School diary - New broom sweeps them clean out

22nd August 2008 at 01:00


In-service day not only marked the beginning of another academic session at Greenfield Academy; it signalled the beginning of a new era. The staffroom seemed an alien environment after the last clear-out of long- standing colleagues, so many of them hitched to the bandwagon of early retirement packages, and now replaced by massed gangs of fresh-faced probationary teachers on their assured one-year contracts - and all guaranteed to be looking for non-existent jobs come next August.

Plus, of course, we have our new headteacher. Rachel Slater introduced herself this morning, and I was impressed by the technological wizardry she displayed via a PowerPoint presentation, with multiple special effects that took us through her "Vision for Greenfield".

It all seemed light years away from my first in-service day 24 years ago when Mr Douglas read a collection of regional circulars about council policies on clothing grants and free school dinners, while most of the staff drifted slowly into general somnolence. However, at least I've learned a thing or two in the intervening years: today, I left the eager new-starts to take their places near the front, and placed myself on a chair near the rear entrance. Just after Mrs Slater's 14th slide I made my excuses about "needing a comfort break", and departed for the Gents - only to meet Davie McManus of biology, in there on a similarly flimsy pretext.

"Well, Davie" I remarked of our new leader across the urinal. "What d'you think?"

"Hah!" he scoffed. "I checked her blog. It's got a career history loaded with out-of-school experiences that suggest she's not come face-to-face with a pupil for the last five years. And it's full of self-serving platitudes about her educational vision of leadership that `sees students, teachers and parents as equal stakeholders in an educational mission that empowers each party to discover core values and act with courage and conviction to implement that vision within a context of equal educational opportunity'."

"Ah. Right," I nodded as I zipped up my trousers. I'd heard enough, so decided to give the rest of her presentation a miss, and headed off to my classroom to restore some order from last June's chaos - and to make sensible use of the morning's time.


Our first day back with pupils was somewhat chaotic, as we are still joined by significant numbers of workmen from Kostuss, the PPP company that was supposed to be spending the summer rectifying the many flaws that have arisen in our building since its construction.

Alas, there still seem to be enormous "snag lists", with several classrooms out of bounds. This has meant several last-minute timetable changes; in my own case, I had to move classrooms for my first session with 2N, a desultory collection of underachievers for whom the chance to get lost on their way to a new location provided multiple excuses for late arrivals.

Eventually, I got them settled, only to discover that I was missing two of our Polish cohort. "Where are Janak and Anna?" I queried.

"No' here, surr," informed Charlie Connelly. "They've went back tae Poland, surr. Said thir families couldny affoard tae live here any more."

"But the council's invested thousands of pounds to provide extra support teachers for them!" I complained loudly. Twenty-eight pairs of eyes looked at me with supreme unconcern.

On reflection, I can understand 2N's disinterest about the council's financial dilemma. But it certainly seems that the economic downturn is biting hard if our Polish friends are returning whence they came.


Davie McManus chortled loudly this morning as he checked his inbox on the staffroom PC. "Come over here, Morris," he called. "What did I tell you about our new supremo? Three days in: three new initiatives. That's a high strike rate. We're returning to early presentation for Intermediates, a complete ditching of Standard Grades, and a new `Wisce' to overcome failure."

"But we did the first two under our last head and she reversed the policies when research suggested they were the wrong approach ."

"Yes," concurred Davie, "but the latest research suggests exactly the opposite, even if ."

". and what's a `Wisce' when it's at home?" I interrupted.

"Whole-school collegiate endeavour," he said. "This one's called `Bounce Up', and it's designed to stop any pupils feeling like failures. She wants us to stop marking things `wrong', and to move to a system of `deferred passes' rather than `failures' for assessments, examinations and prelims."

I put my head in my hands and shut my eyes. In the circumstances, it seemed the best thing to do.


Although I've still got my worries about Mrs Slater, I was moved to commend her willingness to be "one of the boys", so to speak, when she expressed enthusiasm to partake in an "Olympics Staff Sweepstake". All staff were invited to make a small wager on the outcome of the men's 400 metres final. And most of us have taken part, in what has been the most striking demonstration of staff unity since the strikes of the 1980s. Maybe I was too hasty to make judgment yesterday.


Maybe I was too hasty to make judgment yesterday. Mrs Slater's draw won a gold medal, and she had the closest winning time, a slice of luck that ensured an extremely healthy pay-out for our best-paid member of staff - and a demonstration of exuberant glee that seemed highly inappropriate as she picked up her winnings at the "Sweepstake Awards Ceremony" this morning: "Yesssss!" she punched a jubilant fist in the air as she accepted a small brown envelope from Mr Greig.

Many staff seemed prepared to join in, as they foolishly anticipated an open management-style distribution of largesse from their leader in the shape of after-school bonhomie at The Rockston Arms. Alas, it never came.

Clearly, equality of opportunity doesn't form part of Rachel Slater's educational vision when it comes to staff sweepstakes. She was last seen heading in the direction of an out-of-town shopping centre.

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