Mistakes and misdemeanours

30th September 2005 at 01:00

A "please-take" for geography spoiled my morning in more ways than one. For a start, it robbed me of some precious non-contact time that I was planning to use catching up on some marking left over from the weekend; for another, the class proved completely undisciplined, a state of affairs that was made worse by the appalling design of the classroom.

It has been a year since we moved into our newly renovated building, financially kick-started by the dubious merits of our council's public private partnership scheme, yet even now absurdities reveal themselves anew. I hadn't realised until today that the reallocation of space in the geography department had necessitated some of the oddest shaped classrooms in educational history.

To explain, Leslie Hasler's room is an enormously long-sided rectangle, with a whiteboard in the middle of the longer wall. Multiple desk units are seven in each row, but with only three rows. So pupils along parts of the front row - and either end of the second - cannot see the board properly and have to move into the middle for any focused teaching to take place.

Having been asked to run an interactive DVD for the lesson, I found myself presiding over a large-scale rugby scrum as Michael Kerr and Peter Westhouse jostled for position and knocked into Melissa Chalmers, already teetering precariously on a pair of hopelessly inappropriate high heels.

"Hey! Watch it, ya big diddy!" Melissa screeched, as she hitched her even more inappropriate miniskirt around her waist, pulled up her Britney socks and seemed to prepare for battle.

"That's enough!" I bellowed a warning and ordered them all to continue the lesson in silence by filling in a set of 10 worksheets.

I marked some jotters for 10 minutes until another unique design feature of the room became apparent. The waste pipe which runs down a corner of the room is, apparently, the downpipe for the staff toilet situated on the floor above. Thus, every lesson in the room is punctuated by occasional sounds of rushing water, a most distracting influence, especially when one is aware of its source. And especially when most classes - today's third year included - seek to lighten the tedium of academic endeavour by placing bets among each other as to which member of staff might be responsible for the effluent discharge.

I'm willing to bet it's an issue that was never discussed when the architect disclosed the grand design of his building strategy.


Phase 2 of our PPP reconstruction has at last allowed us a new dining hall, which was opened last week with grand fanfare. Alas, early indicators are that the facility is making significant losses: common wisdom has it that this is partly due to the healthy eating menu on offer.

"Don't worry, Mrs Saunders," I consoled our chief kitchen executive, as I paid for my crunchy nut salad and natural yoghurt. "I'm sure the kids will come around to a healthier menu choice before long. As long as you don't let Jamie Oliver near the place!" I chortled a warning.

"He'd put anybody off!"

"Maybe, Mr Simpson," she shook her head, "but it's not just the numbers that get me down. It's the fact that our takings don't even cover what we're selling."

"Well, at least you can't complain about crowded working conditions," I waved a hand across the half-empty hall.

She didn't look very comforted.


Kevin Muir, one of our (many) depute heads, was furious to discover a timetabling flaw this afternoon and I can understand his annoyance upon discovering class 1C wandering in the corridor, apparently on their way to art.

"But surely," he had apparently asked Pocahontas Mcleod, "I saw you at art yesterday, when I was in seeing Mr Paige? And you only get art once a week, so you should be in music today, shouldn't you?"

Pocahontos looked puzzled. "Naw, sur," she shook her head. "We dinnae get music."

"But you must get music," Mr Muir had smiled. "Every first year class gets a period of art and a period of music."

"Well, we dinnae," she said with a shrug. "We've bin gaun tae two periods o' art since we staurted."

Mr Muir thrust a hand to his forehead as he realised what had happened. The timetabling mistake was, perhaps, understandable. But what upset him most was that neither the art nor the music department had noticed the double appearance of one first year class and the non-appearance of the other.

I was telling the story to Pamela Blane, ex-PT of modern languages, at the end of the day. "Well," she argued with some force, "it doesn't surprise me in the slightest that the artistic and creative studies faculty has got its timetables in a twist. What else can you expect when you get rid of subject principals?"


