Thank heavens for little children

11th September 1998 at 01:00
Yes, it's back to auld claes and purridge. Or in our case, new uniforms and old tuck shop. The squad has surfaced in considerable style, decked in new uniforms, new in colours as well, due to an intensive pre-vacation PR campaign to convince them to convince their parents of the social value of uniform uniformity.

The resilience of children never fails to amaze me. Their cheerful farewells at the end of June still seem to be echoing in the air as they are offering cheerful greetings seven weeks later. They have known all during the holidays their next teacher destination, and the hopes, fears and expectations are just about to be realised, which for many of them is a welcome relief from the boredom of the vacation.

Except for primary 1, who have probably forgotten their visit from their various nurseries anyway and who have to endure double-dose angst in half-size bodies. They troop in, with cohorts of comforting parents to ooh and ah their passing through the portals, even to camcord it. It has been a long arduous sentence for parents too. The strains produced by trying to keep them occupied and out of trouble's and harm's way, by withstanding the consumerist pressures and whinging that a visit to the shopping mall produces, by resisting that all-consuming urge to stiff-arm one's own flesh and blood, can leave its mark.

Relief in the playground is palpable, weight visibly lifting from shoulders as the clock crawls to 9am the first day back. A trouble-free transfer of classes made, their road to peace and quiet finally made straight, parents make off to put their feet up and watch the morning telly. Not so teachers. Two days of in-service have dashed whatever sense of euphoria remains from the holidays.

I do my best to ease staff back into their stalls as gently as I can on this potentially fraught occasion, but I cannot answer the inevitable questions that spill out, particularly about classroom assistants: how might they be deployed, why not more teachers, who might they be, what do the unions say about this, is it a way to cut down unemployment, when does the scheme start?

I feel inadequate before their trepidation about a scheme presented as a fait accompli and about which little or nothing is known. The "Standard for Headship in Scotland" gives no hint in its descriptions of desirable qualities in aspiring headteachers that telepathy may be a sine qua non. Talk of targets and professional review makes a dent on what remains of the day in terms of cheerfulness. It's a relief to them to get to the classrooms.

For ancillary staff, relief is a long way off. Attendance levels form a major element of the nation's development plan, and the devolved management system is inaccessible at precisely the time it is most needed. We are not alone. The cluster primaries of the now semi-derelict St Leonard's secondary are all in the same boat, and no one can print out a register, pay a bill or get an emergency contact. Clearly the transition to drumming up devolved resources from St Andrew's secondary has not proved to be smooth, with blame extended fruitlessly in every direction. This will last for a week.

The brutish vigour of local vandals has almost got the janitor's shoulders down for a count of three. Quite apart from the sporadic forays by way of a narrow window to vandalise a particular classroom, his life has a new bane. There is a new kid on the block, nameless, invisible, like a wraith, who has a hammer. There are aspirations to sculpture there, because he has rounded a lot of concrete 90-degree angles. Like steps. Like pillars. He has even found his way on to the roof, and let rip with his hammer on the soft parts of its already fragile felting.

Me? Back to auld claes and purridge. For the infants, time to start the literacy obstacle course. Asked if they knew what a baby cat was, one sparkler lit up the room with "A toaty wan". Who said Scots (or literacy) was dead?

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