Standing up for the indefensible

25th August 2000 at 01:00

A traumatic in-service day dealing with an incredible parental backlash against the Scottish Qualifications Authority.

Richard Dick rearranged the day's timetable to allow guidance staff to attend interviews with confused and angry parents. This certainly gave me the welcome opportunity to avoid his first official staff meeting of his headship, which was a blessing of sorts. I gather he spent much time revelling in the Parkland Gazette's headline-grabbing pronouncement of our school's 15 per cent rise in Higher attainment levels, as well as displaying significant levels of schadenfreude at the disastrously reduced pass rate of Abbotsgrange Academy, our independent neighbour.

Alas, I soon discovered that leave of absence from that meeting was not the sinecure it first seemed. Each interview was worse than the preceding one.

"So what the hell does all this bumf mean?" urged Mr Comfort, a builder and father to Simon. "Even if they've got his Higher results right - which I doubt - what's the rest of it about?"

"Ah, well, that's an attempt to give a comprehensive account of Simon's educational attainment throughout his school career. It's a passport to the future, if you like, that records his..."

"But half the stuff in here he's never sat! What's all this guff about an Intermediate in core skills communications?" he said, jabbing a finger at the voluminous document.

"That's because Simon sat a Higher in business management, and that includes an Intermediate pass in core skills communications. The syllabus gives the capacity to draw together strands from building blocks, as it were, group them together and produce meaningful blocks of core skills."

Mr Comfort looked confused for a moment, so I thought I'd won the battle, but he came back at me. "But he didn't know he was sitting core skills communications, did he? If he did, maybe he'd have tried harder to get a better pass than an intermediate!"

"Well he couldn't have done that, Mr Comfort, because I think that Intermediate is the highest level it could have been awarded. I'm not too sure about these components, but I think..." "Ach, forget it!" he stood up. "As far as I can see, the kids don't have a clue what these certificates are about. Neither do the teachers. And neither do the employers! So when someone comes to me with their SQA certificate, d'you know what I'm going to do with it?"

I raised my eyebrows in enquiry.

"I'm going to hang it up in the staff toilet where it belongs. And then I'm going to give the candidate a spelling test and an arithmetic test, which is when I'll find out what he can do.

AndI" he brandished the awards certificate aloft, "it'll be a hell of a sight cheaper than all this crap!"

He stormed out, and I found myself wondering whether I was trying to defend the indefensible.


The staffroom is awash with speculation about our new principal teacher of biology, David McManus. He has arrived complete with the sobriquet "Course Davie" and every principal teacher in the school (myself included) is deeply concerned about the threat to our chances of the assistant headteacher's post.

"Apparently he's a real whizz-kid," confided Pamela Blane to a worried phalanx of colleagues. "That's how he got the nickname, I think, because he's been on so many courses. And I can just imagine that sort of thing going down well with Dick Dick."

"Surely his teaching and management abilities would come before that?" queried Mrs Bradford, whose time at the school had post-dated Mr Dick's previous incarnation as depute head.

Eight pairs of eyes confronted her question with tolerant understanding, even amusement. And, almost as one, eight heads shook sadly from side to side.


The first English departmental meeting of the session was marked by acrimony and retribution. And that was before we got to the first item on the agenda.

"Before we begin," announced Simon Young, "I'd just like to comment upon the appalling debacle that passed for an examination system during the past three months.

"As far as I'm concerned," he glared at Angela Slater, our assistant principal teacher whose support for the revised Higher Still arrangements in English is well documented, "the whole experience was a complete vindication of my decision to avoid embracing the emperor's new clothes that Higher Still had become.

"When I was told that 75 per cent of our presentations at Higher had received A grades, I didn't believe it. When I asked again and got the same answer, I still didn't believe it. And when I asked for a third time whether the lady at the end of the telephone line realised that a band 5 in Higher Still wasn't the same as a band 5 in Higher, and by the time we'd established that she'd been looking at a school with a similar postcode and a presentation centre number that was close to ours - but wasn't ours - well, by then I knew the ball was on the slates.

"Our exam results are as appalling as ever, but they'd have been even worse if we'd got involved with Higher Still. And if anyone wants to go ahead with a Higher Still presentation class," looking at Angela, who has promised Mr Dick exactly this, "they'll be on their own and can sign a disclaimer to that effect."

The rest of the meeting was an anti-climax. I'll certainly have to think hard about joining Angela in a UDI on the Higher Still front.


Fortunately, the examination chaos has diverted Mr Dick from some of the other items on his personal agenda. In particular, he has yet to ask me about progress on Greenfield Academy's website and electronic communications strategy, for which I am (nominally) responsible. This is something of a relief because, apart from several visits to the SQA website, my computing knowledge is still lacking.

Meanwhile, I think I have discovered the origin of Course Davie's nickname. The revelation came about as I met this year's 1N for the first time.

To my complete and utter distress, this class contains the repulsive Tony McManaman, best remembered in my personal memory bank for spitting at Gail and me as we were walking through the local recreational area just over a year ago. Notwithstanding my recollection of the experience, I was shocked to hear him relate a joke to his classmates as I was giving them my usual start-of-term pep-talk.

"Hey, Crapper!" he called to an affectionately nicknamed friend. "Whit did the giraffe say in the nudist cocktail bar?"

I stopped in mid-flow at the interruption, but was too late to halt the answer being broadcast.

"The highballs are oan me!" bellowed McManaman with a hearty guffaw.

"That's enough, sonny!" I issued a peremptory warning. "We don't tolerate filth like that at Greenfield Academy, and..."

"Sur?" he challenged me. "It wis Mr McManus that told us it last period."

"Mr McManus of biology?" I challenged with equal ferocity. "Don't be ridiculous. If you're trying to..."

"It wis, sur," corroborated Felicity Watts, an angelic looking child. "He told us loads of jokes."

"Aye," confirmed McManaman. "Like the wan about the dwarf in the nudist camp, as well. He goat a crack in the . . . "

"That's ENOUGH!" I interrupted fiercely and I sent McManaman to our newly-installed chill-out room, complete with soothing piped music. Thirty minutes with Mantovani should do the trick, I thought. He'll come back either soothed or suicidal. Sadly, it was the former.


My suspicions of yesterday were fully confirmed by a call to David McManus's previous school, where I have a friend in the physics department. She confirmed my suspicion that "Course Davie" should have been more accurately called "Coarse Davie".

"So that's where he ended up! We knew it had to be a sink-school somewhere!" Marilyn declared uncharitably. "Our boss was so fed up of the parental complaints about the dirty jokes he told his classes that he gave him a reference that would've compared favourably with one for David Attenborough. So it was your boss that got taken in, then, Morris?"

I felt the unreasonable need to defend Mr Dick by explaining that the appointment had been made before his arrival, a decision I regretted when our esteemed head made known this afternoon his Machiavellian plan to hoodwink the local press.

By this time, of course, the true picture of our Higher results was becoming slightly clearer, if only through a very dark glass. And whatever the final details might transpire to be, it would appear that the Abbotsgrange results have been grossly under-reported, while our own results remain as tawdry and bereft of academic excellence as ever.

Mr Dick, of course, is at great pains to let last week's Parkland Gazette "increased attainment" story run uncorrected, complete with all of the kudos that might accrue to him. "No need to tell the Gazette. People like good news stories," he assured the board of studies. "So I think we should let sleeping dogs lie. Eh?"

If only the SQA could say the same.

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