Today witnessed the bright new dawn of Greenfield Academy's entrance to the vocational education field, as provided by our new agricultural taster course. In effect, this meant that I was placed in nominal charge of a third year visit to a local farm, accompanied by Peter Taylor (our enthusiastic young probationer with extra value added non-contact time). I think everyone enjoyed communing with nature and we had a grand time feeding the sheep and the chickens.

But it shocked me, I have to confess, that several of the pupils seemed completely unaware of how eggs start their journey to our kitchen tables. "Yur kiddin', sur! They come oot thur bums?" was Peter Westhouse's artless enquiry.

And I had grown weary of their endless complaints about farmyard smells and underfoot filth long before Melissa Chalmers started to bleat about the inclement weather.

"Aw, surr!" she wrapped both arms around herself as a cold wind drew in from the west. "It's bloody freezin', surr. Kin we no' go inside?"

"Well, perhaps you should have been better dressed, Melissa," I commented.

"I really don't think that a skirt that length, even with a pair of knee-length woolly socks, is terribly useful for a country visit. And I'll bet you don't have a vest on either."

Clearly, she couldn't believe her ears when I suggested she should be wearing a vest, so I chose to ignore her exclamatory outburst and instead acceded to her request that we follow the farm manager inside to watch his cows being milked.

It was a fascinating insight into the immense amount of physical labour involved in dairy farming, and Mr Giles seemed to enjoy sharing his knowledge. However, he was obviously completely floored when Michael Kerr (whose knowledge base is severely limited beyond its normal parameters of social mayhem) witnessed Mr Giles linking up four electric sucking hoses to the udder of a particularly baleful cow.

"Aw, right," Michael raised a lethargic eyelid in apparent sudden understanding. "Ah didny know that's how the milk gets intae the cows."

I glanced quickly at the ground as Mr Giles turned sharply towards us, firm in the belief that Michael was trying to be funny. Distressingly enough, he wasn't.


Many of the third year pupils were absent today, apparently the victims of an E. coli related illness that appears to be the result of yesterday's farm visit. Naturally, I was delighted by the absence of several particularly tiresome students, but not so their parents.

Mrs Chalmers, in particular, is laying the blame for her daughter's illness squarely at the door of our new vocational study programme and telephoned at lunchtime demanding that Melissa henceforth be taught "normal" subjects and "none o' this fancy outtae school crap like she wis oan yesterday".

I left the problem with the senior management and sauntered to the dining hall for lunch, during which sojourn I was happily able to resolve the issue of Mrs Saunders' spiralling losses. In short, I discovered that several of our pupils had decided to take the concept of a self-service dining hall to its literal extreme, omitting the payment stage altogether.

The new hall has a wide but enclosed corridor section where hot meals are offered on one side and tables of confectionery, crisps and such like are on the other. Pupils emerging from the doorway at the far end with their selection are charged accordingly.

But it struck me, after several minutes' observation, that many pupils were emerging at the exit in a plumper condition than had been the case at the entrance. So I struck! Five pupils later, we had a cornucopia of stolen crisps, chocolate bars and other snacks littering the floor as I urged the unzipping of fleeces and the unburdening of jumpers.

Mrs Saunders was delighted to realise the source of her burgeoning losses and has ordered the removal of all non-shielded items from the left side of this "thieving alley" forthwith.

And I am yet again moved to ponder the prescience of our new-build architects. Maybe they have never had to inhabit one of their own buildings.

But all of this excitement paled into insignificance after a mid-afternoon call from my wife.

"Morris?" Gail queried as I took the call. "I've just been to the doctor's.

I'm pregnant again."

"You're what?"

"Pregnant. Remember? Like with Margaret all those years ago."

"Gosh!" was, alas, all I could manage, as I recalled (a) my inability to take preventative measures during our summer holiday and (b) the perilous state of our bank balance.

"Well, aren't you pleased?" Gail urged down the telephone line.

"Never been happier, Gail," I assured her, "never been happier."

And I think I meant it. At least she'll be home to make my tea once the maternity leave starts I

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