'Tis the season to be jolly, so they say

19th December 2003 at 00:00

The repercussions still echo after last month's disastrous collapse of Kostuss, the banking consortium behind Greenfield Academy's public-private renovation. Since then, the building site has simply lain derelict.

Meanwhile, Simon Young's friend Andy Park's school, in our neighbouring authority, has continued to ensure that all doors are locked and hatches battened so that no angry sub-contractors have been able to reclaim property which Kostuss hasn't paid for yet. After a spirited assault on seven schools last month, the builders admitted defeat and started laying off workers instead.

Meanwhile, the emporial new clothes of the current dynamic approach to school management had another airing today when Richard Dick revealed that our new business manager - who is due to commence his duties in the new year and is apparently equipped to make enormous cost and efficiency savings in the school budget - will not, after all, be allocating "please-takes" as part of his duties.

"But I thought that was part of the grand strategy?" I enquired of Richard Broadbent, one of our deputy heads. "I understood that the authority had employed all these business managers to take on the financial and administrative tasks that teachers aren't really suited for, leaving them time to get on with teaching rather than wrestling with timetable problems and cover lessons?"

"Well that was the plan, Morris," he confirmed. "But the business managers can't arrange absence cover because their terms and conditions state that they commence work at 8.45am, which is a little too late in the day to start organising please-takes."

"But I thought business managers were supposed to be go-ahead dynamic people, not counting the hours, doing it because they want to achieve their business goals?"

"Ah, no," he shook his head. "That's in the real business world.

"These are more like your Scottish Enterprise type business managers. They can talk the talk but getting the job done is another matter entirely.

"Still," he sighed in resignation, "it's good to know that we teachers are still good for some things, like getting into school an hour early to get on with the work that nobody knows we do I especially our employers."


Malcolm Saunderson, my fragile young colleague in the English department, is on the sick list again. He has rarely been seen in school this term because of continuing back problems, but I thought he'd thrown off the worst of them in the past fortnight.

"He has," explained my long-suffering principal teacher. "There's nothing wrong with his back at the moment."

"Oh?" I queried solicitously. "Is there some other problem now? Sciatica? Asthma? Influenza?" I reeled off a few recollections from the litany of Malcolm's previous ailments.

"No, no," Simon shook his head. "It's his back that's the problem. He's worried that it might cause him problems in the holidays.

"He told me that last Easter he'd come into school for the final days of term and then got laid up over the holidays. Said he didn't want to risk anything like that again, so he'd probably be off for the last four days before Christmas in case he ended up ruining his holidays."

I didn't know what to say. Still, at least Mr Broadbent will have had time to arrange the please-takes. It sounds as if he must have had advance warning of this particular need for cover.


The roof above Gail's Primary 5 classroom is once again open to the elements, almost as if it were in its initial stages of construction. The only difference is that it is now 34 years since my wife's primary school was built and there are 360 children in the school trying to enjoy the benefits of a rounded education.

Having spent 12 years complaining about the leak in her classroom ceiling, Gail's imprecations have at last been answered by the clerk of works'

command to strip back 19 layers of felt from the school's flat and incessantly permeable roof. Unsurprisingly, Mr Ladbroke has chosen the wettest month of the year to send his team into action, with the consequence that Gail's new classroom carpet has been completely drenched on four occasions, along with those of every other class in the school.

In short, the antedeluvian hole in her roof seems a minor inconvenience compared with the sodden catastrophes now befalling Gail and her colleagues. Today, they have issued galoshes for the staff and pupils.

Gail just wishes they would put on a sloping roof. This seems unlikely to happen.


Greenfield Academy should be getting a new building after all. Our PPP contract has apparently been renegotiated in some high-value deal with a financially-reincarnated version of the previous backers that leaves me breathless, as well as the sub-contractors penniless.

I am left to despair about the honest journeymen, the companies who have put so much into the construction of our new school but who are left with an enormous business overdraft while the fat cats at the backers' banks get richer by the minute.

