colombia. "But haven't you heard," he replies. "Heard what?" "She's been kidnapped by Maoist guerrillas. Missing for five weeks now." He passes me a poster that has a picture of Cynthia holding a crocheted poncho with prison bars superimposed on top and the slogan "Cynthia Thyme: prisoner of conscience" across the top. "Amnesty International have taken up the case," John says. "And we're probably going to use her as a case study in the key stage 4 citizenship module."

It sounds terrible - but I still feel slightly envious.

Next week: Year 10 leaves town.Charity Begins: Adventures of an NQT, an edited collection of Charity's diary of her first year at St Brian's, is available from TES Books, pound;2.99. Tel: 0870 444 8633 or visit the TES Bookshop at

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