School diary - 25 years and all I got was this lousy toaster

21st August 2009 at 01:00


The first day of a new session is always full of anticipation, but today was that bit extra special for me, marking 25 years since I entered the teaching profession.

Alas, any notions of celebrating the event were dashed as Rosemary Slater spent most of the in-service day berating us over an exceptionally poor set of SQA examination results; apparently, we have bucked the national trend of an 0.8 per cent rise in Higher pass rates with a decline of 5 per cent on an already dismal 2008 showing. Our headteacher is not best pleased, and has announced her intention to form an Achievement Action Group.


Our new first-year pupils seem a boisterous lot. Two of my pastoral group started a pitched battle in the middle of their first assembly during an address on respecting each other's rights. It took three of us to separate them, a preventative action made unconscionably difficult by the authority's strict non-contact legislation. I am pondering the purchase of a cattle prod to allow more effective - and legal - intervention in future student disagreements.

"It's always strange how some year-groups seem to be worse than others," I commented at morning break.

"Ha!" retorted Mrs Jackson of the ASN department. "I could've told you what they were like before they showed up this morning."

"Why? Have you been through their primary records?" I queried.

"Nope," she scoffed. "I just ran down the register, saw there were 60 per cent boys to 40 per cent girls, and then checked out their names for good measure."

"How does that help?"

"Morris," she looked askance at me. "You've been in this game for 25 years. We've got five Ryans, four Aarons, two Connors with two `n's, one Conor with one `n', three Kylies and two Chelseas. Any year-group with that many dysfunctional names is going to be a bloody handful, let me tell you!"

I nodded quietly, thought back down the years, and had to admit she was right, although I don't think they've ever included this guidance in the primarysecondary transition arrangements.


My wife Gail has had an equally difficult start to the term at Rockston Primary, where the new headteacher intends a full implementation of A Curriculum for Excellence ahead of any other school in the authority.

"A laudable aim, surely?" I asked over our tea-time macaroni.

"It's just an exhausting way to start the day, Morris," she sighed. "You know in the old days we used to bring them in from playing in the playground, then get them settled down as quickly as possible to get on with some work? Well, Angela's insisting that we start every morning with 15 minutes of Active Learning, which means that we bring them in from playing in the playground; and then we let them play for another 15 minutes!"

I told her that this was a very cynical interpretation of CfE which she should keep to herself.

"Oh, I will, Morris," she assured me. "But it's nice to have somewhere I can speak the truth ."


Mrs Harry of business studies is on the war path, having just received her autumn requisition.

"I can't believe it!" she held a piece of paper aloft at lunchtime. "In May she gave me pound;84, and I burst out laughing until she told me there'd be a second batch in August, so I'd mentally spent about another pound;300, especially as I've got better Higher numbers this year because of our results. And what have I got? Another 40 ruddy quid - to run the department all year! Two years ago, I had over pound;1,000!"

Her lament brought forth sympathetic rejoinders from other faculty heads, all of whom seem to have experienced similarly knee-capped budgets, representing overall cuts of around 75 per cent across the school on last year's already diminished sums.

I just hope the Achievement Action Group can come up with some ideas for delivering improved exam performance without any additional resources. And heaven help us when it gets to delivering CfE.


Rosemary Slater arranged an impromptu presentation this morning to mark my 25 years of service to the school - impromptu being very much the correct word, I pondered, as she handed me a box of Tesco Value wine glasses, a similarly branded toasted-sandwich-maker, and a bunch of forecourt flowers from the supermarket garage.

Unexpected though it was, I did have a speech ready just in case, so proceeded to thank everyone for their generosity, after which I drew attention to significant parallels between 1984 and 2009.

"I've been looking at some back numbers of The TESS," I told them, "and guess what? When I started in 1984, they were discussing changes to Higher English because of dissatisfaction with the exam. Just like now. And teachers were rejecting the new forms of examinations - Standard grades - that so many would now love to keep. And local authorities everywhere were fighting parents over primary school closures. And schools were defending their right to exclude unruly pupils. And in 1986, the Strathclyde colleges of education produced 396 secondary teachers for 130 available posts, while in primary schools there were 18 jobs - and 276 teachers waiting to fill them!

"And . and I could go on," I explained to a hushed audience. "But I think you get the plus ca change message I'm trying to put across. And when it comes to A Curriculum for Excellence, well, frankly, I've been trying to get kids to be responsible, confident, effective, and all the rest of it, for all of the 25 years I've been doing this job - and I'll continue trying until I retire. But just don't tell me that there's anything new about a teacher's desire to ask students for excellence in all they do - even if they don't all want to do it in the first place."

I was cheered to an echo as the bell rang.

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