The return of Phil Harrass private HMI

7th February 1997 at 00:00
They pay the money, I dig the dirt. Only this time the dirt came gift-wrapped in a glossy cover. I was freelancing again, working for one of the new councils. They had produced a classy looking aims document and I was being sent undercover to see what schools made of it.

I decided to go as a supply teacher, though this was not without problems. Too old to pass as a student just out of college and too miserable about the kisser to fool anyone that I'd just been given early retirement and was only temping to pay for another foreign holiday, I eventually went for the line that I'd been working over the border and was now trying to get back into Scottish education.

The first joint I cased was an early eighties flat-roofer. Every teacher I spoke to said it was ridiculous to spend cash on aims documents when the ceilings were coming down. I saw what they meant. After covering a maths class I got a soaking when I put my upturned hat back on.

A day later and I was in a mid-seventies two-storey prefab. The general opinion was that aims documents were out of order when roofs leaked and the heating had only two settings, on or off. Again I couldn't argue. In the space of a morning I fried in geography on the sunny side of the building and froze in French in the shade.

On day three I found myself in a substantial stone-built edifice. Over-engineered like a black Rapid, there was no sign of leaks or draughts. But when I mentioned aims documents I got more sob stories. The staff reckoned they were an insult when there was a shortage of equipment.

I began to worry. I was on expenses plus commission and the commission was dependent on me digging up good news on aims documents so the council could trumpet their success. When day four came I headed for my target school with lead boots. The place was the worst of the lot. A cold wind sucked crisp bags from lidless bins and dashed them playfully against boarded-up windows. There were buckets on the ground floor and surreal water stains on the wall. Suddenly I couldn't be bothered with the pretence any more.

I marched to the depute's office. She was a wise looking dame who would have seen through me anyway. I levelled with her. "Look," I said. "I'll do your supply if you want but I'm really here to sound you out about aims documents. Seeing as you look like you need them as much as War Cry needs a pin-up page, I won't blame you if you send me packing."

She smiled. "On the contrary, we find them indispensable." She took me on a tour. In history, aims documents, tightly folded, sealed rattly aluminium-framed windows against the outside chill. The kids in biology had made them into hats. The fashion mag quality paper was almost 100 per cent waterproof. Their only complaint was that you couldn't use it to mop up the puddles.

Physics were enthusiastic, too. They were running investigations on paper planes and were getting good graphs relating area of paper used versus time aloft. Home economics found that aims documents could be folded into containers for carrying food home in.

I thanked the depute for her time and did a spell in an English class where we made our own daggers during an improvised scene from Macbeth. The only downer was when I got to the black Rapid and found a bit of loose roughcast had cracked the sunroof. I turned back to the school. I knew just what to patch it with.

Gregor Steele

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