Ready for blast off - Anyone could have done it. But only James had a crisp pound;5 note, a stepladder, a key to the chemistry cupboard marked "flammable" and a misdirected sense of curiosity ..

29th August 2008 at 01:00

In our final short story, Richard McIntosh, a primary teacher from Newcastle, describes how a terrible twosome will do anything for power and pounds.

Only James had the arrogance and disregard for authority required for such an audacious role. Except, of course, for yours truly. "Are you fully aware of the role you have to perform?" I asked, in a voice carrying a breathless anticipation that betrayed my attempts to project a relaxed demeanour. "Is there anything you need to ask? Remember, if you deviate in any way from what I have advised then we could both be ruined."

"Chill out," replied James.

I loathe this phrase, but decided to remain silent, in case my protege became distracted from the task in hand.

"Nothing can go wrong," said James. "I have everything I need, and it's not like I could forget any of the details, considering you've been buzzing around me like a fly around . ".

"Enough. There is nothing more to say. Once our plan is completed there will be plenty of time for idle chit-chat. Or banter, as your contemporaries would no doubt describe it."

"Fair enough. After all, you're the brains behind this operation" answered James.

Indeed I am.

The whole school crowded into the main hall, throbbing with a buzz of anticipation not normally associated with a Friday morning assembly. The murmuring, laughing and whispers came to a sudden halt as that most revered of headteachers, Mr Knight, took to the stage.

"Fellow professionals," he croaked. "And pupils," he continued, attempting an ingratiating smile at a pocket of surly sixth form boys. "As you are all no doubt aware, last night saw this school undergoing the most dramatic event in its long and distinguished history. The entire chemistry department was destroyed in a fire."

Even though gossip-mongers, not to mention news outlets, had already publicised the news, there was an added sense of realism now that the headteacher had confirmed the events.

"Police are investigating the cause of the fire, as the circumstances are suspicious, but the possibility of catching any guilty party is complicated by the removal of all CCTV cameras in the relevant areas."

"One of my cleverer touches," I thought, as Knight took a moment to mop his brow with a handkerchief that had presumably absorbed much of his sweat in recent weeks. After all, this was not the first crisis Knight had faced this year.

Theresa Millmore, a teaching assistant and lifelong helperbusybody of the school, took advantage of the pause to stand up and assist Knight's explanation. "Martin," she began, in an obvious attempt to show how familiar she was with the boss, "How will this affect the running of the school? Will my knitting club still be allowed to meet?"

"Don't worry, Miss Millmore," replied our esteemed leader. "Your club has my permission to continue. The most significant differences are that the chair of governors will be arriving shortly, the police may wish to question certain people to acquire information about the incident, and ." he allowed himself an indulgent chuckle, "Chemistry lessons are suspended until further notice."

The hush that carried around the hall was briefly interrupted by a muffled cheer from the front row of Year 7s.

I contemplated the assembly with glee. Governors. Police. The only pity in this hilarious series of events is that no one is aware of my role. Except, of course, for James. Best of all, old Knight failed to mention the media interest that would certainly surround the school in the coming days. Perhaps he didn't anticipate this inevitable invasion of privacy, or else he was merely trying to avoid alarming the staff and pupils any more than was necessary. I suspect the former. My thoughts were interrupted by the sound of voices coming from a nearby classroom. As the door was usefully ajar, I ventured closer to eavesdrop on that most dynamic of duos, Mr Galbraith (head of English) and Mr Jarvis (head of maths).

"Old Martin's done for now," said Galbraith.

"Martin Knight is a great man and a good headteacher." replied Jarvis. "What could he have done about any of the recent disasters? Just because every completed examination paper in the school went missing, doesn't mean the blame should lie at his door."

"Remiss," answered Galbraith in his familiarly pompous manner. "A contingency plan should have been in place, that's his job." "Don't talk rot," said Jarvis. "No one could have expected that to happen. And the food poisoning epidemic is hardly his fault either. This school has used the same suppliers for years without any problems. What's more, Martin contacted them repeatedly and they assured him that any number of tests are carried out on their products and they passed every one. And they supply plenty of other local schools who haven't had a single complaint."

"You suspect sabotage?" said Galbraith.

I became suddenly conscious of breathing loudly and retreated slightly from the doorway. Thankfully Jarvis would be audible over a herd of elephants.

"Didn't say that. Just that it's plain bad luck. We should all stand shoulder to shoulder with Martin Knight, just as he would for us. Just like he did last year for Stroud."

Galbraith seemed to pause before replying. "That's easy for you to say, you're retiring soon. I still have my own career prospects to consider, and I don't feel happy working for a head made famous by headlines such as Knight-mare head strikes again and Thank you and good Knight. Not a great addition to any CV."

"Looks like you're not the only one who thinks like that," said Jarvis. "The chair of governors has called an emergency staff meeting for 4pm. Poor Martin's ordeal may be about to end."

My heart leapt as I withdrew from my position. Could it be the result I've been seeking? Could all of the plotting be about to bear fruit? As I strolled towards my next lesson, I pondered that foolish old Martin may one day write a book about the trials and tribulations that he has recently endured. A Knight's Tale has rather a ring to it. Unfortunately, there's only room for one hero in this tale - and it's going to be me.

The cuckoo clock in the corner of the staffroom announced the arrival of 4pm. At that moment the chair of governors entered, bristling with importance. I noticed that Martin Knight was conspicuous by his absence. As our chair was recounting the recent disasters that have befallen the school, I felt as though the eyes of many of my colleagues flickered in my direction. Was I guilty of an over active imagination? Or could their glances be further indication that what I longed for so deeply was about to come true?

"It is therefore with deep regret that on behalf of the board of governors, I can announce that Martin Knight has been asked to stand down as headteacher of this school."

Never before have I come so close to breaking free from the impassive exterior I have been at pains to adopt.

"Due to the unusual circumstances surrounding Mr Knight's departure, we have not had time to appoint a temporary successor," continued our eminent chair.

"I apologise for the unconventional and highly public manner in which this offer is to be made, but I would like to announce that the board of governors wish the current deputy head, Charles Stroud, to take over the role of acting head. Mr Stroud, please stand."

I stood up, shook the hand of my new boss, and addressed my people. I used the usual cliches and platitudes colleagues wish to hear during these moments. "Pull together . overcome recent turmoil . stay united as a team . work hard just as Martin would wish."

Now for the bombshell. "As the role of deputy head is now free I would like to acknowledge the presence of many viable candidates." Galbraith almost stood up at this point, such is the regard in which he holds himself. I decided to pause for effect, before continuing with the denouement.

"Young blood, however, is what this school needs. Young blood to challenge established authority. I wish my new deputy head to be our highly talented chemistry teacher James Rutherford, at 26 the youngest to hold the position."

There was an audible gasp as James rose to shake myself and the chair of governors by the hand. Talk about ruffling feathers. James Rutherford's misdirected sense of curiosity looked positively accurate now. After all, he'd done pretty well out of me winning our Pounds 5 bet.

I had been so confident in my ability to overthrow Martin Knight and appoint James as my successor that I had happily offered to let him take the winnings, as long as he agreed to blow up the chemistry department. I noticed the crisp Pounds 5 note still nestling in the breast pocket of his shirt. It had been money well spent.

Richard McIntosh is a teacher at Welbeck Primary School in Newcastle-upon- Tyne.

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