Gangs, riots and the missing stash

3rd March 2006 at 00:00
Monday. Malcolm Saunderson was away for an interview this afternoon, adding yet another half-day to his already impressive collection of absences. With any luck, he will be successful in his application for a post researching the teaching profession's response to A Curriculum for Excellence. Then, at least, we might get a replacement who will pull his weight in the English department.

"Well, if he gets the job," remarked Simon Young, as I went off for my last class of the afternoon, "he could do worse than make a start by reporting how the curriculum for excellence is such a burning topic of conversation in Greenfield Academy. We talk of little else, do we?"

I gave a rueful grin in response and hurried off to my room. It always pays to be in the class before the third years arrive on a Monday afternoon.

Alas, I might have been quick enough to be there ahead of them, but my vigilance clearly waned at some point during the lesson: having left my jacket draped around my chair at the front of the class, while I went on a tour of marking duty around the room, it was with disquiet afterwards that I realised my wallet had been emptied of a significant sum of cash.

Of course, I didn't discover it until they'd been dismissed, when I realised that the gang slogans being swapped between Peter Westhouse and Ryan Hedgcock towards the end of the lesson had been either an intentional distraction or had provided an opportunist moment for person or persons unknown to liberate five pound;10 notes.

I set to marking their jotters as I pondered what to do. It seemed ironic that the close reading questions had been taken from a passage on Oliver Twist, and concerned the nefarious doings of Fagin's gang of street urchins.

And I found it increasingly annoying that I couldn't get Ron Moody's damned song out of my head for the rest of the evening.

Got to pick a pocket or two, indeed ...


Apparently, there is a worrying upsurge of gangland activities between rival schools in the area. It even extends to the primaries, as Gail was telling me this evening when we snuggled up for a cuddle on the sofa.

"God, I can't wait for my maternity leave to start, Morris,"

she confessed. "We were out in the playground today, chasing off a group of Primary 5 boys from Monkton Road who'd apparently taken up a texted challenge from our P5s for a massed battle at lunchtime."

"There, there," I soothed her. "Only two months to go and you can wave goodbye to it for a good long rest, dear."

She looked balefully at me as I realised that "a good long rest" probably wasn't the most tactful description of the last weeks of pregnancy, a subsequent labour and the ensuing first months of infancy, but she let it rest, shut her eyes and seemed to relax for a blissful 10 seconds.

"And another thing!" she sat bolt upright. "You know what they've got us doing now? Personal learning plans! Personal bloody learning plans for Primary 3 through to Primary 7! I ask you!

"How on earth are we supposed to fit in 31 individual interviews to assess and agree every child's next anticipated learning target - even if they understood what it was - and then record what steps they plan to take to implement and achieve it? Along with every other ruddy thing they're trying to squeeze into every day that stops us teaching them anything useful, like learning to read or write."

She was becoming quite animated. "Hush, Gail, hush," I laid a soothing hand on her. "You don't want an early arrival, do you? It would cut short the maternity leave."

That seemed to do the trick. She blinked twice, gulped heavily and lay back in my arms once more.

"Anything but that, Morris."


Today's pre-prandial lesson with my third year class - the last of the morning - gave me the opportunity to interrogate them about my classroom theft.

"Right," I announced before the bell rang. "Nobody's getting out of this class for lunch until we have a little word about Monday afternoon, when some money disappeared from my jacket during the last period.

"Now, I've thought long and hard about this and, before reporting the matter to the police, I'm going to give the culprit a chance to own up and, in case he or she doesn't, I'm going to give the rest of you the chance to help in the inquiry. Because somebody must have seen something ..." I let my voice tail off dramatically.

"Each of you will write a name on a piece of paper," I continued. "If you stole the money, simply confess, make arrangements to return it and I'll take no further action. But just in case you don't confess, I want every member of the class to advise me of their suggestions for the thief's name and let me know if they have any evidence. I'll read all the responses before you leave," I shouted across the lunchtime bell, "and will follow up appropriately."

They looked a little taken aback at the detention, but when they realised I was serious, they all got writing furtively and put their slips into a basket on my desk before returning to their seats.

I started to read the responses eagerly I and realised it hadn't worked.

Accusations ranged from Mrs Gibbon, our esteemed headteacher, to Mr Dallas, the janitor, plus several members of the Hollyoaks cast list and Donald Duck, rounding off with the final slip: "Colonel Mustard. In the conservatory. With a dagger."

I pursed my lips and nodded, trying desperately to pretend that I'd got the valuable information I needed before dismissing them. Whereupon I noticed Michael Kerr sauntering to the door with an extremely shiny - and new - leather jacket over his regulation shirt and school tie.

Eyes narrowed, I stared him straight in the eyes. He stared back, challenging and defiant.

I think I've got my chief suspect.


Major excitement at lunchtime as Christina Harry, of business studies, rushed into the English base, looked frantically around, then grabbed me.

"Quickly, Morris! I need a man!"

Refraining from the obvious riposte, I allowed her to elaborate.

"Major gang trouble up town. Mrs Saunders (our chief kitchen executive) reports a mass exodus of pupils from the lunch hall shouting slogans and heading for Rockston centre. Come and help!"

We headed quickly to her Ford Focus and sent the gravel flying as Mrs Harry let out the clutch. My neck was forced back into the head restraint with some force as we squealed out of the "Entrance" gate, narrowly missing Kevin Muir, one of our depute heads, on his way back from an in-service course. It was like an episode of The Bill as we raced towards Rockston and Mrs Harry tried to communicate with the police on her mobile phone as she drove.

"That's right!" she shouted. "High Street, probably. I'm on my way with another member of staff!"

Next thing I knew, we were in the bus lane passing cars and lorries to our right, much to their obvious ire and Mrs Harry's excitement.

"Isn't this illegal?" I asked.

"Oh, Morris!" she scoffed. If anyone stops us, tell them we're from Greenfield Academy on our way to stop a school riot."

But by the time we got there, it was mostly over. Or, rather, it hadn't started, beyond a minor scuffle, quickly quelled by three policemen, who were even now frisking three of our likeliest lads (Michael Kerr among them), as well as a larger grouping from St Ainsley's independent school.

"Oh well," Mrs Harry looked suddenly deflated. "Back to school, then," she sighed, looking a little like a deflated Cagney or Lacey after a failed stake-out. "Still, it added a bit of excitement to the day."

Personally, it's the kind of excitement I could do without.


I resolved to inform the police of my theft, but have been stopped from so doing by Pat Gibbon.

"I'm sorry, Morris," she explained. "I've had a lot of parents on the phone complaining that you kept their children in over the lunch hour and ..."

"The lunch hour? It was five minutes, 10 at most!"

"Doesn't matter. They're all claiming it's against their children's human rights, and the education offices would probably support them."

"Well, I don't care," I handed her my incident report form. "I want the school's backing on this theft and I want the police called."

"Morris," she frowned. "D'you think the police have got any more chance of solving this than you do, or I do? In many respects, this is your own fault anyway: you should never have left a jacket with that much money in it unattended in your room. It's asking for trouble.

"If you want to involve the police, then you can do so through your own request, but it's not going through the school."

I watched speechless as she turned away, then shook my head and headed for my room - and my third year class.

As they filed in, the only source of pleasure was seeing a large rent in the back of Michael Kerr's new leather jacket, no doubt the result of yesterday's skirmish in town.

Still inconsolable with fury over my head's lack of support, I decided to make it a silent reading period while I sat at the front of the room and stared at them. My jacket remained firmly buttoned.

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