End-of-term madness ...

24th June 2005 at 01:00

The last week of term sees the history department severely depleted.

Several activity trips have still to return, Sandra Denver is away all week and Fraser Boyle is still off sick.

Mr Boyle has been off for most of the year with a variety of depressive illnesses and the occasional physical one. His sick notes have come in with monotonous regularity, with the exceptions of periods just preceding any major holiday. At Christmas, for example, he managed to make it in for two days before we broke up, and the week before Easter his recovery from a "serious stomach ailment" seemed almost Lazarus-like. Alas, a relapse occurred not long before Pentecost and Mr Boyle has been off ever since.

Anyway, a combination of trips, illness and in-service training arrangements meant that Christine Donovan and probationer Duncan Colquhoun were the only history staff available for their very full timetable this afternoon, and I got lumbered with a "please take".

Happily enough, it was with a sixth year group, all preparing for their transition into adulthood as they leave our educational ministrations next week. Strangely, so close to the end of session, there was nearly a full attendance. It was ironic, given that half of this particular class had spent much of their school lives in a variety of school-avoidance tactics.

There wasn't a great deal of educational benefit to be derived from the word-searches left by Ms Denver, so we spent a happy hour in reminiscent mode as we recalled the halcyon days of yore.

"D'ye mind when Simon was aye honkin', surr?" queried Peter Taylor, much to the embarrassment of Simon Sheridan, who had, indeed, suffered from some personal hygiene problems during his earlier adolescent years.

I tried to move the conversation forward, but it went further downhill as Simon retorted: "An whit about when you mooned yer arse in biology, then, Pete? What a whiff we a' goat!"

I shuddered as I recalled the incident in question, or more especially the response of "Coarse" Davie McManus. He it was who had chosen to check the veracity of the reports by producing a plastic torso and a felt marker from his biology store cupboard in order to ascertain just how far the boy had lowered his trousers. The parental complaints came in for weeks afterwards.

Ah, me. They do say it is the extra-curricular activities and events that make school life so memorable, rather than the relentless drive of an exam-driven curriculum. I just wish that our departing sixth year had slightly more wholesome memories to look back upon and savour.


One pupil whose departure would give us greater pleasure than all the rest put together has still, alas, at least two more years of compulsory education before him. "Mainstream" Michael Kerr has caused more than his fair share of behavioural havoc since the Scottish Executive's inclusion policy dropped him into Greenfield Academy.

Unfortunately, his education liaison officer has been particularly successful at ensuring Michael's attendance this term, and we have been plagued by frequent incidences of low-level indiscipline, mid-level indiscipline and quantum-level indiscipline.

Today, at last, gave us cause for hope, as Simon Young read aloud a weeks-old report from a newspaper he had found down the back of a chair in the English department base.

"Listen to this, folks!" he called excitedly. "Mary Warnock's changed her tune on this one all right. It was her that started all this inclusion nonsense, and now she's saying that, I quote, 'pressure to include pupils with problems in mainstream schools causes confusion, of which children are the casualties'. Hah! Too bloody right, Mary. And what about the teachers who are casualties?" he posed a rhetorical question to the entire base.

He continued reading, his ire rising with every passing sentence. "She says here that 'inclusiveness springs from hearts in the right place but that its implementation and the consequent moving of pupils out of special schools has been a disastrous legacy'! Give the woman a ruddy coconut!" he commended a motion agreed by all.

When I think of the endless disruptions caused by Michael since the day he arrived with us, the constant and useless referrals, the violence and the harm he has done to the education of so many other pupils, the sheer insolence of the boy and our impotence to deal with it I well, I just wish that Baroness Warnock had thought of something else to do the day she decided that inclusion was a good idea.

And now we discover that she has changed her mind.

It really does seem to have been a case of Mary, Mary, quite contrary.


Mr Colquhoun was the only member of the history department in school today.

Ms Donovan has succumbed to "a touch of the Boyles", as any suspicious absence has become popularly known, and it fell to Duncan to hold the fort alone.

He took the task to heart and, for one so inexperienced, made a fair stab at providing work for as many classes as possible, but he did look rather drained when I met him at lunchtime.

"Tough class, Duncan?" I asked.

"No, no," he shook his head. "I've just had to hold a departmental meeting."

"I'm sorry?" I cocked my head. "But surely if you're the only member of the department who is present today, then you wouldn't need to hold a departmental I?"

"That's what you'd think, Morris, isn't it?" he cut in. "But Richard Broadbent said I had to and the boss agreed. And they wanted minutes taken."

"You're joking!"

"Sadly, I'm not. They make interesting reading: Mr Colquhoun tended to propose a lot of ideas and he was usually fully supported - but not invariably - by Mr Colquhoun."

"So what happened when they didn't agree?"

"We had a vote on it. If it was a tie, then Mr Colquhoun got the casting vote."

I think it is as well that the end of term approaches. A phrase about asylums being taken over comes forcefully to mind.


I have received the book list for the chartered teacher programme and it all seems rather daunting. Apart from a preponderance of "essential" texts (written mainly by some of the course organisers, so far as I can see) there is a wealth of "recommended summer reading" to ensure that we are up to academic speed in time for the course beginning next session.

I know that the financial attractions on offer are enticing, but I do wonder if I'm cut out for this. Apart from anything else, it won't put me on a salary much higher than Fraser Boyle's (he is a conserved assistant head). Yet, as well as carrying out my own job, I'll be working during all my leisure hours to get it. While his work comprises solely leisure hours, so far as I can make out.

As if to emphasise the point, he turned up at school today, a few days earlier than anyone had expected. It transpires that he thought today there was a Unison strike, which would have meant the school would be closed. It wasn't, so it was a bit of a shock to his system.

"Still," he shrugged his shoulders as I corrected him, "I guess there won't be much teaching going on, is there? It'll all be DVD days by now, won't it? That's why I thought I'd be able to manage to return, if the teaching burden wasn't too onerous, what with me in my condition."

"On the contrary, Fraser," I assured him coolly, "some of us are still carrying out a very full teaching timetable, in accordance with Ms Gibbon's instructions."

Then I scurried off to start Schindler's List with the fourth year as an introduction to next year's prejudice topic. Unfortunately, they had just seen the same extract in their history class ...


Peter McLeish arrived at my classroom door this morning to bid farewell. He is not returning for the final week as he is seeking a summer job.

He made a last-minute request to check over his cv. I scanned the carefully typed pages and made mental self-congratulation on behalf of the school, whose vocational training programme had clearly made an impact.

It was an impressive document listing a range of transferable skills attractive to any employer.

Hang on a minute, though, I checked myself before handing it back with an all-clear. "Have you checked with the referees that they are OK with their names being on here?"

"How d'you mean, sur? It jist said provide the names of two referees, so ah pit down two referees."

"So you haven't asked them?"

"How d'you mean, ask them? Ah dinny know them."

I checked the names more carefully. "Peter," I said cautiously, "would this Hugh Dallas and this William Young, 'co the SFA', as it says here, be football referees?"

"Aye, sur," he smiled. "That's whit they ur, intit? Referees."

I sighed and bit my lip. I think I need a holiday.

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