Once more for the soft-shoe shuffle, drat

29th June 2001 at 01:00
Shoes have played a prominent role in Sweeney affairs over recent weeks. This is nothing new since our household could easily be mistaken for a branch of Bayne and Duckett's.

The duties of the headteacher of McLaren High school appear to require my wife, May, to possess enough shoes to challenge the collection amassed by Imelda Marcos. Although diminutive in size and, for the most part, dainty in style, their ubiquitous quality constitutes a serious health and safety hazard. A risk assessment will now be undertaken to determine the fate of this purgatory of captive soles.

My own shoes are few in number, sturdy in form and reduced in price. I take perverse pleasure in retaining the stickers which attest to high level acumen in securing a bargain.

One or two pairs are maintained in reasonable condition for special occasions and are even exposed to the occasional soupcon of polish. Most, however, are constructed to match the rigours of the daily round at Holy Rood. McKendry's buses, which bring the day to a conclusion with a generous belch of exhaust fumes, are no respecters of haute couture.

Andrew McLellan, now former Moderator of the General Assembly of the Kirk, and his wife, Irene, Holy Rood's principal teacher of home economics, invited us to so many grand bashes during his year of office that I was finally persuaded to invest in my first dinner suit.

"Would you like the shoes?" enquired the dapper salesman in Slater's grand emporium of sartorial elegance.

"No, thanks," I replied, "I have shoes," pointing proprietorially to the Clarks brogues which had just completed another challenging shift. I was totally unaware of the supposed requirement for shiny patent leather shoes to accompany the formality of evening wear.

Many colleagues and associates avoid such dilemmas by opting for full Highland dress, but I regret that I can claim neither the ancestral credentials nor the muscular physique ideally suited to the kilt.

Footwear has even succeeded in intruding on the process of staff recruitment and selection. One candidate came from south London to be interviewed for a post. Waiting nervously to be called to the Mastermind chair, she pondered the potential areas for scrutiny: differentiated learning, teamwork, extra-curricular activities. As assistant head Lesley Carroll left my office, she turned and offered the helpful observation: "I love her shoes." Although the employee specification made no reference to foot fashion, the candidate was successful in securing the post.

It is the season for our sixth year promenade dance, when boys and girls and an impressive number of staff parade their finery for a final valediction. The preferred attire of the young male leavers is the kilt and accoutrements, while the young ladies display an ever more dazzling exhibition of ball gowns.

Staff have always generously supported this event, but this year they will have the added consolation of knowing that the evening has been designated as "dance reskilling activity time" (DRAT), which can be computed in calculations of their 35-hour week.

The celebration of 25 years of matrimonial harmony will occasion a trip to New England during this summer recess.

Some Trossachs tumshies had a seriously deleterious effect on last year's excursions, as they embarked on a night of arsoning around Callander. The newly-appointed headteacher of McLaren High was summoned back to her post, with French visitors in tow. While I accompanied la famille Adam on sundry touristic diversions, May fielded the firemen, the loss adjusters and the press. Damage totalling pound;1 million was done, a PE department lost the bulk of its equipment but worst of all, a neat wee pair of Bally shoes was completely ruined.

Pat Sweeney is headteacher at Holy Rood High School, Edinburgh

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