Ringing true(ish)

10th October 1997 at 01:00
A knock on the door of the headmaster's office.

Head: Come in, Nigel, and sit down. I have had an idea and it needs immediate action. All the newspapers are reporting a wonderful new plan to open up telephone lines at the Department for Education so parents can complain if they are being short-changed. Quite right too. There's no excuse for failing to deliver. Deputy: Quite, Headmaster. But where do we at St Doxy's fit into this?

Head: We fit in, Nigel, at the point of delivery. I intend underpinning the DFEE's hot-line by opening another one here. Any complaint about St Doxy's will be dealt with by me, personally. The parents will see that I really care about their needs. That can only mean expanding rolls and extra funding. There's no time to lose, Nigel. Fax press releases to the radio stations now. I'll call you when I get the first responses.

Deputy: Yes, Headmaster. (EXITS) Some time later Head: I've had a call from Jason Westman's father. Did you know that the blasted PE department are encouraging mixed rugby? Girls playing with the boys. Deputy: Yes, Headmaster, I did know that PE are very keen to fulfil a vital role in the field of equal opportunities.

Head: Piffle. Apparently young Jason is a county-class rugger player - a prop of some considerable bulk. As his father rightly says, how is he going to improve his strength if he's playing against girls? It flies in the face of all our "fast-track," "enterprise with excellence" statements of intent. Get down to the PE department and segregate rugby immediately, Nigel.

Deputy: I don't think that would be wise, Headmaster.

Head: Why not?

Deputy: Because the students' equal opportunities group is a determined body of young people. They will point out that well-motivated and intelligent girls have to share lessons with lazy, immature boys. They keep them in order- the very least they deserve is the opportunity to share rugby with the boys, who may, for once, be more skilled than the girls. If you segregate they will create a storm of protest.

Head: What should I do, Nigel?

Deputy: Write to Mr Westman, explaining that the rugby syllabus promotes nimbleness among the forwards by the inclusion of girls in the training schemes.

Head: Isn't that fobbing him off, Nigel?

Deputy: Certainly not, Headmaster.

Head: Another complaint, Nigel and we'll darned well act on this one. That fool in the science department, Eddie Briggs, has deeply upset a Year 10 boy - Dwayne Pike. This lad has overcome terrible emotional problems. He's been a school refuser and Briggs yesterday shouted at him that he was stupid. He could be for the high-jump for this.

Deputy: I don't think that would be entirely fair, Headmaster.

Head: It's the only solution, Nigel. Look at this description of the boy. He is only now overcoming his school phobia by taking a keen interest in games. Dwayne is very patriotic and he has represented England in football and cricket. He sounds like a model pupil, Nigel...

Deputy: Not exactly, Headmaster. I'm sure you must have seen Dwayne. He has a substantial ring through his nose and the Union Jack is tattoed across his forehead. The school is a happier place when he is away - which he is quite regularly. He has been arrested in most European capitals for football hooliganism and for membership of cricket's so-called "barmy army." It is said that several members of staff actually sponsored his last tour.

Head: So what happened with Briggs?

Deputy: He told Dwayne not to be silly. Dwayne was threatening him with a chair at the time.

Head: So what do I do, Nigel?

Deputy: I think a substantial contribution from school funds to Dwayne's forthcoming travels in the West Indies would be the best solution, Headmaster.

Head: This is ridiculous, Nigel. The phone has been ringing all morning and there has been no way of solving a single problem. People want me to change the national curriculum, alter special needs policies, buy more books. Why is there no way to meet these consumer wishes?

Deputy: Because, Headmaster, education is run by a range of various bodies and the school, at the point of delivery, is simply a focus for complaints and not the rightful cause of the problems.

Head: So what do I do, Nigel?

Deputy: I would suggest, Headmaster, that you record an answerphone message, directing all calls to the DFEE.

Head: But doesn't that mean there's going to be such a huge response that nobody at the DFEE will get any other work done?

Deputy: Yes, Headmaster.

Fred Redwood is a teacher and writer

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