Explosive last stand of the Chernobyl children

2nd July 2004 at 01:00

At last, we approach the final spasm of another dismal session and the draining prospect of clearing our classrooms in preparation for the move into our newly constructed PPP school in August.

I am moved to reflect - 20 years after I joined the teaching profession - that if I don't make a move soon, I could be leaving it rather late to find an alternative career path. Of course, I think these thoughts every year in June and then the blissful dawn of a lengthy summer holiday walks over the hills of my despair and I sink once more into a self-deluding trance that teaching really is one of the best jobs in the world.

The events of this morning should have persuaded me otherwise. Once again, the effects of our authority's inclusion policy manifested themselves in the highly visible form of yet another whole-school evacuation (the fifth this month) initiated by "Mainstream" Michael Kerr, who remains on the school roll as a result of our need to accommodate socially offensive pupils at all costs.

Kerr's penchant for setting off fire alarms became apparent yet again at 10.30am as we all trooped into the playground. Luckily, there are few pupils around at this time of year.

We know it was Kerr who broke the alarm glass in C wing and we know it was 10.30am because that is what was recorded by the closed-circuit television cameras, in front of which the gormless idiot chose to perform his most recent indisciplinary action.

Unfortunately for Sonia McEwan, Kerr's social worker (who accompanies him to all his classes to assist his developmental needs), it also recorded her temporary abandonment of her charge as she answered a call of nature, which left him unsupervised for those vital moments.

Although it was extremely annoying to be called into the playground for another spurious roll-call, it was almost worth it for the recording of Ms McEwan emerging from the ladies' lavatory in a state of partial undress, and looking extremely flustered as she searched in vain for young Kerr. Our janitor, Mr Dallas, has already made multiple copies of the episode and looks set to make a healthy profit on his initiative.


The technical department is up in arms, having been refused permission to install the data projectors that have been lying dormant in Room C31 since Christmas.

Apparently, our local authority, having spent several thousand pounds on 10 data projectors to enhance Greenfield Academy's electronic learning potential, has still to locate funds to install them. Obviously, Mr Kerr (principal teacher, technical) and the rest of his department are as qualified to do the job as any authority approved installation engineers but they have not been risk assessed for such a purpose and so remain impotent holders of the appropriate drills, cables and wall plugs necessary to complete the task.

It is especially galling at this time of year, because we wanted to use the data projectors for their ultimate educational justification: showing films to those pupils foolish enough to show up on the last two days of term.


Today was marked by two momentous events. In the evening, we all trooped off to the retirement dinner for Richard Dick, our outgoing headteacher. It was a three-line whip, if truth be told, and consisted mainly of authority officials praising him for things he claimed to have done and members of the senior management team being considerably nicer to his face than they have been behind his back.

Much more importantly, I won the staff Scrabble championship this afternoon and, having won it twice before, am thus allowed to keep the trophy. It was a particularly fierce final, with "Coarse" Davie McManus claiming several controversial words, none of which could be found in even the most liberal of dictionaries, and eventually admitting defeat as I placed my final triple word score to take an unassailable lead.

With this being potentially the last year of the competition (SQA exam leave for pupils is being abandoned next year, which will scupper the early rounds), it looks as if I might have secured myself a small place in the history of the school as the final champion.


Simon Young is furious about his budget for the English, communications and media studies faculty. Apparently, it has all been used up before we are even into the new academic session.

"It's ridiculous!" he fumed this morning. "The authority has demanded its usual repayment of a percentage of the school's per capita budget for their management costs - I ask you! - And now they've demanded an extra 2 per cent back for 'cost savings', with the net result that everything has gone on the everyday running costs and I haven't a brass farthing left for books or videos or anything else that might offer us the remotest chance of educating the kids properly."

It does seem a shame that we can't even buy the set of new textbooks that the last departmental meeting voted upon, and I was moved to ponder where all of the money actually goes in our education system. "After all," I commented, "the Scottish Executive keeps announcing bucketloads of the stuff, but I have to say that it doesn't seem to have made much of a difference in my classroom over the past 10 years."

"I'll tell you where some of it's going," announced Mr Kerr, who caught my last remark in passing. "There's 10 grand of it going on fixing data projectors to the ceilings and another grand each for the architect and electrician who strolled around the place advising where to put them.

"Nice work if you can get it, eh?"

"But they can't be fixing them to the ceilings now?" I queried. "We're getting ready to move out at the end of term."

He shrugged. "Go and look."

And so, alas, it proved. No wonder there's no money for books.


Today witnessed the departure from our school roll of the "Chernobyl children", so named because of their birth year and the nuclear fall-out that occasionally has been blamed for an apparently complete absence of brain cells in many of them.

It is with ironic reflection that I look back upon my diary entry after meeting them nearly six years ago: "I this new first year looks like being a bumper crop. I know I've said it many times before, but the standard of pupils really does seem to get worse with every passing session. This morning, I made the acquaintance of Michael Willis, Peter O'Farrell, Joanna Grieves and Kylie Paterson. They are awful, truly awful.

Michael Willis can hardly write, Peter O'Farrell can barely read, and Joanna and Kylie seem to spend most of their time looking vacant and chewing gum."

Alas, six years of secondary education would appear to have made very little difference.

They wanted to mark their departure from school in spectacular fashion, of course, and had organised a morning water fight in the playground, but Richard Broadbent stepped in early to confiscate an enormous pump-action water gun and yellow helmet, which he bore aloft in triumph as he entered the staffroom.

"That's settled their hash," our depute head declared triumphantly.

"There'll be no shenanigans on my watch!"

Alas, his confidence was shaken by a lunchtime call from the local supermarket to explain that it had run out of flour and eggs because of large-scale purchases by our pupils and to express concern about their intended use. Unfortunately the call came too late and a trip outside the staffroom confines bore impressive testament to the fact that the water fight had been a preliminary skirmish.

It was a scene almost akin to the post-explosion images witnessed in the year of these pupils' birth. Hanging above a near-deserted playground was a white pall of smoke (which in fact turned out to be graded grains of finer flour). Windows, doors and every conceivable surface were coated in yellow and white, and a few desultory figures were limping away similarly sheathed.

The desperate nature of the situation was summed up by a bespattered Donny McIntyre, baseball cap reversed as usual, thrusting a fist in the air and, in a pale imitation of Mel Gibson's Braveheart Wallace, shouting "Freedom!"

to an empty arena.

It was just as well that the data projectors had been installed, really, because at least there was a reason to summon the remaining year groups together for the afternoon and offer a range of soporific DVDs across the school. The first and second years were happy with The Lion King, whilst the third and fourth year choices were The Driller Killer and The Sixth Sense respectively. Interestingly, the fifth year and a small rump of the sixth year who had missed the flour fight were having their own showing of The Lion King, seeming happier to revisit their childhood than to share in the horror enjoyed by their schoolmates.

As I listened to the tones of "Circle of Life" reverberate through the state-of-the-art surround sound system, I was moved to reflect that perhaps I shouldn't worry about the future generations as much as I do. I guess they will all take their place somewhere or other in their own circles of life and most of them will get by, whether it's because of, or in spite of, what we do for them while they're at school with us.

Hey, ho. Here's to the Michaels and the Peters, the Joannas and the Kylies.

And here's to the holidays.

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