To my mind, it's a microcosm of the current situation that sees education in the hands of the financial whiz-kids dispersing apparent largesse to the accompaniment of self-congratulatory press releases while the kids who need a proper education are at the end of a long queue asking for "More, please".

For example, here we are at Greenfield Academy in receipt of financial benevolence from on high for laptops, whiteboards, software and interactive technology that we can't use and don't want. But when I ask Simon for things that I need, like chalk or text books or jotters, then he tells me:

"There's no money, Morris."

All I can say is that "the time is out of joint". Sadly, there are few in authority who would recognise the reference, let alone feel willing to act upon it.


I had been looking forward to my daughter's end-of-term service this afternoon and had received special dispensation from Mr Dick to leave early as none of my classes have been turning up for the last week of term anyway.

And with Margaret being in Primary 3 now, it would be my last chance to see her in the infants' Nativity play.

Alas, it was not to be. The council has bowed to yet further edicts of political correctness in encouraging schools to avoid events that celebrate one culture over another, with the result that Parkland Primary was festooned with decorations declaring "Season's greetings" and "Festive wishes" but nary a crib nor a manger in sight, and certainly no mention of Christmas.

To be fair, the central element of the stage performance did at least bow to tradition in a seven-part production looking at religious ceremonies celebrating "special times across the world", including a nod to our own culture with a Nativity play lasting all of five minutes. Alas, it was only notable for the innkeeper's invitation to Mary and Joseph to "Come right on in, we've got plenty of room," which nearly drew proceedings to an even earlier conclusion than would otherwise have been the case.

Happily, the event was made completely memorable when our local councillor, Bill Malcolm, got to his feet to propose a vote of thanks and foolishly wandered into a completely unscripted moment by starting impromptu interviews with the children.

"So what do you think you'll get if you're good before Christmas?" he asked Nathan George, an unpleasant little boy who was picking his nose at the time.

Nathan looked gormless for a moment, then came up with the piercingly sharp response: "Presents." After which he lapsed into sullen silence.

"And what about you, Michael?" Councillor Malcolm turned anxiously to another odious little example of greed. "What will you get if you're good at Christmas?"

"Presents. Mair presents. An' sweets. An' mebbe Gran' Theft Auto fur ma PlayStation," naming an 18-certificate computer game that a seven-year-old shouldn't even have heard of, let alone be wanting for Christmas.

The councillor laughed nervously.

Then came a girl in Margaret's class who has a slight speech impediment and whose parents are staunch members of our church.

"And what about you, Miriam," the rubicund councillor queried. "What d'you think you'll get if you're good at Christmas?"

"If I'm good," she began to lisp, "then at Chrithmath I'll get clother to Jethuth."

"Clother to what?" he looked momentarily discomfited, then recovered himself. "Oh! Closer to Jesus? Oh! Yes indeed. Very nice," he uttered uselessly.

"And, um, shouldn't we all get closer to Jesus?" he appealed to the audience manfully, clearly forgetting his multicultural role before correcting himself artlessly. "Unless you don't want to, of course. Um.

Thank you. Thank you very much, Miriam." He looked frantically for his seat and scurried back as fast as dignity would allow.

It was a champagne moment as far as I was concerned and I thought back to it later on, as I lay in bed listening to Christmas carols on Radio 2, before turning around to Gail.

"Well, Gail, you can believe it, or believe it not," I urged, referring to the timeless Christmas message so sweetly articulated by Miriam Ross as well as by Brian Matthews' seasonal playlist. "But at least in this Godless age, it's nice to hear from a child who's got something to believe in."

At which point, I bit back the lump in my throat, closed my Tom Clancy novel and drew the week to an affectionate conclusion by pecking my spouse on the cheek.

"Good night, dear. Season's greetings. And Happy Christmas as well. Even if the council doesn't like me saying it."

Next month: Morris has problems with the bears in Intermediate 1.

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