Strictly on the record;Further adventures of Morris Simpson;School diary

30th April 1999 at 01:00

Mr Pickup is still crowing about his imminent retirement. The staffroom countdown wallchart reveals only two months to go, and - aside from preparing another wallchart, for his last ever role as organiser of the annual Scrabble championship during next month's SQA examination study-leave period - he spends most of his time announcing plans for his first two months of leisure.

"No more cheese sandwiches in the staffroom for me, old son," he cheerfully slapped me on the back this morning, and announced a holiday itinerary that would make Judith Chalmers look like an agoraphobic.

"And you're really not planning to come back and visit us until after the October break?" I queried.

"Nope," he confirmed. "Once I've shaken the dust of this place off my heels, I'll not be back until my tan's at least 10 shades darker and my beer belly three inches wider. Except for day one," he added mysteriously.

"Day one?"

"Yep. Come August 18, I plan to bring along a folding chair and a copy of the Guardian, and sit outside the school gates watching every one of you poor saps drive past - and I'll laugh myself silly."

How pathetic.


Now I'm a principal teacher (acting) of guidance, some of our thornier discipline issues are finding their way to my door. And some of our thornier pupils as well.

This morning, it was Damien Steele, aided and abetted by his partner-in-crime, Stuart Monteith. Damien had got, he informed me, "a serious complaint about ra teachers." They were, he elucidated further, "aye pickin oan me, an it's no ferr!" "Oh?" I asked him to take a seat.

"Aye!" he announced with peremptory frankness, as he slammed a hand-held cassette recorder on the table. "An it's all in therr. Teachers shoutin', teachers givin' me rows, teachers givin' me punny eccies. Teachers pickin' oan me."

And so it proved. The little ruffian hit the play button to reveal a litany of verbal assaults that had been launched against him, and which he had secretly recorded. I heard them out, and there were certainly some stunning examples of forceful disciplinary measures undertaken by my colleagues.

George Crumley, for example, was heard to warn Steele in fearsome tones that "if you don't finish that Ordnance Survey map by period end, I'll put you on a conduct card till the end of term". And Ms Honeypot threatened dark outpourings of grief if Damien "even dared to breathe loudly while I'm explaining the rules of volleyball again". Mrs Harry, for her part, had screeched loudly at the child to desist from twanging Kylie Donahue's brassiere strap, while Pickup had unwisely threatened him with physical violence by enjoining him to (and I quote) "shut your vicious little cakehole, or you'll find it full of my fist, son!" Of course, I pointed out to Damien that the reason his teachers were disciplining him was because he was clearly misbehaving - the evidence was on the tape - but he was having none of it, and insisted upon launching an official complaint, especially against Pickup's threat of violence. I sighed, asked him to demonstrate exactly how he had acquired his evidence - to which end he demonstrated the surreptitious recording function of his machine - then left them both alone for a few minutes as I went to retrieve the necessary paperwork from the school office.

Who would be a guidance teacher?


With two non-contact periods, I intended to spend this morning on a telephone round-up of several parents whose offspring have given cause for disciplinary concern in recent weeks, as well as making arrangements to see Mr and Mrs Steele about their son's complaint of victimisation.

Until I discovered my telephone was missing.

An enquiry of the janitor revealed that my case was not unique. "That's the fifth wan this month, Mr Simpson," he informed me. "Kids are probably knockin' them fur car boot sales."

"Well, what are you doing about it?" I urged.

He shrugged his shoulders. "Nothin', yet. Unless you want me to start screwin' them to the desks? I wouldny worry, tae be honest - it'll all die out in a wee while."

I shook my head in despair. No wonder the crime rate's soaring if theft of this nature is allowed to go unpunished at such an early age. Mr Harkins tells me he'll put a replacement request in to the clerk of works, and that I should get a new 'phone in about four weeks. Meanwhile, I am reduced to making my guidance telephone calls from the staffroom, the school office, or - when occasion demands - the public telephone outside the lecture theatre.


Mr and Mrs Steele arrived just after lunch to discuss Damien's harassment complaints and their intentions of launching legal action against the school on the grounds of victimisation, coupled with failure to provide a sufficient quality of education.

I gulped nervously and tried to assuage their anger with assurances that Greenfield Academy was a caring, encouraging educational establishment. "For instance," I explained proudly, "we've recently applied to become an Investors in People organisation." Mrs Steele looked blankly at me, so I moved on to the nitty gritty of the case instead, and assured them absolutely that none of Damien's teachers had the slightest intention of victimising him.

Mr Steele shook his head. "An' wur addin' a charge of threatenin' grievous bodily harm against his religious education teacher," he referred to Pickup's self-condemning remarks. "It's all down therr oan the tape, Mr Simpson."

And to prove his point, he set the machine in motion. I argued over the playback that Damien's recordings amounted to entrapment and (Pickup's outburst aside) that all of my colleagues had been perfectly entitled to castigate their son, but both parents proved resolute. Until, that is, the tape ran beyond the last item, whereon Damien had demonstrated his recording techniques for me on Tuesday afternoon. And had mistakenly left the machine recording while I went to the school office.

For it was during that particular window of opportunity - with his recording gloriously continuing, unbeknown to Damien - that he and Stuart Monteith had conducted a whispered discussion about how best to steal the telephone from my office in pursuit of a future profit opportunity. I halted our conversation as the importance of what we were hearing dawned upon me - and as Mr Steele immediately lunged to switch the tape recorder off.

"No, no!" I grabbed the machine and extracted the tape. "I think this is what's known as prima facie evidence, Mr Steele. And I'm sure the courtroom would be delighted to hear it. All of it," I emphasised with triumphant grandeur.


Mr and Mrs Steele have returned my telephone - along with four others - from their son's bedroom, and they have withdrawn all claims of staff victimisation, with the exception of Mr Pickup's threats of violence. I told Pickup of their continuing litigatious intentions this morning, but he seemed unconcerned.

"Why should I worry, Morris?" he exclaimed carelessly. "By the time it gets to court I'll be long out of here. Nope - they can whistle, as far as I'm concerned, and if I do actually get a chance to ram my fist down Damien Steele's throat before I go, then so much the better."

After which contentious remark he turned his attention to the more serious issue of next week's Scottish parliamentary elections. Alas, he still finds himself unable to support any party's educational manifesto.

"Not yet," he frowned, when I asked if he'd come to a political decision. "I still can't bring myself to vote for any of them. They all whinge on about the fact that we've lost Scotland's proud tradition of excellence in education, but not one of them's supporting any policies to bring it back."

"And what policies would they be?" I asked cautiously.

"Quite straightforward, Morris," he launched into an impassioned tirade. "I'm talking about policies that insist parents will back up school decisions on disciplinary matters; policies that guarantee a compulsory two hours of homework each night; policies that ensure consistently disruptive children are sent to special schools and don't ruin the chances of the majority of decent kids in the school. I'm talking about policies that ensure streaming in English and maths from the day they enter secondary school, and in all other subjects after six months. And I'm talking about policies that will guarantee the restoration of capital punishment in all Scottish schools, primary and secondary." He paused for breath.

"Don't you mean corporal punishment?" I queried hesitantly.

"What?" he shook himself as if coming out of a trance. "Oh, yes, sorry. Corporal punishment, you're quite right, Morris."

Then he narrowed his eyes and clearly thought some more about Damien Steele and his ilk. "Although in certain cases, Morris. In certain cases..."

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