The reptiles' carnival

3rd October 2003 at 01:00
I'm still trying to get over Jennie's career review, but my determination also to say goodbye to the circus is greater than ever. I attended the termly headteachers' meeting, held in what could have passed for Kew Gardens or the Reptile Room at Edinburgh Zoo, such was the tropical level of the temperature.

Such meetings seem to bring out the worst of the education service, and show that for all the lip-service to consultation and involvement, it still remains very much a "them and us" approach.

The theme was "Towards a quality service", and our quality officers (a claim under the Trade Descriptions Act is on its way) led the day. They were late in arriving, due to a lack of quality in the arrangements department.

Elizabeth Rose couldn't find the venue, and arrived looking suitably embarrassed. She didn't even dare blame the usual director's meeting as an excuse.

The guest speaker spoke about quality experiences, quality environments and quality entitlements. What a pity she omitted quality seminars for headteachers. I saw the ghost of Jennie and her worst fears were there for all to see. The suits, the manicures, the coiffures - and the women were just as bad. A million miles from reality. The coffee break seemed an eternity away, and I doodled, fidgeted and dreamt the minutes away.

The jargon, buzz-words and name-dropping continued, but I saw most of my colleagues were also losing the will to live. Before you could say "breadth and balance", the smell of coffee wafted across the room, and the real meeting began. I exchanged details of the next cluster meeting with Joan and Liz, arranged two netball matches and made plans for the interviews at the college for the new intake.

Everyone was moaning about the seminar and, I must admit, with considerable justification. Why is it assumed that officers, advisers and HMI have a monopoly on quality? Jennie had more quality in her little finger than this lot had as a team.

They knew all about quality. They had read the documents, seen the CD-Rom and had assessed ad nauseam. They knew quality when they saw it, and see it they most certainly did. The tragedy was that they never recognised it, never acknowledged it and never appreciated it. Their own schools had quality teachers, quality children and quality support staff. They were too busy measuring, assessing and reporting to see the truth for themselves.

The coffee break was all too brief, and we were subjected to another session of twaddle from Elizabeth Rose and her posse of prima donnas. The technology broke down, and a quality repair officer emerged in the shape of the Jannie. His attempts to restore quality resulted in two fuses blowing, and a string of expletives unfortunately captured by the still-live lapel mike on the blushing Elizabeth Rose's Armani suit.

By now, quality was becoming a lost cause, as first ER herself, and then the speaker from the university, recoiled in horror as the electric shock from the radio mike literally knocked them off their stott.

The director himself arrived, acknowledging the nods and waves of the sycophants and union leaders. Quality was obviously not on his agenda that day as I noted odd socks, a severely stained tie and a shirt tail protruding from his badly creased breeks.

Joan and I started to take bets on what could happen next on our Quality Carnival. A fainting on stage? A power cut? An outbreak of food poisoning at lunch?

This was turning into one of the all-time greatest disasters. When the director's mobile phone went off, playing what sounded suspiciously like "Simply the Best", the man turned purple. His attempted tip-toe exit drew all the attention to him, and the words "shop-soiled" were clearly visible on the soles of his new shoes.

I started to write my next newsletter, as the procession of prattling poseurs bombarded us with table after meaningless table. Telling figures indeed, Professor. I then took out some marking, and managed to complete all of P5s' stories before the siege on our senses was lifted by the announcement of dinner.

Creative thinking was needed to make up an excuse to miss the afternoon session. Everyone had similar thoughts, as grannies had to be buried, classes to be covered and hospitals to be visited. The softest touch was our area officer, who only had to hear the words "it's a woman's thing you know . . ." before blushing and capitulating.

I thought of the cost of that meeting, the costs of supply staff, the disruption to the routines of several schools. And for what?

They could say that they had done Quality, ticked it off, and put down their pencils.

Jennie - you were right. This is a farce.

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