Stiff upper lip in the face of adversity

15th June 2007 at 01:00

Today sees the start of Activities Week, Greenfield Academy's annual relaxation of academic endeavour that attempts to broaden our students'

minds by exposure to a wide range of educational activities, such as sunning themselves on an Italian beach (Mr Paige's Renaissance art trip), Irene Donnelly's four-night London theatre extrava-ganza (media arts) and the third year's trip to EuroDisney with Pamela Blane and the modern languages department.

Some of us, alas, have to remain in school to cope with the pupils who have been declined this chance to further their education in such manner, either by parental refusal or - more common - having been banned from trips for disciplinary reasons. Thus, the small coterie of staff left behind have to deal with assorted misfits whose behavioural tendencies compare unfavourably with the Bash Street Kids, yet whose educational needs must be met, according to the authority guidelines, "insofar as possible, in a manner that must not see them disadvantaged when compared with those students who are enjoying out-of-school activities".

"It's lucky they've left that phrase "insofar as possible" in their regulations," muttered Mr Greig as he and I wheeled the DVD projection unit into the lecture theatre.

"Mm," I murmured as I set the film in motion and faced the 28 pupils to announce that they were going to be watching West Side Story for the rest of the morning.

"Aww, surr!" bemoaned Peter Westhouse. "We watched that last year at Activities Week! It's crap!"

I silenced him with a withering look, and reminded them that the first years hadn't seen it. "So don't spoil it for them!" I commanded, an injunction slightly undermined by Brian Niven's squeaky contribution: "But we've seen it as well, surr. Miss Clark showed us it in Primary 7."

I don't know why we don't just shut up shop at the start of June, to be honest, for all the good these activities weeks do.


Mr Victor, head of the science faculty, has managed to get early retirement at short notice and will be gone by Friday. I expressed appropriate envy to him during morning break and fell once more to wishing that the winding-down scheme being enjoyed by some of my other colleagues could extend to those aged 45 and over... Wednesday

This afternoon was Parkland Primary's school sports day, and given that only 14 of our pupil cohort had turned up, our depute head (staffing), Richard Broadbent, granted my request that I pay a visit to see my daughter in her penultimate sports day experience at primary school.

Margaret did exceptionally well in the egg-and-spoon race, and even managed a creditable sixth (of eight) in the 100 metres; happily, she still received a prize and a rosette, as did each participant.

Alas, such equitable distribution of prizes was not evident in the fathers'

sack race, an event which - in retrospect - I should have avoided. Suffice to say that when the starter's whistle went, I was squeezed mercilessly between two arrogant brutes whose elbows thrust into my midriff from both sides and left me sprawling on the ground before I'd had a chance to get started.

It was a source of much embarrassment to Margaret, and she refused to acknowledge me when I tried to take her hand at the end of the day.

"Pretend you don't know me," she hissed from the corner of her mouth as she rushed away to join her friends.

So much for bonding.


The local authority has issued a code of conduct requiring all teaching staff to sign, promising, among other things, that we won't denigrate the authority or make any public response to the media about any school business without first clearing it with the offices.

It seems unlikely that the world's press would come to me for any commentary, but I find it outrageous that my employer sees fit to muzzle my right to free speech, and I am refusing to sign it. Mr McManus agreed that he was doing the same. "Glad to hear it," I congratulated him. "It's an outrageous document, isn't it?"

"I don't know," he confessed. "I haven't read it. I'm not even really sure what it's about."

"So why aren't you signing it?"

"The union's told me not to - simple as that."

It's good to know that independent thought still motivates the profession.


Mr Victor's leaving do at 3.40pm was a sorry affair, attended by a desultory few whose desire to wish him well only just exceeded a desire to leave for the weekend.

But Dick Broadbent had done his best to organise a presentation and a small buffet with wine, so the afternoon took a turn for the better as we quaffed and toasted the imminent conclusion to the term as well as a healthy retirement for our departing colleague.

He, in turn, became slightly emotional in his thanks, and it all seemed to pass off very well, even if it was clear that the quartz alarm clock and diminutive cheque hadn't quite matched his expectations after 35 years of teaching, 20 of them in the same school.

Mr Broadbent must have noticed Mr Victor's reaction because I couldn't help but overhear him as he shook his hand warmly at the end of the event.

"Sorry if the cheque was a bit smaller than you expected, Brian," he explained with all the tact and discretion at his command, "but there are quite a few younger staff who don't really know you - and then, of course, we had to pay for the sandwiches and wine out of the money we collected as wel* ..."

Brian Victor blanched, quite visibly, then turned slightly red in the face.

To his eternal credit, however, he bit his lip, thanked Mr Broadbent with his dignity intact, and left the staffroom for the last time.

I suspect he won't be coming back to visit us.

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