Tripping at the first hurdle

18th May 2001 at 01:00
Every time I write to the primary headteachers in my cluster, I have to check the spelling of Mary Iannarelli's name. Is it two Ns and one R or two Rs and one N? It's definitely two Ls at the end, just as in Lisa Minelli.

Alas, such worries are no more. The head of St Catherine's in Gracemount is moving to a new challenge in Midlothian. Presumably, she has had enough of electricity and running water.

Mary belongs to an esoteric confraternity subsisting on the edge of humanity, the aficionados of "The Sweeney" column. Continuing professional development for Mary and her pal, Mary Clason of St Mary's Primary in Leith, another of our cluster establishments, consists of settling down with a stiff cola on a Friday evening to peruse the ranting of their local secondary heidie in TES Scotland.

Colleagues have sought to counsel the two Marys about the potentially deleterious effects of such a practice, but they persist. As in all matters managerial, they carry out an objective risk assessment before going ahead as first planned.

I have made a special plea to the director of education to ensure that Mary's successor at St Catherine's bears the patronymic Smith or Brown or at least something I can spell.

Names are a curious obstacle to educational progress. It must be even worse in Sweden, where almost everybody is a Larsson.

We can now summon up on the computer details of each pupil, unless of course his name is McDonald. Is that "Mac" or "Mc"? Is there a capital D or does it all just run on seamlessly?

Now, to compound the felony, somebody has decided that, in our electronic mail system, everybody is to be listed by their first name. If you are looking for John Zebedee, don't look up Z. Oh no, no! How quaint! John Zebedee, whose illustrious ancestor had a bit part in the Bible, is conveniently located in a mountainous haystack of 10 million Johns.

I tried the other day to send a message to Mike Wilkins, my depute head. "No such person" came the prompt iposte. There was a wee teacher-like red line under the word Mike, as if the machine vaguely disapproved of such slovenly informality. A deft switch to Michael Wilkins overcame the pedantry of the disembodied censor.

Fine, great, let's proceed. Find Michael Knox, assistant head. Wavy red line, mechanical noises: no such person, doesn't exist, never been heard of before.

As I progressed to the next assistant head, the infernal box of omniscience advised me that there are two Lesley Carrolls. Now, for those of us who operate alongside Lesley's voracious capacity for work, two Lesley Carrolls is a severely challenging concept.

Throughout my own secondary school career, there were two Patrick Sweeneys. I was given the tag "junior" and the sobriquet travelled with me for some years. More traumatically, the other guy was often referred to as "the footballer", with stark implication for my own skills on the field of dreams.

I had shaken off this silky-footed doppelganger by the time my Higher results dropped through the wrong letter box. We lived in a flat in Glasgow and, mirabile dictu, the upstairs neighbour was called Patrick Sweeney. As fate would dictate, he was on holiday when the exam results were published and I suffered pangs of apprehension as his granny was summoned from Bridgeton with the key.

Her Majesty's Inspectors have undergone a change of nomenclature and are henceforth to be known as the Inspectorate of Education in Scotland. Bus runs were laid on from the north and east as the great and good converged on Hampden Park at the end of April. Choruses of "Here we go, here we go" were heard wafting over Mount Florida as the new agency was launched.

So that we would all fully comprehend precisely the effects of this event, that Saturday's Scotsman proclaimed "Schools get more checks" while the Sunday Herald carried the headline "Inspectors' role reduced". So now we know.

Pat Sweeney is headteacher of Holy Rood High School, Edinburgh

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