Pay deal plumbs the depths;School Diary

26th February 1999 at 00:00


The staffroom remains a cauldron of seething resentment about our latest pay offer. Personally, I think it's extremely generous, and was foolish enough to venture my opinion at morning break.

"You what, Morris?" George Crumley scoffed angrily in my direction. "You can't be serious?" "Well, actually, George, I think that pound;210 million is a very significant amount of money, and if..."

"It certainly is," agreed Crumley. "But not once you divide it among 60,000 teachers, and then allocate huge chunks of the spondoolicks to greasy-fingered little careerists who wouldn't know an equable pay settlement from the Houghton Report!" "But George," I queried him, "have you actually read the details of the offer yourself?" He shrugged. "Well, not exactly," he was forced to concede, "but the union's made it plain that it's not good enough, so I'm..."

"So you're voting against the offer without reading it for yourself?" "I don't need to read the offer for myself, Simpson," Crumley became quite agitated. "If the union tells me it's not in my best interests to vote for it, then I won't vote for it!" A 1970s hit by The Strawbs came to mind, and I left the staffroom whistling it. Much to George Crumley's fury.


We've had the plumbers in since last Thursday, because the clerk of works has decided our heating bills are too high and the thermostats need replacing.

Personally, I could tell him that the reason our heating bills are so high is because every blessed window and door in the place remains open for most of every working day, with the result that Greenfield Academy's boilers are industriously occupied with heating vast quantities of fresh air around the environs of Rockston, Parkland and Greenfield.

But a works investigation had revealed several faulty thermostats on our radiators, with the recommendation that all required changing, and that was that. I wouldn't mind, except for the fact that - along with every other council employee ever known to darken the portals of Greenfield Academy - this particular team arranges its working, and break, hours to coincide exactly with those of the school day.

Thus it was that 1W's lesson on the correct use of direct speech was punctuated with assorted hammerings, bangings and wrenchings, while my third year class's attempts to complete a successful piece of folio writing had to be abandoned. But, sure enough, as soon as the bell went for the end of the morning's last period, our plumbing associates downed tools and hastened towards their van to indulge themselves in a monstrous array of pot noodles and cheese sandwiches, as they simultaneously exercised their literary interests with a close perusal of the Daily Sport.

"Oh no!" I smote my brow and shared my distress with Mr Pickup as I saw a workman make his way towards B26 at the beginning of my afternoon lesson with the fifth year. "Here come the plumbers again".

Unfortunately, my complaint was overheard.

"Actually, we're no' plumbers, sur," explained an overall-clad teenager. "Wur heatin' engineers".

"Oh. Dreadfully sorry," I stuttered in confusion. "Nae problem," he waved a friendly wrench in my direction. "But doanny let the foarman hear ye callin' us plumbers".

We got through the day. Eventually. And the room does seem warmer. It's just a shame that the heating engineers put the thermostats on upside down. It makes judging an appropriate ambient temperature even more difficult than before.


Mr Pickup is undecided about our current pay offer. His own personal Scylla and Charybdis are represented by his fury that (as he put it to me this afternoon): "at last they're intent upon recognising the quality of devoted and dedicated teachers like me - but only within four months of my bloody retirement!

"So just think what I'll have missed out on over the years. Which is why I'm minded not to vote for it, to be honest, Simpson, 'cos if I couldn't get a decent salary for the last 20 years, then why should any other bugger?

"On the other hand," he was forced to admit more reflectively, "as my pension's going to be based upon my final salary, then if there's the slightest option of upping it by a few quid a week, then I think I'll have to go for it."

It was an admirably frank assessment of the situation, I commended him. What it lacked in altruism, it gained in perceptive appraisal.

"Altruism?" he cross-examined me. "Since when's altruism had anything to do with it?" "Maybe that's what's gone wrong with education," I ventured to suggest. But did not wait for answer.


Parents' night for the third year pupils. As usual, a procession of parents whose offspring are more than comfortable with the academic requirements demanded of them by Greenfield Academy presented themselves for interview. And, as usual, none of the parents I particularly wanted to see bothered to turn up.

Mrs Donahue, for example, missed the opportunity to see for herself the illiterate scrawlings that I'm supposed to present for Kylie's Standard grade folio work, and Mr Steele and Mr Farr were unable to witness the stand-up fight that had been occasioned by Damien and Graham becoming over-excited during an improvised drama lesson last week (to my great delight, I had been making a video of the lesson, and was looking forward immensely to absorbing full parental reaction to the event.) The only bright spot of the evening was recounted by Miss Tarbet in the Rockston Arms after we had repaired there for liquid refreshment when the parents' night was over. Kylie Paterson's mother had apparently listened intently to Miss Tarbet's assessment of her daughter's prowess in nutrition, needlework and practical catering. "So I think Kylie's got a good chance of achieving reasonable grades in home economics," Miss Tarbet - clad in her usual bohemian fashion - assured her audience. "Any questions, Mrs Paterson?" "Eh? Questions?" Mrs Paterson awoke as if from a trance. "Naw. No' really, Miss Tarbet. But ah'll tell ye what, Miss T."

"Yes?" "Ah love yur beads, hen. Thur great." Miss Tarbet had looked down at the wooden jewellery in question, then back at Mrs Paterson. And then she had sighed, put her head in her hands and asked for the next parent in the queue to come forward.

You could see her point.


I'm still counting tokens. Between Gail's primary school's continuing desire for a whole-school Florida holiday, and Greenfield Academy's ceaseless quest for free books, our house is awash with ruddy tokens (we have both been volunteered as our respective employers' score keepers).

It was with a desire to avoid another weekend surrounded by tokens that I decided to utilise this morning's non-contact period to make a final tally for the week. In this task I was ably assisted by Marlene Beveridge, a sixth year pupil whose affection towards me has proved embarrassing in the past, but whose flames of ardent desire I effectively crushed some months ago now.

Alas, Mr Pickup chose to view matters differently. Chancing to pass my - open - classroom door just as Marlene leaned breathily towards me with "another 250, sir, and still counting...", Pickup snorted in ribald amusement, asked if I would be free to see him over lunch, and scuttled off down the corridor."

I took him to task, I don't mind telling you, when we met in the Rockston Arms for our usual pie and beans. "If you think there's anything between Marlene and me, you can think again!" I chided him severely. "The girl's completely over all that now, and she sees me as a mentor, an avuncular figure, whose only interest is in her welfare, and who..."

Pickup held up his hand. "That's fine, Uncle Morris," he tried to calm me down, though I thought he stressed the word "uncle" with rather too much sarcasm for my liking. "But just be careful how you handle her. It might be OK in Chris Woodhead's book, but I think you'll find the Scottish Office doesn't have exactly the same forgiving attitude. "Anyway, that's not what I wanted to talk to you about," he explained furtively.

"No?" "No. I wanted to make sure that you're going to support the pay offer. Every vote counts, Morris, and I want to make damned sure that my pension's going to be..."

"Ah, well," I explained uncertainly. "I've decided to reject it, I'm afraid. I've discovered that it'll only mean an extra pound;2 a week as far as I'm concerned, and if they think that I'm going to knock my pan out for..."

"But think of the grander picture, Morris," Pickup's arms opened wide in supplication. "Think of your colleagues. Think of Scottish education. Don't just think of yourself and your own situation. Imagine what would happen if everyone thought that way."

"Then," I echoed Catch 22's Yossarian grandly: "I'd be a damned fool to think any other way, wouldn't I?" Pickup sighed in disappointment, then looked up at me and smiled appreciatively. In a funny kind of way, I think he admired me....

John Mitchell

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