New year, new building and a fearsome new head
In spite of our being back at school for a week now, the finishing touches are still being applied to Greenfield Academy's new buildings, provided through the financial efficacy of the council's public private partnership.
The sub-contractors proved unable to complete the staff car park on time, so it is with some irritation that all the teaching staff have to arrive 10 minutes earlier than usual to avail themselves of the park and ride facility from Parkland Community Centre offered by the council. That is all except the senior management team, whose swollen ranks were deemed important enough for a temporary car park, with pride of (parking) place allocated to Patricia Gibbon's extraordinarily extravagant low-slung red sports car, complete with every imaginable automotive accessory.
Our new headteacher seems determined to make an impression. But is it the right one?
It was just over 20 years ago today, as the old song (nearly) goes, that I joined the teaching profession. As I look back on my old diaries, I can't help but reflect that the more things change, the more they stay the same.
Can it really be 20 years ago that schools were questioning the validity of new examination procedures (at that time, Standard grades)? And can it really be 20 years ago that an article analysing the validity of a revision to the Higher English examination was published? Who would have imagined that a report on a conference that urged the rights of schools to exclude unruly pupils - in the face of popular doctrine to the contrary - would have seen itself repeated ad nauseam all these years down the line?
I suppose it all keeps people in jobs, especially journalists.
My new classroom is like a greenhouse. Not in visual appearance, mind you, because one of its significant omissions is decent provision for window space (a testament to the anti-vandalism nature of classrooms on the ground floor). Rather, its greenhouse quality is due to the oppressive heat that permeates the room. The climate-control features of the school's ambient atmospheric system still appear to require fine tuning.
"Aww, surr, this is I mingin!" exclaimed Michael Dixon as I tried to impress upon my Standard grade class the need for attractive presentation of their folio work. "Ah'm sweatin' like a pig!" he continued unnecessarily.
"Aye! An' youse smell like wan an a'," confirmed Tanya Thomas. "Ah've no'
smelt anythin like youse since ah wiz oan wurk experience at Parkland Hoaspitul last term."
"That's enough, Tanya," I barked, desperately hoping that she wouldn't proceed to recall her disappointment upon discovering what her allocation to the hospital's sterilisation unit entailed.
"But, surr," she insisted. "It's pure rank, this. Ah canny breathe proaperly!" she insisted, at which point she loosened two buttons on her tight-fitting blouse and immediately became the cynosure of all male eyes in the room.
Except mine, of course. I was attempting to turn the temperature control down ever lower than the frost symbol.
I foresee an uncomfortable, perspiration-drenched year ahead.
Mrs Gibbon is tall and blonde and fearsome. I discovered as much today when she conducted her second staff meeting of the session (in the school dining hall, the only location capable of hosting such a gathering now that we have no staffroom).
Upon my first meeting with the woman, my initial hopes for the session that someone might have seen fit to hold a small celebration in recognition of my 20 years of service had been dashed. She has made pointed enquiry about my length of tenure at the school. Far from being impressed with such longevity and years of dedicated service, she questioned my lack of vision and desire to expose myself to new challenges.
"So haven't you ever wanted to, er, manage change in another school environment, Morris?" she had asked severely.
I shrugged my shoulders. "Initially, perhaps, Mrs Gibbon, but I" "Call me Pat," she had burrowed into my eyes.
"Um I ok I er, Pat. Initially, perhaps I was interested in doing that. But there's something to be said for staying in the same place all these years, even if the name and the buildings have changed. You get to know the kids better and you can establish long-term relationships with families that help to bring a sense of stability to their lives, and to the life of the school."
She harrumphed with what I can only describe as sceptical voice and proceeded to give me a lecture on how schools need "constant shaking and mixing in both people and methodology to keep the educational cocktail fizzing".
I felt like thrusting two fingers down my throat, but chose to keep my own counsel instead.
It was a theme that she chose to embellish at this afternoon's meeting, wherein she announced that she'd had a few weeks to collate her thoughts and wished to declare her five-year plan for Greenfield Academy. Thoughts of Soviet collectivism were swiftly banished as she presented an even more frightening scenario. In short, she wishes to dispense with Standard grades in as many subjects as possible this year, and all of them by next, to be replaced by Intermediate examinations.
Simon Young, concerned not just for his English, media studies and communications department, protested vehemently. "But haven't you seen what's happened where they've done that? The kids who would've got something at Standard grade get nothing if they screw up Intermediate and at Greenfield that could be a significant percentage of the cohort."
"Some may fall by the wayside, yes," Mrs Gibbon conceded, "but the Intermediate exams provide for a far better articulation with the curricular directions of the Higher Still programme and lay a much sounder pedagogical framework for subsequent years.
"Plus, of course," she added rather needlessly, "lots of other schools are doing it and we don't want to get left behind, do we?"
"Hah!" Simon barked. "There we have it! To my mind, Pat, it's an abandonment of certification for all and everything else intended by Munn and Dunning, and I'd like to register my dissent."
"Dissent noted, Simon," she assured him. "And I hear what you're saying and I know where you're coming from on this.
"Now, can we move on to the next item on the agenda?" she urged, clearly well practised in guiding meetings swiftly along in whatever directions she wished them to proceed. Simon simply gulped like a goldfish as she continued: "I'd like to propose that we offer Intermediate 2 exams at the end of third year."
There was a collective intake of breath from the staff.
"Now, I know this might seem a challenge but we need to set our sights high and that's what I want to be happening at Greenfield by the session after next. Early presentations are quite a hot item on the Executive's performance indicators, and I think I" her voice tailed away in my hearing.
"Oh dear," I whispered to Simon. "Mrs Gibbon is clearly one to hitch her wagon to the nearest star that happens to be in vogue."
I lost interest at this point and fell to doodling an abstract picture that attempted to depict the Gadarene swine rushing towards and falling from a very high cliff.
We are still awaiting the installation of data projectors in our classrooms. Apparently, they are still fixed to the ceilings in our temporary accommodation for last session, where they were installed just prior to our departure. Alas, this means that the full implementation of our electronic classroom strategy will have to wait a number of weeks and we shall just have to get by using textbooks, whiteboards and jotters. How will we manage?
The lack of data projectors is of minor significance compared with the latest decision imposed by our newly appointed head. She has apparently persuaded all of the senior management team that the last remaining principal teacher post should be filled in the most unusual of circumstances.
To explain, we have exhausted every possible combination of subjects over which we could place the umbrella of principal teacher (including the appointment of Sandra Bradford as PT of, somewhat bizarrely, mathematics and home economics). However, we have one PT post remaining unfilled and a favoured candidate sitting unpromoted but with her subject speciality already catered for by Frank O'Farrell.
Thus it was that Leslie Hasler (geography) has found herself elevated to the grand position of Principal Teacher Ground Floor (B wing). She is in charge of the classrooms there, all containing a disparate collection of subjects and of staff, over whose administrative, stationery and disciplinary requirements she will have full line management control.
Imagine it. Principal Teacher of Ground Floor (B wing). To me, it is the apotheosis of unreality in the new world of educational management structures. And what a brave new world it is, that has such structures in it.