Christmas? Crackers...

24th December 2004 at 00:00
Snow was falling steadily as Santa Claus loaded up the last few parcels from a massive pile of presents on to his heavily laden sledge. He stamped his boots a couple of times and walked slowly indoors.

"Why on earth do they always have to hold the governors' meeting on Christmas Eve?" he grumbled.

"It's a tradition," Mrs Claus replied."You know how keen the Government is on tradition nowadays."

"Yes, but it's a tradition they only introduced by law a couple of years back," Santa sighed wearily, "if I weren't chairman I'd send my apologies."

"Oh no, you can't do that, dear," Mrs Claus chided. "You've been chairman ever since Snowland school opened. They expect youto be there. Anyway, I thoughtyou said there were some important decisions to be made at this meeting."

Santa groaned. His head was spinning with a colossal list of billions of presents, yet he was expected to master a fat wad of papers on top of it all, plus grasp the sensitivities and nuances of agenda items littered across a deadly political minefield. One brief daydream and the school grounds would be sold off to a supermarket.

He opened the meeting. "Item one, perhaps the head could just give a short account of the background". He mentally kicked himself with one of his huge snowboots as the last syllables fell from his lips. Asking "Uriah", as he was commonly known, for a brief explanation was like launching a probe to the planet Pluto: it would be a very long time before it reached its conclusion.

Seemingly hours later the exposition ground to a halt. Three sentences would have sufficed. The school should apply for specialist status. The main specialist area would be "snow", with subsidiary "ice". Large bounties awaited.

The arguments raged back and forth. Advantage: lots of money to tackle topics like "snow across the curriculum" and "igloo construction".

Disadvantage: need to raise pound;50,000. Decision: offer 50,000 penguins.

Item two, a bid from Chris Woodhead to buy the school for50 pence and 2,000 remaindered copies of his book Class War, so he could turn it into a private school. Decision: sell him a clapped out igloo with a hole in the roof for half a million.

The third item was more tricky, a complaint from a parent that the staff were refusing to take any more school trips to the North Pole. "It's the unions, chairman," the head explained.

"Ever since Darren Rowbottom fell down a crevasse and had to be sledded back as a giant ice cube, the unions have told teachers not to go on any more trips. But it's alright, because pupils can take a virtual trip to the Pole on a DVD-Rom, without leaving the building, so it's dead safe now."

Santa looked at his watch. Outside the window the two lead reindeer, Donner and Blitzen, snorted in the cold air, eager to be on their way.

"Item four is the big one, chairman."

Santa jerked rapidly out of his daydream at Uriah's slimy voice.

"Is it? Er... I mean, yes indeed." He should have known better.

Every year the head managed to con the governors into giving him a pay bonus.

Usually he would promise to retire the following summer, so they would agree out of sheer relief. By the next meeting he had invariably decided to stay "for the good of the school".

This year was no exception. Uriah cleared his throat. "You will note from the budget statement that I have managed to save a large sum of money by using teaching assistants instead of teachers. I think that merits a sizeable bonus for yours truly."

"Unqualified teachers? Is that wise?," Santa frowned.

"Oh yes, of course, chairman", Uriah cooed soothingly, "we're following government guidelines to the letter".

Governors were looking sceptical, so he gathered tempo. "I've sorted out the problems. The Women's Institute will be doing the food technology, just as we were advised, so they've been asked to do a bit of science and maths as well, while they're here. The only piece of government advice we've had difficulty with has been getting the caretaker to take football."

"Why's that?," Santa enquired.

"She hates football and she's got a bunion," the head replied.

Santa looked despairingly outside, as the snow fell more heavily. Wally Plonker, the Ofsted lay inspector, who helped him load up, was putting the last set of presents aboard - a dozen nodding MPs for the Prime Minister to keep on the back shelf of his official car and a box labelled "500 crazy Christmas wheezes" for his thinktank. It was clearly going to be another interesting year for education.

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