The ice man prepares for meltdown

27th January 2006 at 00:00

Pat Gibbon, our headteacher, is getting cold feet about the rearrangements she put in place last year for presenting third year pupils in Standard grade examinations. Having hitched her wagon to the publicity-generating star that focused on improving underachievement in the early years of secondary, she has been brought up short by recent HMInspectorate of Education reports, suggesting all that glisters may not be gold.

"The bottom line is this," she apparently explained to her senior management team this morning. "HMIE says that presenting kids too early for their exams might not be such a good idea, especially if management doesn't keep on top of all the issues.

"So I want you all to make damned sure we're on top of those issues, and I want you to cascade that to all your departments. I want a review of the situation on my desk by the end of the week. This could be a management change issue."

"Personally," explained Kevin Muir, the depute head who "cascaded" the news at our English departmental meeting this afternoon, "I think she's been watching too many Sir John Harvey-Jones programmes on TV, but she wants action this week, so I'd be grateful to have a response by Wednesday, Simon."

"But hang on!" responded our principal teacher. "If she wants to revert to the old system, we'd have this year's third year doing their Standard grades this year, but this year's second years not doing them till the fourth year, at which point this year's third year are 12 months into their Highers. Can you imagine the parental hassle we'll get?"

"Ah, but don't forget," reminded Kevin, "that this year's second years aren't doing Standard grades. Most of them are on Intermediates now."

Simon held up his hands in apology. "Of course. Sorry, I forgot that ..."

"What was that?" interrupted Malcolm Saunderson (our more than occasional absentee member of department). "What d'you mean they're on Intermediates? I've started my second years on the Standard grade course. When did we move to Intermediates?"

For a moment it looked like a scene from a Bateman cartoon, as nine pairs of eyes cast Malcolm in the central image of "The Man Who ...".

"Maybe you missed the seven departmental meetings where it was discussed, Malcolm," explained Simon frostily. "And possibly you haven't caught up with the minutes that were circulated for your various returns to work, and which I also sent to your home email, lest you had the chance to read them in your sick bed," he emphasised the word "sick" with rather more irony than I thought absolutely necessary.

Malcolm seemed oblivious. "Oh well," he shrugged. "Never mind. Standard grade and Intermediate cover more or less the same things, don't they? And things are going to change again, once A Curriculum for Excellence comes in."

Suddenly, the notion of "management change" seemed to take on greater significance, as Kevin simply coughed and keyed in some notes on his pocket PC.


Gail's pregnancy has been noticed by her Primary 6 class. Alas, gone are the halcyon days of innocence in the primary school.

When she was expecting Margaret, nine years ago now, she received several greetings cards adorned with storks when she left for maternity leave. In sharp contrast this year, an odious child called Patrick Whittaker took one look at her burgeoning stomach as she bent over to correct his jotter, leered filthily and whispered: "Wahay, Missus Simpson. Whit've youse been up tae? Eh?"

Gail straightened up instantly, bit her lip, and - probably very sensibly - decided to pretend that she hadn't heard the remark, as she explained at teatime.

"I wasn't going to give the little bugger the satisfaction of responding, so I just moved straight on to the daily news instead and asked them to share anything important."

I commended her wisdom. "It could've been tricky if you'd got into that kind of discussion with Patrick Whittaker."

"Probably," she shrugged, as she asked me for another ice cube to crunch.

"But things got tricky in another way after we went on with the news.

"Marlene Joyce was desperate to tell me she was going to the cinema tonight with her stepfather and mum. Told us she was going to see the first of the Narnia chronicles," crunch, "but she'd obviously misunderstood the film's likely subject."

"How come?" I queried.

"Well, she told us they were going to see The Lying Bitch and the Wardrobe."

I suppose it was one way of interpreting Tilda Swinton's role.


I dropped into the supermarket on the way home to buy some bags of ice (Gail's cravings are outstripping our freezer's ability to replenish supplies quickly enough) and who should I meet on the way out but Michael Willis, one of Greenfield Academy's most difficult former pupils.

His disciplinary mishaps filled most of our referral books for several years. His anti-social behaviour was evident from his first week in school, during which, as I recall, he spent most of his morning intervals in a toilet cubicle with Kylie Paterson.

Alas, his behavioural patterns remain seemingly unchecked, I discovered when I enquired after his progress in life.

"It's gaun' awright, sur," he assured me, before drawing himself up to his full 5ft 3in and declaring proudly: "Ah'm jist about tae get ma second ASBO."

To hear him speak, you would have thought he'd been given a community service medal, but before I could make response he took further wind from my sails with his follow-up remark.

"But ah wis thinkin' o' gaun' in fur somethin' else. Mebbe teaching, sur.

"Ah wis listenin' tae an advert oan the radio askin' fur teachers in Scoatland, like, an' they made it sound as easy as pish! Plus, youse guys get great hoalidays!"

I almost dropped my shopping, but managed to compose myself and assure him that entry to the profession was possibly a little harder than the latest Scottish Executive advertising campaign might be suggesting.

"But by all means send an application, Michael," I assured him with a valedictory wave as I boarded a bus home. "The GTC's certainly trying to broaden the intake these days."

"Thanks, sur," he waved back. "See youse in the staffroom!"

I shivered silently as I settled in my seat. And it wasn't just because of the ice cubes nestling in my lap.


I think that I've now heard every excuse under the sun from pupils forgetting - or refusing - to do punishment exercises.

I received a letter from Jason Bonetti's mother and wearily opened it, expecting the usual challenge to my authority, declaring her son innocent of all charges and informing me that she had given full parental backing to his refusal to do the punishment exercise that I issued yesterday, after he had thrown a book across the room, hitting Pocahontas McLeod squarely between the shoulder blades. Instead, what greeted me was the following.

"Dear Mr Simpson, I'm sorry that Jason misbehaved yesterday. He wanted to go out with his friends last night and I didn't want to spoil his evening, so I have done the punishment for him. I trust that he won't get into trouble over it. Yours, and oblige, Beverley Bonetti"

Such understanding should help to instil a real sense of personal responsibility in her son, that's all I can say.


Malcolm Saunderson sought me out for advice this morning.

"Tell me what you think of this Curriculum for Excellence thing, Morris?"

I sighed. "Malcolm, I've been in the game too long to get excited by something like this any more. OK, I'm going for a chartered teacher accreditation, but that's all about getting some extra money.

"In 21 years of teaching I've probably seen 21 curricular initiatives and each and every one promises a brave new world for pupil and teacher alike, but each and every one usually gets lost in the tidal wave of the next one and subsequently trickles into the sand. Frankly, at my stage, I'd just rather be left in my classroom to get on with teaching.

"But why d'you want to know?"

"Well, Kevin Muir suggested I apply for this," he handed me an advertisement for a secondment that would "research professional response to A Curriculum for Excellence by conducting in-depth interviews and gathering evidence from a I range of sources to present to the Executive's consultation group on Scottish education in the 21st Century".

Kevin's Machiavellian motives suddenly became clear. If Malcolm gets the job - and I'm sure he stands every chance of an extremely good reference - our most absence-prone and ineffectual teacher will be quietly swept out of the way and his classes might stand a chance of being taught the correct syllabus.

Unlike me, being left in the classroom to get on with teaching is probably Malcolm's worst nightmare. Sadly, I predict a dazzling future for him in the world of education.

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