Charity begins

11th March 2005 at 00:00
The lunchtime supervisor has acquired special powers at St Brian's

Someone's protecting Nigel Horsmel. Last week the local paper ran a piece exposing the deputy head as a charlatan with no formal teaching qualifications who got into the profession during the early days of local management of schools when he was working as a photocopier engineer and got co-opted on to the senior management team. It was all true, but something strange has happened: this week the Argus published a full retraction and an apology. The rumour is that the editor was leant on by Jessie McNally.

Jessie, the lunchtime supervisor, is unconditionally loyal to Horsmel, in the same way that a battered dog is fiercely defensive of an owner who has rescued it from an abusive home. Their attachment stretches back to 1993, when Nigel embarked upon intensive one-to-one counselling with Jessie, then an unruly Year 7 pupil at St Brian's. He used some rather controversial cognitive behaviour therapies combined with sensory deprivation sessions in the referral unit and heavy doses of lithium carbonate.

Nigel was so proud of his efforts with Jessie that he wrote a paper, Breaking the Noncompliant Child, which he managed to get published in Police Review. He developed a stock joke: "Give me a deviant child in Year 7 and I'll give you a serial killer at GCSE."

The trauma of de-institutionalisation proved too much for Jessie, who made a seamless transition from Year 11 at St Brian's to Strangleton, the local psychiatric hospital. After three years of fruitless treatment, her doctors referred her back to the school, deeming her environmental conditioning to be beyond help. So Jessie "moved on" by returning to St Brian's, where she proved to be a highly effective supervisor who knew all the dodges and had an uncanny knack of anticipating the next move of the lunchtime delinquent.

She didn't have to speak when children misbehaved; she would just chew her gum, raise her eyebrows and crack a knuckle.

But lately her remit seems to have spread to the staffroom. Stragglers returning from the 13 Horseshoes at lunchtime have complained of Jessie confronting them at the gate and asking to smell their breath. Teachers who attempt to nip out of class to the loo can expect the on-call phone to be rung immediately and a breathless SMT member to be waiting for them on their return demanding to know why the class has been left unattended for 20 seconds.

So I'm not entirely surprised that my afternoon lesson with 10C should be interrupted by Jessie entering the room with a large folder under her arm.

I act cool. "Oh, hello, Miss McNally, how can I help? Not more cutlery gone missing, I hope!" Jessie doesn't smile, she just walks to the back of the room and pulls up a chair. "Don't mind me, Miss Casement, just doing me rounds. Someone's got to look after this place, eh?" Then she unwraps a stick of chewing gum and leans back in her chair to survey her home.

Charity Casement is the alter ego of a north London secondary school teacher. Next week: All is not well at Hugh Young.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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