Michael the Hair-raiser makes his mark
Two weeks into the new session and I am already beset with despair, despite the implementation of our final McCrone money in last month's salary. Some of this despair is of my own making (the enormous credit card bill accrued by our family trip to Florida, for example); but some of it is beyond my immediate control.
Take one boy of our first year cohort. Michael Kerr - a living embodiment of the Scottish Executive's commitment to socially inclusive education - had apparently wreaked havoc upon Parkland's Primary 7 class during the last six months of the academic year, for which he joined them from the local special education unit. Within eight weeks of Michael's enrolment, four sets of parents had requested immediate transfers to other primary schools for their children. And one had moved house to ensure that their child's secondary schooling wouldn't be affected by the educational iconoclast about to be foisted upon Greenfield Academy.
I can appreciate their concern. After two weeks incorporating eight lessons with "Mainstream" Michael (as he has been designated in the staffroom), I have had my parentage questioned on 14 occasions, have been told - and I quote - to "Fuck off, four eyes" at least once a lesson and this morning I caught him spitting on the staircase banister in A block. If this is what social inclusion is all about, then I'd like to opt out of society.
It is going to be a difficult year while Greenfield Academy is in temporary accommodation during the public-private partnership upgrade of our own buildings. Most tiresome of all will be our staffroom, located in a portable unit in the central square of the former Rockston College of Further Education: although perfectly wind and watertight, it is approximately half the size of our previous base, with few of the creature comforts to which we have become accustomed.
Instead of a range of sleep-inducing armchairs and a sofa or two, we have 10 squeezed and serried ranks of polypropylene stacking chairs converged around grey, laminated tables that are ever so slightly low for comfort. It has all the allure - and legroom - of a Scotrail Sprinter but without the buffet trolley.
Notwithstanding such discomfiture, it provided the fomenting centre for an after-school meeting of former principal teachers today to discuss the "sell out" of promoted posts that was "foisted on an unsuspecting workforce just before the summer holidays".
Personally, I have enormous sympathy for my colleagues in the science department. Mr McManus (previously PT of biology) and Mr Glenn (physics) had ensured that their job forms had been completed in exact parallel with that of Mr Victor (chemistry). "We sat down together and put down exactly the same response to every question," explained Mr Glenn. "Yet we all ended up with different gradings. How's that?"
And so it went on. Inconsistency upon inconsistency, injustice upon inequality: everyone had something to say. Except Tom Walker, who was noticeably absent.
Our notoriously ineffectual head of physical education would have every reason to be smiling to himself as he counted up his winnings in the Pricewaterhouse Coopers Handicap steeplechase. Elevated beyond his wildest dreams (owing to the arithmetical magnitude of pupils passing through his departmental record book), he could congratulate himself on eschewing a lifetime of academic pursuit in favour of alternative field attractions.
Maybe I should have stuck in at rugby.
I can well understand the frustrations of my previously elevated colleagues who now find themselves in eunuch-like positions of impotence. Many of them are still awaiting deliveries of textbooks and stationery supplies for which they used to be responsible.
The delivery delays are partly due to confusion over the address of our new buildings, but more are due to the simple fact that they weren't ordered in good time owing to uncertainty about whose responsibility that was.
In previous years the main subject specialists (the principal teachers) would decide which materials were required and complete a requisition before leaving for the summer holidays. This year, they still decided which materials were required but then submitted bids to their curriculum line-director, who would wait until budget allocations were made during the summer holidays before placing an order.
So most classes are still waiting for materials. But I'm told this is progress, so I have decided to keep my opinions to myself. After all, as a former assistant principal teacher of guidance (now simply a classroom teacher), I'm sitting on a nicely conserved salary and no longer burdened with the old responsibilities I'm getting paid for!
My teaching responsibilities still extend to my own subject and it has been a difficult start in that area too. The department's English Higher results were the worst for several years (which counts as something of a landmark).
"The problem," urged Simon Young (now principal teacher of English, communications and media studies), "is that too many pupils are being presented for Higher when they're really only suitable for Intermediate."
"But that's what you asked us to do last year, Simon," reminded Patricia Harrison. "You wanted as many presentations at Higher as we could get, and if they didn't get it, then they stood a good chance of a compensatory pass at Intermediate. And I remember saying that I thought this was a dishonest policy that I" "Yes, well that was then, Patricia," Simon cut in. "And now the SQA is trying to get as many kids on to Intermediate as possible to avoid any more embarrassing headlines about standards in English. So instead of "13,000 fail Higher English" next year, we'll have "100 per cent increase in English passes at Intermediate 2". And I'm right behind them on that.
"So, if you've got any candidate who can't get beyond 55 per cent in a Higher English interpretation over two tests, then I want them presented for Intermediate in future. Two strikes and they're out and into Intermediate. Is that clear, everyone?" he challenged.
I pursed my lips and kept my counsel. Clearly, rumours about Simon's plans to rise in the Scottish Qualifications Authority hierarchy are not without foundation.
One of my happier thoughts in the lead up to this session had been that we would no longer have to deal with our "Chernobyl kids", those whose behaviourally-challenged tendencies were popularly blamed upon their conception coinciding with the eponymous nuclear disaster. How wrong could I be? Most of them have ended up back in our midst. Many reappearances are due to the double funding arrangements with Milton College, our new partner in further education.
Hence, today witnessed the arrival of Kylie Paterson, Michael Willis and Donny McIntyre, to name but a few of my former classroom catastrophes. They are here to undertake courses in so-called soft subjects such as sociology, media studies and psychology and all adding inordinate totals of happiness to the funding bodies behind our education system.
Our headteacher is especially delighted about the arrangements, George Crumley tells me. "It's tremendous from Richard Dick's point of view, Morris," he explained as we squeezed awkwardly to sit at a staffroom table.
"He's got three FE lecturers coming to teach all these subjects and all at the expense of Milton College. We get payment for having these pupils in the school but the FE college pays the teachers!"
"I see. Plus they're bound to pass these exams, so that'll be a big plus for our statistics, won't it?"
"Not exactly," Crumley conceded. "I mean, yes, they're all bound to pass these crappy subjects, but on the exam stats front, its the presenting centre, which will be Milton, that gets the credit.
"And on the downside, our number of Higher passes gets proportionately smaller as a percentage of the year group. You know what that will mean when the league tables come out."
"But there won't be any league tables next year. The Scottish Executive promised," I reminded him.
"Hah!" he rejoined. "Has anyone told the newspapers? Anyway, as long as we get the money, who cares? At least it will keep me in a job for another session."
He had a point, but it all seemed academic as I looked out on to the drizzle-strewn meeting area between blocks A and B.
It was there that I witnessed the 17-year-old stormtroopers of our "Chernobyl kids" being put to flight by the 12-year-old Visigoth that is "Mainstream" Michael Kerr and a couple of press-ganged second years. The latter group had a fearsome collection of illegal weapons at their disposal - switchblades, air pistols and aerosols to name some - while the former had only those weapons that had stood them in such awesome stead throughout their previous school careers: insulting language, occasional bravado and two penknives between them. It was the biggest mismatch since Tyson met Bruno.
I fell to worried contemplation. At one end of the school we've still got our "Chernobyl kids", who have terrorised the lower school for generations; at the other we've got "Mainstream" Michael Kerr.
"Roll up that map of Parkland," I thought to myself. "It will not be wanted these 10 years."