Personal skills, cash cuts and a bright red rash

29th September 2006 at 01:00

School budgets have been cut with drastic effect. This time, the reason for our authority's clawback is reputed to be its legal requirement to give millions to female cleaning staff who appear to have been severely underpaid for many years.

Whatever the reason, it has meant severe shortages in several areas. Simon Young, my faculty head, is furious that his budget has been slashed, something that only became transparent when he asked Kevin Muir, one of our depute heads, about his delayed Higher textbook order.

"It's not been delayed," he explained crisply at our departmental meeting.

"It was cancelled. Didn't I tell you?"

"No, you didn't!" Simon replied tartly. "On what grounds?"

"On the grounds that we have no money and we had to make some hard decisions, plus, you shouldn't need any new books for Higher English these days. They only do two literature essays in the exam and you've got literature bursting out of your cupboard."

"And what about practice for the close reading section, that these books were for?"

"You've got hundreds of interpretation books already. That's what close reading is, isn't it?"

"Close reading is a lot more than interpretation!" exploded Simon. "And even if it wasn't, those books are ancient and half the questions ask them to parse sentences and rephrase participles. Those skills haven't got anything to do with Higher English."

"More's the pity," was the stark and unhelpful response. "But there's no point in arguing about it. It's a done deal. Now, what's the next item on the agenda?"

"Raising attainment in the senior school," Simon remarked dryly, and raised his eyebrows.

At least Muir had the decency to blush.


I think that raising attainment in the senior school could be quite a challenge, at least if my own Higher class is anything to go by.

Admittedly, they are at the more challenging end of the academic spectrum, but I've been appalled at the choices they have made for their personal studies.

At the start of term I had suggested they write about something they genuinely enjoyed, but I've had to guide Jessica Charles away from a dissertation on the Animal Ark series (aimed squarely at 10s-12s), and tell Jason Greig that, having written about McIlvanney's Laidlaw in every literature essay since first year and his Standard grade folio as well, it might be better to widen his reading.

Most noteworthy was Billy Woodman, who announced that he was going to do his personal study on Deal Or No Deal.

"I don't know that book, Billy. Who's the author?" I questioned.

"It's no' a book, surr," he explained. "It's a TV programme. It's dead brilliant, how they build youse up, an' how the coantestants huvtae be sae skilful in choosin' a boax that ..."

"Hang on, Billy," I interrupted. "There isn't an ounce of skill involved in that game. It's pure chance. And it's an appalling programme!"

The whole-class response was startling, to say the least.

"Aww, surr! No way! They've goat tae be pure cool to make the choice, surr!" and "That's crap! They need skill, pure skill, like," were two such contributions.

Apparently, this tedious drivel presented by Noel Edmonds fills the conversations of many senior pupils, who seem to believe that it offers startling insights into the human condition, whereas the only startling insight I've ever had with regard to it was discovering the enormous sums being paid to its presenter for doing a job that any simpleton could do.

We eventually agreed to differ as I got the lesson back to order and ruled that Billy would have to seek elsewhere for the subject of his personal study. "And it's got to be a book, or books," I reminded him. "So don't even think about The Weakest Link."


George Crumley, our former principal teacher of geography, has returned to Greenfield Academy to cover for an absence. Last seen wandering out of the school nearly three years ago with an early retirement package in one hand and a large lump sum in the other, Crumley has since enjoyed several overseas holidays, punctuated by the very occasional spot of supply teaching - "for pocket money, really," he explained to an audience of increasingly resentful former colleagues this morning.

"A couple of days usually sees me with enough to pay the bar bill on my next cruise. It's great, being able to go on these holidays out of school holiday periods. D'you know how much money you can save doing it that way? You really should try it some..."

He broke off, suddenly aware that his hints weren't being terribly well received. "Oh well," he checked his watch. "Better be off. I think I've got a second year class to teach," he shuffled away with a Guardian beneath his arm.

It was, alas, a chastened Crumley who returned to the staffroom 65 minutes later.

"Bloody hell," he swore, ashen-faced. "What do their parents give them for breakfast? Class 1 heroin? I thought it was bad before I left, but things have got 10 times worse.

"I walked in the door to be met with 'Hey! Ur you a subby?' and it went downhill from there. It was awful: they were shouting out, telling jokes, answering mobile phones and breaking wind - from both ends - as loudly as they could. And that was just the girls."

"Well," I tried to comfort him, "I suppose if they were second year they wouldn't remember you from your previous high-profile role in the school and couldn't acknowledge the respect in which you used to be held."

A guffaw erupted behind me from Frank O'Farrell, our principal teacher of social subjects, but I affected not to hear it and continued in consolatory mode. "At least it was a geography class, so you'd be able to get through some of the work Leslie Hasler's left behind."

"Ha!" Crumley seemed even more upset. "I couldn't do a ruddy thing. The entire lesson had apparently been left on her laptop for transfer to the whiteboard. Which is all very well," he spluttered, "if you've ever used a whiteboard before, but I didn't have a bloody clue what to do.

"I looked for some books to dish out but there weren't any, and all hell nearly broke loose when I suggested they get out their jotters and take down some notes.

"Bloody hell, Morris, the whole thing's gone to hell in a handcart, as far as I can see!"

It must have been traumatic for him. "Education moves on, George," was all I could say.

"And so am I," he muttered. "I'm going to tell the office I'm leaving for the rest of the day and won't be back."

Oh, that we all had the same luxury.


Mrs Harry is at her wits' end. Melissa Chalmers (S4) is threatening to take legal action over the fabric that covers the chairs in her business studies department.

"The girl's blaming the chairs - and me - for the rash she's got on her upper thighs," Mrs Harry explained, as I joined her at lunch with a tuna salad from our newly-branded "Fuel Zone".

"I'm sorry?" I sprayed some low-fat dressing over my lettuce. "How can you be to blame for ..."

"How indeed?" she concurred. "But you know Melissa's usual outfit - Britney socks and a pelmet for a skirt?"

I confessed - with some unease - to such knowledge, and then learned more than I wanted to about the girl's further apparel, as Mrs Harry continued.

"Well, she's got nothing underneath that skirt except for some ridiculously scrawny thong that protects neither her modesty nor her upper legs from the rough fabric on our office chairs - which is why she presented herself at the end of the last period, turned her back and hoisted her skirt to reveal a bright red rash that runs right up to her ... well, that runs right up her legs. So, short of advising her to buy some granny-pants, I'm not sure what I can do.

"You were her guidance teacher once, weren't you? D'you think you could talk to her?"

I knew what to say then, that's for certain, and was never so glad to recollect the loss of my guidance responsibilities when the promoted post restructurings took place. Even if Gavin McCrone hadn't envisaged this scenario, I gave silent thanks for his prescience in declaring my post completely redundant.


The cutbacks have really hit hard. I needed 30 copies of a poem this morning, so keyed my code into the departmental photocopier, only to be told all my credit has been used up. I was especially aggrieved, given that the only copying I've done this session has been 40 invitations to a family party.

Alas, Mrs McKenzie in the school office confirmed my credit position as zero, because "There's been a clampdown on paper, Mr Simpson.

We just don't have any paper for non-essential use."

"But this is essential use, Mrs McKenzie," I pleaded. "What am I to do with my class when ...?"

She cut it forcefully: "There's no use arguing, Mr Simpson. We just don't have any paper left. It doesn't grow on trees, you know."

I don't think she appreciated what she had just said: irony was never Mrs McKenzie's strength.

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