School Diary - No matter what he looks like, God help us

18th September 2009 at 01:00


I received an email today exhorting me to visit next week's Scottish Learning Festival. Alas, staffing levels are so tight that there is no cover available, so those of us with an enthusiasm to discover the latest pedagogical trends will remain disappointed.

"So it's not just an enthusiasm for a day off school?" enquired Frank O'Farrell of modern studies, when I voiced my thoughts.

"Certainly not!" I retorted. "I think we should all be given the opportunity to attend, and . "

". and listen to a collection of educational experts who haven't been near a classroom for 10 years tell us how to teach," he interrupted, "then spend two hours wandering round stands with resources we can't afford since the council started to reallocate its funding to social work and the roads department? You're better off in the classroom, Morris, and doing more good for your pupils to boot."

Maybe he has a point.


We are still getting used to our 33-period week. Even five weeks into the term, it can still be confusing: Wednesdays and Fridays are now short days, while the other three days are longer, necessitating five periods before lunch and ravenous stomachs all round, a cause of complaint for Davie McManus from biology.

"Ah tell you what," he complained this afternoon. "By the time ah got round tae discussing digestion processes wi' 2F, ye could hear a' their innards groanin', makin' their own comments about the lack of digestion process goin' on in thur bellies.

"Whoever devised these ruddy timetables didny give a thought to the kid who doesny have breakfast, and then ends up waitin' until 1.30 tae get their first nourishment. It's a bloody miracle to me that the SSPCA huvny been ontae us!"

"Well, there are sound pedagogical reasons behind the new time-tables, Davie," chimed in Pauline MacDonald, the probationer in modern studies. "They allow more of the flexibility demanded by Curriculum for Excellence and a ."

"Bollocks!" retorted Davie angrily. "They're a cost-cutting measure designed tae screw every last minute out o' us, leavin' us up shit-creek for cover the first minute somebody goes off sick, and robbin' us of our free periods."

I was about to remind him that "non-contact time" was the proper terminology but decided he was in no mood to be crossed, so left for class. Unfortunately, they were 10 minutes late as they got mixed up with Wednesday's timetable. Well, that's what they said.


I had a cover lesson for Mr Paige today. Although I resented the loss of my non-contact time, it was a compelling insight into the brave new interdisciplinary world of A Curriculum for Excellence, as 1N had come straight from an RE lesson with Mr Walker, where they had been discussing the existence of a Supreme Being.

And the next stage of the linked exploration was to get them to draw images of God in their art lesson, which made for an interesting 50 minutes. I was left to admire the ingenuity of Chelsea Symons, who declared her picture complete after five of them, as she handed in a blank sheet of A3 and declared herself an atheist.

This was in sharp contrast to the industry of Connor Kennedy, who scored pencil stroke upon pencil stroke across his drawing board, his tongue jutting from a pair of tightly-pursed lips. I was loath to break his concentration, but couldn't help challenging him with the ultimate teleological query: "But Connor, isn't this is an impossible task? Surely, nobody knows what God looks like?"

He broke off, looked up at me sharply, then thrust out a defiant chin. "They will when ah've fuckin' finished, sur."

I decided not to pursue it.


I've to cover Mr Paige's class again next week - because he's going to the Scottish Learning Festival!

"But that's unfair!" I exclaimed to Frank Atkinson as he gave me the news. "Why does he get to go?"

"He's working on canvas," Frank explained.

"But that's what artists do, isn't it?"

"No, I mean C-A-N-V-A-S," he explained. "It's short for Children's Art at the National Virtual Arena of Scotland - it's a GLOW project that Frank's worked on, and ."

"I don't really care what it is. All I know is it's done me out of another free period, plus I still don't get to the SLF. And I wonder how long it took them to think up that stupid convoluted acronym!"

At which point I stomped off. I don't often lose my temper, but I think I was justified here.


If today had been a picture, I think it would have been called "The Three Ages of Probationers".

First, we had Pauline MacDonald: bright, fresh-faced and vivacious in the staffroom, looking forward to her year of assured employment, and blissfully unaware of the fate that awaits her next August.

Second, we had Sharon Gale in the geography department, a mature student who gave up a full-time sales job to retrain because she believed the Government's advertising campaign about the pressing need for teachers, and whose one-year contract would have been due for renewal next week - if the authority hadn't sent her a letter which she received this morning, informing her that it wouldn't be renewed after all.

And finally, we had Jeanette Austin, a probationer who has been in four different schools in the last four years, who has applied for 43 different jobs, and who presented herself, wearied, drawn and deflated at our office this morning, asking if she could work as a voluntary classroom assistant in the English department, because "it's boring being at home, and I just want to use my skills with the kids".

It would be interesting to send them all off to the Scottish Learning Festival next week to see how the glad confident morning that will be trumpeted abroad matches up to their own experience of Scottish Education. It's tragic, frankly, and if Mr Paige is looking for a subject for Canvas, he could do worse than these three.

Eat your heart out, Titian.

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar,, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today