Charity begins

14th January 2005 at 00:00
You don't need a psychometric test to tell you Gabriel is barmy.

This year's buzz words are vision and leadership, apparently. Alastair Scarlett, our Kabbalah-practising head, is standing in front of an interactive whiteboard on which images of sunsets and star constellations are flashing up to a soundtrack of South American pipe music. As he spells out the St Brian's mission statement for 2005, a nervous shiver passes through the staff meeting. The exception to this general mood of passive resentment is Gabriel Mooney, our unstable RE teacher, who is nodding enthusiastically and muttering to himself. "Yes, yes, mission. That's what it is, a mission!" Gabriel's head of department, John Bishop, glances anxiously at his wild-eyed colleague. Scarlett fiddles with his red bracelet, his protection against the Evil Eye - and there are plenty of malevolent stares to ward off today.

"It's the feast of the Epiphany, Charity," John whispers to me. "It always gets him over-excited. He starts to have his visions - and not the sort the boss is talking about." I sigh sympathetically. John Bishop is truly a modern martyr. This time last year Gabriel became convinced that a pile of discarded chicken bones in the playground formed the shape of the body of Christ. The shroud of St Brian's generated some minor local media coverage - most of it of the "Are our children safe with these maniacs?" variety - but the governors refused Gabriel's request for the playground to be declared consecrated land.

John shrugs his shoulders. "I can't get him to take his medication or wear his prescription glasses. No wonder he hallucinates. How can you lead or manage that?" Right on cue, Gabriel jumps to his feet, gesticulating manically at the screen. "I see her. Don't you? Do you see her? It's Our Lady!" Everyone stares at the image on the screen of a woman in a pashmina, wearing tweed jodhpurs. "It's not the Madonna, Mr Mooney," says Scarlett in a soothing tone. "It's Madonna. It's a picture I took on retreat in the holy land over Christmas. Madge, I mean Esther, is an inspiration to us all."

After this brief but entertaining interlude we are invited to discover the inner leader in us all through self-analysis. A questionnaire is distributed with tick boxes next to statements such as: "You suspect a colleague is pilfering pens from the departmental stock room. Do you: a) approach them privately and offer counselling; b) keep a detailed dossier on everything that's missing and confront them in the pub; c) threaten to grass them up to the senior management team if they don't agree to take your cover lessons for the next two terms?"

I can't quite see the relevance to school leadership of question 15 - "Do you prefer to go on top during sex?" - but Nigel Horsmel, the deputy head and architect of this amateurish attempt at psychometric testing, will tolerate no dissent. "Ah, Miss Casement, I can see you are going to come down on the dominant-assertive side of the suitability spectrum," he sneers. "But remember, compliance and loyalty are virtues too."

As I leave the room amid a shower of paper planes, I wonder if the thumping inside my left temple is my inner leader trying to get out or just the usual end-of-meeting migraine kicking in.

Next week: Analysing Angel

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