Full marks for waste of money and effort

26th November 2004 at 00:00
Monday

Our newly built school - financed by the roller-coaster ride of public-private partnership - continues to draw praise and criticism from different quarters. The praise, alas, is in a significant minority, and issues forth largely from any councillor or educationist foolish enough to laud the scheme.

The criticisms are from anyone who has to live and work within the environs of the wretched building. Today nearly witnessed another accident in the under-sized car park provided for staff, as a phalanx of junior pupils made for the technical block after their PE lesson. Unfortunately, this was just as David McManus (formerly PT Biology, but now ordinary teacher, conserved) was arriving late for work after a dental appointment that had clearly increased his levels of aggression. Why cars and children have not been effectively separated in a school car park built in the new millennium remains, to me, a mystery that is almost as impenetrable as the Latin Mass.

However, at least one other major problem of the new building has been solved today. This particular issue concerned the walls that were erected in the creative arts block. The architect had envisioned a faculty of "interchangeable artistic creativity", and had therefore decreed that the walls separating the classrooms in the music and art departments should not rise to the ceiling. Instead, separating partitions have been provided that culminate in a free-flowing wave three-quarters of the way to the roof. Apparently, it represents the "inspirational curve of free-flowing thought".

Unfortunately, it also hampered the efforts of Mrs Carmichael's Higher art class last week as the pupils were attempting some contemplative artistic reflection to the background accompaniment of the junior orchestra's attempts on the Radetzky March, whose full-blooded approach made up in enthusiasm what it lacked in accuracy.

This was simply the culmination of many weeks' noise-some frustration for Mrs Carmichael, so it was hardly surprising that she let her feelings be known in no uncertain manner and demanded that something be done at once.

Thus, the council architect arrived this morning and has agreed to erect hardboard partitions along the top of the room separators. Although his injunctions might hamper the free curve of interchangeable artistic thought, it should certainly keep the noise out. Or in, depending on your perspective.

I hope they agree to paint the extra hardboard the same colour as the walls...

Tuesday

We have a geography student in the school. This is something of a surprise after the principal teacher of social subjects had refused any such request from our local institute of teacher education, owing to the lack of a subject specialist at the appropriate level of seniority who could mentor such a student.

However, the arrival of a new laptop in the social studies staff base would suggest the existence of secret negotiations between our headteacher and the education authority.

The allocation of "student mentoring" to the growing responsibilities of Leslie Hasler (PT of the Ground Floor West wing, but also a geography teacher) would, of course, merely suggest a happy confluence of need and availability. At least Leslie now has a responsibility area that is somewhere within her sphere of knowledge. That's quite unusual, these days.

Wednesday

My wife reports back from the primary sector, and her concerns fill me with foreboding against the arrival of the current Primary 1s in Greenfield Academy some seven years hence.

"You wouldn't believe it, Morris!" Gail opined at tea-time this evening. "I'm just glad that I won't see them for another five years, but Susan Watt's nearly pulling her hair out."

"Oh? Why's that?" I queried, as I helped myself to another slice of lemon meringue pie.

"They just don't listen. Or they can't listen. Susan puts it down to the fact that they're the first year-group to have had two years of nursery education."

"What? But surely nursery prepares them for school transition - gets them disciplined into the ways of how they need to behave in school?"

"No way. In fact, it's exactly the opposite. It gets them undisciplined in a very specific way, at least as far as Susan can see. They shout out at random, they wander about when they feel like it, and they want to play all day. And they've certainly learnt a lot of social skills - like chatting to each other all day long - but as far as being educated in the ways of learning, I don't think it's working.

"But there's no point complaining," she assured me heroically. "We're into 3-18 education now, and that's a very laudable aim on the part of the Executive," she poured herself another glass of wine and toasted the future (in slightly slurred fashion, it has to be admitted).

"Personally," she continued aggressively, "I'm looking forward to the next government initiative in support of the Zero-to-21 Education Policy. And that'll mean representatives from the Executive in maternity wards across the land, trying to make sure that every child gets a proper start to their education the moment they pop out of the bloody womb!"

It seemed an unnecessarily cynical comment, I thought. But perhaps I shouldn't criticise too harshly. After all, I'll be getting that class in seven years if I'm still at Greenfield Academy.

God forbid.

Thursday

Peter Marsh had a terrible geography "crit" from his tutor this afternoon.

Personally, I still feel it was unfair that Leslie Hasler's geography student had such an early test of his abilities, only three days after entering the school for the first time, but the lateness of his placement had apparently made this assessment imperative.

Anyway, it seemed particularly unfair that an extremely well-planned lesson was scuppered because of Greenfield Academy's recently upgraded IT security systems: to explain, the poor lad had prepared an extremely innovative lesson using all of the interactive IT resources at his disposal, including whiteboard displays and a live IT link to a website detailing the chalk lands of West Sussex.

Alas, the final geographical suffix could not pass the school's recently upgraded firewalls, with the result that young Mr Marsh's entire lesson plan cascaded around his ears.

What was even more piteous was the fact that his tutor, John Hardy (DipEd 1972), didn't have a clue about what had gone wrong and simply chose to accord the lesson a desultory grading due to "poor preparation".

It's obviously time that they took the sex out of Sussex. For John Hardy's benefit, if nobody else's...

Friday

After all of our PPP travails, I found it hard to believe that we were welcoming a delegation of admiring visitors this afternoon from an interesting variety of schools and education authorities, keen to learn from our experiences. Their expansively styled appellation, "Building Officers: Local Liaison of Central Services", had already been happily reduced to its - very obvious - acronymic shorthand, as Brian Scott, a member of the delegation and an old friend from teacher-training college, whispered in confidence to me after they'd finished their tour.

"You've come far, Brian," I couldn't help but observe. "So, how did you, er, get into Bollocs, if you'll pardon the expression?"

"Usual story, Morris," he explained easily. "Right place at the right time, and happy as a sandboy to escape the classroom for as long as I can manage.

Right now, it's a short-term secondment looking at good practice in PPP contracts. Next year, it could be a long-term secondment analysing the effects of early-stage entry for Standard grades. Or Highers. Or Intermediates." He concluded quietly: "Whatever the next bandwagon is about, you can be sure that I'll be on it as long as it keeps me out of the classroom."

I admired his chutzpah, if not his educational devotion.

"So why on earth are you here at Greenfield Academy?" I eventually broke into his rambling monologue. "If you're here to chart the wondrous success of public-private-partnership, I'd say you were on a sticky wicket," I explained, as I listed the endless litany of complaints: "overheating classrooms on the ground floor; Siberian wastes of freezing conditions on the upper floors; classrooms that are too small; no staff meeting place; a car park that's too small for its purpose and dangerous to boot; hockey pitches that are too small; roofs that don't reach the ceiling - I could go on, Andy, for as long as it takes. Why are you here - to discover what a great thing PPP has been to our schools?"

He shook his head swiftly and made a gentle correction.

"That's not why we're here, Morris," he explained kindly. "We were sent here to see an example of a school where it's a worst-case scenario. And believe me, Greenfield Academy's at the very top of the list when it comes to worst-case scenarios. What a bloody waste of money."

I sighed. At least we're leading the field in something.

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