Oh, how the awards ceremony has fallen
Another academic session draws to a close at Greenfield Academy, and another collection of eager youth prepares to leave our happy educational community (sic) to face the world. This year, their departure is accompanied by the largest Diaspora of teaching staff I can remember, as early retirement applications aplenty have been granted by the local authority.
Even Simon Young, my long-term line manager, is going, although his plans have been hit particularly hard by the financial apocalypse that has seen his shares in Northern Rock fall to unprecedented levels.
"It's a real bugger!" he confessed to me this morning, "but even though I'm now two holidays down on my plans for next year, it's got to be worth it to get out, Morris. Just think! I'm never going to have to teach To Kill a Mockingbird or Lord of the Flies ever again. Not to mention Assisi, or Brooklyn Bloody Cop!"
I ventured to suggest that, as he had been in charge of English departmental funds for as long as I could remember, it had been well within his power to widen the scope of literary experience that we placed before our charges.
"No point," he shrugged. "Those texts always got us the results, didn't they? Anyway, if I tried to buy a new set of readers now, we wouldn't be able to afford them!"
In these cash-strapped times, I couldn't argue with this. But I did remark that it was stretching a point to suggest that our previous Higher results were a testament to academic excellence ...
As well as the aforementioned departures from Greenfield Academy, this June sees an emotional parting for our daughter, Margaret, who leaves Parkland Primary. Our initial thoughts of an independent secondary education have had to be shelved owing to financial necessity, so we have chosen St Ainsley's, our local denominational school, on the grounds that it would be unfair for Margaret to attend a school where her father is on the teaching staff.
Privately, of course, I'm happier about the ethos at St Ainsley's.
This morning we held our Awards Ceremony, timetabled several days before the term's end to achieve a reasonable quorum of students. Of course, the day is a pale imitation of its former glories - academic dress for staff went out of the window over a decade ago - but this year we seem to have plumbed new depths by abandoning the presentation of books as prizes.
Therefore, instead of exciting piles of literary tomes on groaning trestle tables, Mrs Saunders was reduced to presenting serried ranks of envelopes containing WH Smith gift vouchers to a tawdry line-up of students, who are then free to spend their vouchers on anything they like.
Billy Woodman, for example, lurched to the side of the hall, where - shocked to the core - I overheard his whispered intention to Jason Greig that they both "cut oot the restae this crap now, an head doon tae buy some scuddy mags wi' these vouchers ... ", then sidled out of the back door before I could stop him.
And although I applaud the decision to offer Mrs Saunders - our retiring head dinner lady (or kitchen executive) - the honour of presenting the prizes, she was a touch removed from some of the illustrious dignitaries who have graced the occasion in the past.
Pamela Blane, our 56-year-old former principal teacher of modern languages (long-since downsized), had her retirement presentation at lunchtime, unable to attend tomorrow's event for the rest of our retirees. Her departure leaves the teaching of modern languages at Greenfield Academy in desultory state, with two probationers due next year supporting the fresh-faced Peter Taylor - admittedly an able teacher, but with all of three years' experience beneath his belt.
Sadly, I can recall the glory days of the 1980s when Jack Fergusson had three French Higher classes and two for Higher German under his charge, with a total of 115 pupils between them. This year, alas, witnessed the return of only 15 Higher French exam scripts to Dalkeith, and a paltry three Higher German (two of them adult learners from the community initiative).
"And yet," Pamela bemoaned in her leaving speech at lunchtime, "the Government tells us that it's going to have a Baccalaureate in languages when we've recently seen the biggest decline in the subjects since they were made non-compulsory. I can't help wondering who's going to enrol on these courses - and just who's doing the joined-up thinking in the corridors of power?"
She was cheered to an echo.
Tonight was the retirement dinner to end all retirement dinners. Eighteen departures (almost 20 per cent of the staff), all with something to say about the "good old days", and all with plenty to say about their delight in leaving an educational system that they felt, in almost equal measure, was going to the dogs.
Unfortunately, I dozed off halfway through the speeches, and was only roused by Davie McManus proposing a stentorian vote of thanks at the evening's end, wherein he wished his retiring colleagues well.
"And just think of us poor buggers still stuck in the classroom," he shook his head in dismay, "preparing for a curriculum we don't want or understand, without any materials to teach it, and without any money or guidance on how to implement it - and all topped off by a fresh wave of enthusiastic probationers coming in at half your salaries to reduce the council's appalling financial deficit, and all of them without a bloody clue what to do or how it really works on the ground.
"Ladies and gentlemen, I wish you all the best in the world. But I think for next session, the good wishes should be coming from you to us - the poor bloody infantry who are left to man the barricades."
And so say all of us.