Charity begins

4th February 2005 at 00:00
I've had the Monday from hell, and it's about to get worse. We've been summoned by the senior management team to evaluate our pupil achievement tracking data. This rarely takes long, as even the most innumerate members of staff understand what a straight line at the bottom of a graph means: St Brian's is not an effective institution. But something is different this time. Alastair Scarlett, the head, is sitting at the front of the room, flanked as ever by Nigel Horsmel, his smirking deputy, and AmyStudds, the bursar whose dress sense is more pole-dancing club than school office. But there's another, more ominous, presence: Oriel Greer, LEA adviser and martial arts fanatic.

Oriel isn't happy. Amid the ranting about performance indicators, medians and statistical deviation, she has identified a self-evident truth: we don't add value. Nigel Horsmel smiles as Oriel's assault intensifies. He believes St Brian's to be beyond redemption, and openly advocates closure, arguing that rebirth as a food technology academy ("The Mr Burger College and Kitchen") is the only way forward.

It is the only way forward for Nigel Horsmel, whose promotion ladder is missing a few rungs. Scarlett is too tight with the DfES for his position ever to be threatened while St Brian's staggers on (there are rumours he has abandoned Kabbalah and signed up with Opus Dei), and Horsmel has never really recovered from the unpleasant accusations posted on the Friends Reunited website by our most recent Ofsted inspectors.

"I think what Ms Greer is trying to say," he sneers, "is that there's nowhere to run, folks. You're a bunch of failures."

"Not quite Mr Horsmel," Oriel snaps. "There is one anomaly to address."

Apparently, our key stage 3 English results are above the national average.

There are several loud gasps, as the staff sit staring at each other, unable to take in the news. "Is this someone's idea of a joke?" says John Baller. After years of special measures, negative press coverage (sample headline: "Is this the sickest school in Britain?"), hit squads and police raids, the teachers of St Brian's are more frightened of success than failure.

"Where is he?" Oriel demands. "Where's the key stage 3 English co-ordinator?" All heads turn towards Harry Thomas, sitting at the back tapping on his laptop.

"Mr Thomas, you appear to be an island of good practice in a sea of ineptitude. Would you mind sharing your secret with us? Is it your benchmarking, action planning, quality assurance, classroom control? What is it?"

Harry stands up diffidently, his face partially hidden behind a dark mop of hair. He rubs his hands on his chinos, removes his glasses and takes a deep breath as though what he is about to say will be a great weight off his mind. "Well, I... I don't bother with that stuff much. I, um, just sort of teach the kids."

Someone sniggers. A mobile phone rings, the flat notes of "Waltzing Mathilda" hanging in the air. Otherwise all is silent as we absorb Harry's indiscretion.

Nigel Horsmel's face is vivid purple, his eyes are ablaze. "What the hell are you talking about, Thomas?" he yells. Harry picks up his laptop, looks at his watch and turns to the heavy mob at the front. "You'll have to excuse me, everyone, but I'm taking 10C to see Coriolanus tonight.


Next week: Oh no, not Valentine's day

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