Oh Sir, you are a card

10th June 2005 at 01:00
My favourite toy right now is a pack of cards, produced by the Young Enterprise group at my children's old school. It is a variant on "Top Trumps" entitled "Teacher Trumps", in which 30 of the hapless staff of Royal Hospital school are photographed and allocated points according to years in post (the longest is 34), strictness, coolness, and hierarchy (though I notice that no one gets lower than five out of 10, which is prudent. It would be very wounding to a sensitive newly qualified teacher to score only one for hierarchy).

On the coolness scale, the top scorers are the deputy head, who is leaving - clearly a very cool thing to do - and one member of the craft and design technology department. The least cool is Mr Simmons, which is pretty ungrateful of the little beasts since he is the teacher in charge of the whole project. Mind you, he deserves it, since in the "Did you know...?"

box at the bottom of each card, the interesting fact he offers is: "My favourite song is Always look on the bright side of life."

This box at the bottom of each card has proved the most riveting insight into the staffroom that I have yet had, and that is after eight years as a governor and spent watching the progress through the school of a son, daughter, nephew, niece and half a dozen children of friends.

Some of the so-called "Interesting Facts" offered by the staffroom are sporty CV stuff: being in a national lacrosse team, coaching for Zimbabwe, etc. Many are sedate in the extreme: they admit to being beekeepers, model railway enthusiasts, archaeologists, Carol Vorderman fans, listeners to The Archers - all that sort of teacherly thing.

One or two are sweetly personal - "When I met my wife on a beach in Aberystwyth I was wearing big glasses and a duffel coat". One is a bit unnerving, and will not be quoted because I do not want reprisals (you know who you are, Sir, and frankly, you should move on. Queen Victoria is dead.) The head plays safe with "I have a passion for limestone landscapes", though I frankly fail to see how that deserves a seven for coolness. Though I suppose ogling headlands is a lot cooler than having a passion for Carol Vorderman. This coolness quotient at least has nothing to do with age: one veteran of 25 years at the school offers the fact that he was actually at the first-ever punk concert, the Sex Pistols' gig in Manchester.

But the joy of it is that when you offer teachers a chance to give you one interesting fact, you also get some splendidly wild insights into the early lives and skills of the modern pedagogue. You get a former professional jewellery designer, a chap who worked in the fingerprinting department at New Scotland Yard, and one who says darkly, without further explanation, "I have appeared in Byker Grove. Twice". Quiet, dignified Miss B "used to ride horses bareback in a circus". Gentle, pastoral Mrs F was "once a bouncer in a London nightclub". Dr S once spent a weekend at Balmoral (spookily, this seems to make him three points cooler than the Sex Pistols man). And so on.

This idea should spread. The cards are selling like hot cakes and have had to be reprinted. You don't need to get the copyright on Top Trumps: why not Happy Families, with teachers and support staff grouped by department? "Have you got Miss Miles, the head of English? Thank you, and have you got Mr Miggins, the deputy? Thank you... and Ellen, the learning support assistant? Look, you must have - you're cheating..." Or perhaps you could have a version of Animal Snap, in which instead of making the noise each animal produces, you have to shout the catchphrase of each staff member ("Now do be quiet!" or "If Ihave to say it once more!"). Or you could adapt that childhood favourite Old Maid, though that might be taken the wrong way by certain members of staff.

Maybe you could move on and design a Monopoly board of school life with "Go straight to detention, do not collect GCSE" and an opportunity to build coursework points if you land sufficiently often on the geography teacher.

Or - if your school has sufficient superannuated punks, bouncers, bareback riders and limestone fanatics - it shouldn't take long to devise a riveting school version of Trivial Pursuit. "Which member of the science department once owned a pair of attack Dobermanns called Pinky and Perky?" "Whose PHSE lesson ended up being condemned in the Daily Mail?" "How many of the history department can juggle?" "Which female member of staff dated the schoolboy Hugh Grant when he still had spots?"

Everyone would buy a set. You'd coin it.

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