The last instalment in our peek at a London teacher's diary of last term
MONDAY Today I met the headteacher of my daughter's primary school. I have met her once or twice before; brisk and authoritative is the style. "I've been so busy today I haven't had time to wipe my arse," she says as I arrive. I am taken aback and apologise for denying her this most basic of pleasures.
A woman I know has been complaining to me about having to pay for the education of her wastrel son four times. First she pays through her taxes for a state system that is just not "up to scratch" (her phrase not mine.) Then she pays exorbitant independent school fees for teaching that is "no better than he would get at his local comprehensive". She then sends him to an Easter crammer course that was "reasonable" and now she has employed yours truly as a private tutor so that he may limp through his A-level and claim that place at Oxford that is rightfully his. I suppose that I should feel sorry for her but I don't.
I am warming to the theme of the independent sector. An oily little boy in Year 9 has returned to the school after his parents have spent a year working in the Gulf where he attended some sort of international school. He is now forced to slum it again in the comprehensive sector. I enquire as to what this school was like. "Very nice," he says. "Much higher academic standards than here, much better teaching." "You must have felt quite out of place," I reply. I look at him closely to see if he has noticed the slight, but there is not a flicker of recognition.
Tuesday The head has been to the Palace to receive his OBE, and it has been put on display in the staffroom with a small green leather comments book. I return later in the day but the book has disappeared before I have the chance to write in "an honour richly deserved". His secretary informs me that the behaviour of some of the more immature members of staff has forced the book's removal. Well I never.
Wednesday An elderly gentlemen arrives in school. He must be in his eighties. He wants to know if the school still has the old punishment books. For some unknown reason, he is ushered in my direction. He wants to find out the exact day that he was caned by the old headmaster in 1928. "What was your offence?" I ask. "I went to watch Arsenal play," he replies. "During school time, I assume." "No. He would have haned us for that. He was a Tottenham man. We revered him you know. It was a privilege to be caned by him." Ah happy days, the best years of our lives.
Thursday Two memos from the head today.
1. It has come to his notice that some members of staff have taken to using his personal toilet rather than using the staff toilets at the other end of the school. This is a serious matter, of course, and is likely to cause threshold problems for the culprits if caught, particularly as at least one of them has not mastered the use of the flush mechanism. I blame the boys' PE staff myself.
2. He is disturbed by those staff who leave school within a few minutes of the end of the day bell. It gives the wrong impression to waiting parents that we are all desperate to escape. This is, of course, misleading and inaccurate. Accordingly, all staff are asked to wait 15 minutes before leaving. My problem is that I have to attend a meeting of heads of English at the professional development centre. It starts immediately after school. How can I convey to parents that this is the reason for my hasty departure? Perhaps some sort of sign on my car? Suggestions please.
Being situated close to a number of well known London day schools, we have a constant problem of talented young staff being poached. In the end it always comes down to money. An outstandingly talented young teacher applied for a job teaching English at a very nice girls' school but the position was to start in January. She went to the interview, was offered the job but on reflection turned it down because she did not wish to leave her examination classes in the lurch. A noble gesture. The headmistress of the independent school rang up and offered her pound;6,000 more than the best offer that our head could make. She is leaving.
Friday A touching vignette. My colleague who is in charge of allocating the new Year 7 to their forms shows me an application from a parent. We have six houses and the parents are asked which house they would prefer their child to be in. Answer: We would prefer Mary to live in our house.
Q. What is your second choice of house? A. We only have one house. We are not rich enough to own a second house.
Q. What house is your brother or sister in?
A. Mary's brother and sister live in the same house.
The author teaches in a northLondon comprehensive