It's not what you know...;School diary

2nd April 1999 at 01:00
Further adventures of Morris Simpson


It looks as if I'm going to be offered the post of acting principal teacher of guidance! Jim Henderson, our assistant head, has been absent for several weeks (prostate trouble, I understand), and it's only now that anything official is being done about the extra workload his enforced departure has occasioned for everyone else.

Although Jim's absence hasn't meant much in the way of "please-takes" (his subject is classics, so he only has two classes with more than three pupils), it has meant a shuffling of responsibilities for disciplinary matters. Consequently I've had to deal with some major behavioural incidents.

Anyway, I think I stand a good chance of being bumped up a notch, even if it's only until Jim Henderson returns - or is replaced. To my mind, I've served a decent enough apprenticeship as assistant principal for the past eight years, and Mr Tod should see fit to reward such honest endeavour.


The school is going for an Investors in People award. Ruth Lees broke the exciting news in today's staff bulletin, and followed up with a 10-minute impromptu meeting at morning break.

"The whole point about Investors in People," she explained, "is to reassure everyone in the school community that their contribution is valued, and wanted. And that's starting with some of our most recalcitrant and obdurate pupils, as well as all the cleaners, janitors, office staff, and everyone else in the school."

"Except," Mr Pickup whispered cynically in my ear, "for the teaching staff. They'll be last on the list of people they'd want to invest in."

I took him to task after Ruth had finished her exhortations that we "get right behind her on this one", but he refused to countenance my enthusiasm for the scheme.

"Just look at it, Morris," he continued. "When they started calling secondary schools 'community high schools', the first thing to go was any pretence that the place was a bloody school, and we all ended up being glorified badminton clubs and snooker clubs and drama clubs. It'll be the same with this Investors in People lark, you mark my words. Sure, we might squeeze a bit more money out of a half-baked grant scheme for some new pool tables and a set of table-tennis bats - but it's an investment that'll be aimed at making life easier for little toe-rags like the proverbial tray of mushrooms - kept in the dark and covered in huge dollops of ..."

I interrupted swiftly and told Pickup I'd heard quite enough. It's just as well he leaves in June. He can have a seriously de-motivating effect.


An awkward matter arose this morning over a parental enquiry that was diverted to our guidance room. On reflection, I think I handled it as well as could be expected - under the circumstances.

"Who did you say it was?" I queried Joyce Honeypot as she handed me the telephone.

"Hilary Saunderson's mum. She's looking for someone who knows her daughter."

I kept my hand over the mouthpiece. "And who is her daughter?" I hissed.

Joyce shrugged her shoulders. "Search me. But the office must have reckoned you knew, 'cos they. . ."

I ran a finger down my hastily opened guidance register. "Hilary Saunderson, Hilary Saunderson, Hilary Saunderson - ah yes!" I spoke rather too excitedly, because Mrs Saunderson clearly heard me.

"Is that Mr Simpson?" a sharply arched enquiry came down the line. I replied in the affirmative.

"Good. Mr Simpson, I'm looking for somebody who knows my daughter. I've spoken with the headteacher; I've spoken with his deputy - I've even spoken to some of her deputies. Nobody seems to know my daughter."

"Ah, well, Mrs Saunderson," I hastened to reassure her, "in a large school like Greenfield, you can understand how it is sometimes. But I'm Hilary's guidance teacher, and I can tell you anything you need to know about how she's getting on." In retrospect, it was a foolish claim, because I started to outline Hilary's preliminary examination results before being rudely interrupted.

"Mr Simpson, I'm well aware of these results: they were on the report card signed by Mr Tod. He's already been able to read them to me in the same way as you've just tried to do, and in the same way as everyone else I've spoken to. But nobody actually seems to know her."

I was stumped. " d'you mean, 'know her', Mrs Saunderson?" She sighed. "I mean her friends, any school clubs or societies she's in, her interests outside school. I just wondered how far down the management tree I'd have to go before I came across a teacher who actually knew my daughter. Or cared about her."

I joked that she'd come pretty far down the tree if she'd got as far as me, but in the circumstances it was probably inappropriate.

"Well at least if you're her guidance teacher, you should be able to tell me something about her 'personal and social development', as I believe you lot call it," her assault continued. "Has the bullying stopped?" I was a little taken aback "Bullying? Ah, now, I'd have to say I wasn't aware of any bullying in the fifth year, Mrs..."

"She's in fourth year, Mr Simpson."

"Of course. Of course she is," I hastened to explain how the shift to a vertical guidance system still caused occasional lapses of accuracy in my record-system, but that I would want to investigate any bullying accusations as swiftly as possible. Unfortunately, by the time I'd stopped speaking, she'd hung up.


Virtue rewarded! Mr Tod called me in this afternoon and told me that, as a result of temporary management absence, the gap in our promoted posts system had to be filled.

"Mr Vaughan moves up to assistant head in place of Jim Henderson, so there's a PT guidance post to be filled," he explained what I already knew. "So everyone shuffles along the bed a little, and - as you're the longest serving member of the guidance staff - I've little choice but to make you principal teacher."

I started to thank him, but he interrupted: "And that's in spite of the appalling Standard grade and Higher results your classes still seem to achieve. At least this might give you more time to spend on guidance, and I only hope you'll put it to good use." My mouth dropped open in amazement, so Tod took the opportunity to close the discussion.

I left his office and blew both cheeks out in dismay: it wasn't exactly a scene of triumph, but at least I'd actually made it at last. Morris Simpson, Principal Teacher (acting) of Guidance.

Who would ever have thought it?


Mrs Saunderson has moved her daughter to Abbotsgrange Academy with immediate effect. This, despite my in-depth enquiry - launched only yesterday - into her accusations of bullying in the fourth year. She has written a scathing letter to Mr Tod (copied to the education offices) about Greenfield Academy's "uncaring and disinterested approach to the true business of education".

"It's ironic, really," I remarked to Gail as we sat down to some sweet and sour chicken before embarking on our weekly calculation of tokens for free books for schools (at Greenfield) and Florida holidays with 200 children in tow (for Gail's school). "It really is ironic," I repeated, "that in the week I finally get promoted to principal teacher of guidance, I'm lambasted by a parent for my uncaring and disinterested attitude. It makes me think David Pickup was right."

"Right in what, Morris?" murmured Gail.

"When he said parents should leave education to us - the professionals."

"Mmm," Gail agreed. "Too right."

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