Chess and other strategic moves

28th May 2004 at 01:00

Greenfield Academy seems abnormally quiet these days, with the absence of the senior pupils on their SQA examinations study leave. This afternoon, however, witnessed a brief visitation from the "Greenfield Girls", a collection of fourth year lovelies whose common trait has been an enthusiasm for truancy over the past year.

The senior management team devised a special incentive scheme aimed at encouraging their attendance. In short, it allowed them to accrue points for presenting themselves at school, and turnout for more than 90 per cent of the term would result in subsequent reward during the study leave period. Their prize? A trip to the Rockston Beauty Parlour (an oxymoron if ever I heard one), complete with a pound;35 leg wax voucher for each successful student!

Thus, a gaggle of over-excited S4s, led by Darlinda George and Rachel Roy, were squealing "Ohmigod! Ohmigod!" at the top of their voices as they gathered in the hall to receive their vouchers.

To my mind, it was a smart piece of marketing from the beauty parlour, which would no doubt sees the girls return time and time again for treatments through their senior school years and beyond. But it had certainly improved their attendance figures, though, to me at any rate, it all seems a far cry from getting a Collins Children's Classic as a merit award at prize-giving.


I had a "please take" for Tom Walker, our principal teacher of sport and leisure, who has been off work for two weeks with a recurrence of his sciatica. Although I wasn't expected to take the class for physical education, it might have been better if I had, because a class of third year boys expecting sport has an abnormally high level of energy waiting to expend.

I broke the news that we would retire to my classroom instead.

"Aw, surr! That's rank!" bellowed Billy Colquhoun, an aggressive adolescent I hadn't met before.

"Aye. It's bloody mingin'!" echoed Alistair Osborne, an equally unpleasant child and equally unbeknownst to me.

It was Osborne who led the crusade against my suggestion that the class do wordsearches ("Whit? Y'mean we're no gaunny play basketball? That's pish, surr!") and it was Osborne and Colquhoun who eventually confronted my authority in such a way (eyeballing me fiercely and challenging me to a "squerr-go" outside) that I had no option but to send them to the time-out room. I just hope they calmed down there.


The local authority has decreed that study leave during the SQA examination period should be stopped next year. Apparently, they believe that most pupils do not use the time effectively and would be better off studying in school or being given extra class tuition in the lead up to the exams. In particular, they feel that study leave places boys at a special disadvantage, because reports show that they spend all the time playing computer games or wandering around the town centre frightening elderly shoppers.

Personally, I think it is an appalling decision. Apart from demonstrating a severe lack of trust in the responsibility of senior pupils, it displays a disgraceful inattention to the plight of the girls, whose study leave is almost always (by definition of the same reports) used more profitably.

Even more appalling, it means the almost certain demise of the staff's annual SQA scrabble championship, whose time-honoured place in the calendar has always been assured by the absence of anything so inconvenient as senior pupils in the school. It seems inconceivable that this glittering fixture, played almost every year since the days of Bob Major and David Pickup when I arrived here nearly 20 years ago, will be shunted from the timetable.

Admittedly, it's not the same as it used to be, with fewer and fewer staff showing the inclination - or the ability - to take part, but it is a sad day none the less.

However, the trophy in the staffroom cupboard is still there for the taking and, like the Jules Rimet Cup, is still gleaming. Also like the Jules Rimet Cup, it can be kept by anyone who wins it three times. As the only member of staff with enough previous successes - and sufficient longevity at Greenfield Academy - I'm desperately hoping that person will be me. As tangible evidence of my success in at least one field of endeavour, it would certainly be more appropriate than a leg-waxing.


Mr Walker is still absent and this time it was Miss Tarbet who had the unenviable task of looking after the third years for their second PE session of the week.

Apparently, her substitute activity of making drop scones was even less popular with Osborne and Colquhoun than my wordsearches, so it was probably just as well for her that I was walking past her classroom when they were giving vent to their anger. No teacher should have to put up with that kind of language or that level of physical threat.

It was with a fiercely protective surge that I swept into the room, ordered both boys to back off and assured them I would be seeking their imminent suspension. They ceased their threats forthwith, calmed down with astonishing rapidity, then looked awkwardly at each other, bit their lips and immediately started to make apology for their behaviour.

Frankly, I couldn't believe the effect of my actions. Thus emboldened, I was able to ward off their grovelling attempts with an assurance that I would be seeking confirmation from our head at the earliest opportunity and that a letter would be going home concerning their imminent suspension.

They looked extremely crestfallen and for once in my career I realised that suspension actually could be an effective sanction. Mirabile dictu!

I trumpeted my disciplinary success in the staffroom later on, but only Mr Greig, our physics teacher, was there to hear about it. And he was too busy making what looked like an unusual contribution to Richard Dick's leaving envelope to pay much heed.

"Gosh," I remarked as I looked on. "You must think more of our departing head than I realised if you're writing a cheque for his presentation."

"Not really," he looked around, slightly startled. "I put in a cheque for pound;20 but took pound;18.50 out in change. It's a kind of a cashback service that saves me going to a bank machine on the way home.

"But won't everyone think you're being extraordinarily generous when they see the cheque?"

"Well, that's a double advantage," he confessed. "As long as nobody tells them otherwise," he put a finger to his lips and winked.


Mr Dick was less supportive than I had hoped over the Osborne Colquhoun suspension issue.

"Morris," he took me aside in the corridor this afternoon. "I'm afraid that we can't suspend those two. They were expelled from here five weeks ago."

"They were what?"

"Expelled," he confirmed. "Booted out. They've been at Kirkfield High since Easter, but apparently they preferred the PE lessons here with all their old chums, so have been coming back for PE ever since. Tom Walker obviously didn't notice for the first two weeks and the class has been covered by other PE staff since then, so I suppose it's understandable that nobody realised."

"But what about the staff at Kirkfield High? Didn't they notice they were absent?"

Mr Dick looked around to make sure that nobody was listening, then put an arm around my shoulder. "Oh, I think they probably noticed, Morris," he spoke softly, "but I think they're unlikely to have complained. Let's face it, if those two iconoclasts failed to turn up at your class, would you be sending out a search party?"

"Well, not immediately, but I" "Indeed," he said. "Now, I've had a word with Tom MacNab at Kirkfield and he would far rather we kept this entirely to ourselves. And so would I, frankly, in the interests of both schools and in the interests of the local authority. Oh, and in the interests of the pupils as well, of course," he added, just a little too late for anyone with half a brain to believe him.

I sighed, nodded in agreement and wandered into an empty staffroom, reflecting sourly on the Machiavellian intrigues that are necessary to run a modern school. No wonder nobody likes him.

Timeously, I spotted his presentation envelope on the coffee table. Being fairly short of cash myself, and deciding to follow Mr Greig's example, I got out my chequebook. Alas, further investigation revealed that Mr Greig's example had already been followed by a significant number of staff, because the package contained 10 cheques totalling pound;74, with nary a banknote or coin in sight. I felt a little like Old Mother Hubbard.

Looking at the total amount after it's been around 90 per cent of the staff (with the average donation being 85p, not counting Mr Greig's pound;1.50), I think that the recipient could end up feeling very much the same.

I couldn't very well sign a cheque for pound;1 (my own intended contribution), so made an instant decision. Quickly, I signed the card offering best wishes for a long and happy retirement, then thrust it back in the envelope unaccompanied by any donation whatsoever. I can be as devious as the next man if I have to be.

And anyway, look at the salary he gets, not to mention the imminent lump sum and an over-generous pension.

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