One funny handshake and a kick in the teeth

2nd July 2004 at 01:00
I should have smelt a rat sooner but I have always been naive. We were appointing a Year 5 teacher. We advertised and had an excellent field.

Plenty of quality applicants. Not only that, we had Cara. She'd been in the school for almost a year, covering for the sick member of staff we were replacing. Cara is excellent, a real asset. Young, calm, committed, vibrant, she has a fine future ahead of her. We advertised the post but were confident that we already had the one we wanted. As teacher governor I saw all the applications; they were good, but the appointment was a formality.

But when we sat down to consider the applicants, there was another candidate upon whom the head seemed unnaturally keen. Her application had arrived after the closing date but he'd chosen to accept it in the spirit, he said, of charity. Her qualifications were poor, her letter was weak.

Angie was a non-starter, in fact. Yet the head insisted he could see something in the application. A hunch, he said. I couldn't see anything there at all, but we had to let him have his moment and anyway it didn't matter. The others on the shortlist were strong. And of course we had Cara.

When we got to the interviews it was clear that the head had been got at. Cara didn't have a chance. We sat around, powerless, as a Masonic favour was called in.

In every phase of the process, Angie was second best, but it counted for nothing. Allowances were made, subtle help and encouragement offered.

Cara's contribution to the school was deemed irrelevant; to take it into account was deemed unfair to other candidates. Her talents were marginalised, her errors, born of nervousness, magnified. While she had given us loyalty, she was repaid with deception.

Angie was not the best candidate. The governors could see that. But as the deliberations went on, the head went further and further out on a limb, insisting against all the available evidence that she should be appointed.

We were there a long time, arguing fiercely until the head, knowing he was losing the argument, insisted on having his way and the governors came into line. I sat and watched their bemusement as they offered the job to a weaker candidate.

What a performance. At the end of it I felt soiled, implicated in a betrayal. I have to accept it now. There's nothing else to do. I have to learn to work with someone we didn't want, knowing that we once had someone in a nearby classroom who was better.

It has happened before and it will happen again. But it is wrong. The children have been deprived of a fine teacher whom they love. They are devastated and confused. I am just angry. I know we have lost a fine and respected colleague to bring a Mason's daughter home. Angie is as much a victim of this as anyone else; a pawn, appointed through the back door. Her new colleagues will welcome her and help her because they are teachers, but they will always know that the person before her was better. She will know that too, and she will never be able to escape that knowledge. I know this has happened. I know this is true. Round here, if you want to be a head, you'd better be a Mason. Or marry one. I also know who Angie's father is; a minnow in a bowl of tadpoles.

Perhaps you will say I should stand up and be counted, write letters, name names. That I shouldn't choose to be anonymous. That I should lead a crusade against this insult to my profession and our children. But I have a mortgage to pay.

The writer, who wants to remain anonymous, teaches in the Midlands

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