Charity begins

5th November 2004 at 00:00
The glue-sniffing tearaways of St Brian's show their human side

A shriek from the kitchenette resounds across the staffroom. I look up to see a purple-faced Les Twigg waving a tub of peanut butter in the air. "So who's the light-fingered sneak this time?" he howls. "At least they could have the decency to put the lid back on!" John Baller waves at Les to shut up as he's on the phone to a delivery firm trying to track down a stock order he made two weeks ago. "So you're seriously trying to tell me that you allowed a 13-year-old to sign for 12 boxes of typewriter correction fluid? Christ, I don't believe it!" John slams down the phone, picks up his paper cup of coffee and hurls it at the wall. As I watch the brown sludge slide down a poster advertising the Teacher Support Network's stress helpline, I note that the clock is showing 9.30am. We're barely an hour into the day.

In a corner, Sameera Khan, a chemistry teacher who just about touches 5ft in her brown Birkenstock sandals, is sipping a cup of green tea. Sameera returned from compassionate leave this morning following the death of her mother, and I decide to offer my condolences. But as I approach her, someone barges me out of the way. It's Nigel Horsmel, the deputy head.

"Great to have you back on board, Sameera," he gushes. "The phone calls and letters obviously did the trick. Sorry about ringing during the funeral service, but we can't make exceptions can we?" Sameera starts to sniffle.

"I wasn't asking for favours, Mr Horsmel. I just wanted to mourn my mother.

Surely two days wasn't too much to ask?" "Yes, well, you're back with your real family now, aren't you!" The room falls silent.

Horsmel can sense the mood turning against him. He explains that he's cracking down on unnecessary absence as part of a new attendance scheme called "I Want To Go To Work" which St Brian's is piloting for the DfES.

Sameera begins to cry.

"Anyway, you'd better get stuck in straight away," stammers Horsmel. "It's all part of the healing process. You'll be taking 8C for PSHE. Here," he says, shoving a pile of worksheets on "Preparing for puberty" into her hands before bolting for the door.

There is a collective gasp. 8C are the younger but equally frightening siblings of the dreaded 10C. They include Grant Gunner, brother of the sociopathic twins, Gavin and Gareth; and Hermione Morrison, sister to Jennifer. The Morrisons are the school's only surviving middle-class family; the girls wear Alice bands in their hair and have clear complexions.

Expecting trouble, I accompany Sameera to the classroom, but the kids are strangely quiet. I watch, primed to intervene, as Grant Gunner rises and walks slowly towards Sameera 's desk. "It's for you, Miss," he whispers, and holds up a limp bunch of flowers, browning around the edges. "We're all sorry, Miss."

I'm frozen with shock. "It's lovely, Grant," says Sameera, smiling. "And I appreciate the thought. But I'm afraid the flowers will have to be returned to the Remembrance Day display in the foyer." Grant nods and retreats to his seat, leaving behind a faint whiff of liquid paper.

Next week: Blaine's skills really are advanced. Charity Begins: adventures of an NQT, Charity Casement'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 TESbookshop at

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