"HELLO, it's Jenkins here, Swineshire LEA. Is that Swinesville Comprehensive? Can you put me through to the head please?"
"Ah Brian, just the man. Did you see that headline in The TES, the one that said: 'Jaded heads will be paid off?' Only I'm ringing round a few heads in the right age bracket to see if they'd like to take early retirement under this new government scheme. Now I know you're still full of beans, but you did say in your presidential address at the heads' annual meet that you were buying a cabin cruiser and naming it Lump Sum."
"Well I had thought about early retirement, provided there was some enhancement of course, but what's involved?".
"It's fairly straightforward Brian. You get up to 50 grand in your pension fund, provided that you're a headteacher who, in the government's own words, 'is not able to carry forward the major changes envisaged in improving education'. Since that includes every single head in Swineshire, County Hall telephone lines have been in meltdown all week."
"So what exactly would I have to do?"
"We have to be careful here to follow the rules, especially after that fool Simkins at East Swineshire College tried to jump the gun."
"I didn't hear about that. What did he do?"
"Well you know Simkins, ever the smartypants. He decided to try and beat the rush on a disciplinary rap, so he jumped the visiting inspector and started snogging her in front of all the kids."
"And he got early retirement on the grounds of stress."
"No, we gave it him on the grounds of failing eyesight.
" You see Brian, we've got to be careful how we go about it.
"For a start, heads can't retire if their school has failed OFSTED, so that rules out most of them in this LEA. For those schools that are eligible we're just going to get Woodhead to sign a piece of paper stating: 'This school passed OFSTED but the head is complete shite.' Basically you have to prove you're brassed off with reform, which means the door's wide open."
"You said heads were supposed to be unable to carry forward 'major changes' that are coming up. What are these actually?"
"Who knows Brian, who knows? There are so many initiatives coming into County Hall these days, each containing about 100 bullet points. We've had more bullets flying round Swineshire schools than were fired at the Battle of the Somme. It could be a compulsory course on pole vaulting at all key stages, or you might have to take assembly wearing a loincloth. Nothing would surprise me nowadays. You've just got to prove you can't cope with them".
"So how can I prove that?"
"It's easy. Take performance-related pay, for example. I suggest you come up with a completely barmy scheme. Say you'll give a bonus to teachers who can do a headstand in their lessons and whistle the national anthem at the same time, that sort of thing. Or decide that all Chelsea supporters are automatically ruled out, or your name's got to have the letter Z in it. Just think of something that suggests you haven't got the hang of a particular policy."
"But if I do take early retirement, I would still be a bit short financially, wouldn't I?"
"No problem, Brian. We've managed to devise a clever scheme that's cracked it. The accounts people have worked out that if you invest your lump sum, and because you'd stop paying superannuation and all those other deductions, you'd only be a few quid short on your bottom line take-home pay.
"So we then re-employ you as the lollipop man outside your own school and, bingo, you're back to what you were earning before, but for only a couple of hours a day seeing kids across the road."
"It sounds marvellous."
"It is Brian. But there is one snag."
"There's yet another government initiative entitled 'Tough new performance criteria for school premises perimeter traffic management personnel.'
"You'll have to get a BA in pedestrian crossing supervision first, before we're allowed to issue you with a lollipop."