Troublesome children, real and virtual
Greenfield Academy looks forward to a week of relative serenity as we anticipate five days without the presence of the behaviourally challenged "Mainstream" Michael Kerr. For once, the authority's desire to fulfil its social inclusion policy has been thwarted by the threat of legal action from the parents of two second year boys, upon whom Kerr perpetrated grievous bodily harm last week.
The subsequent admission to hospital of his victims proved too much for even the most ardent defender of our "caring for degenerates"
policy, so Kerr has been suspended for a week. For once, I almost looked forward to coming to school today.
My enthusiasm was in sharp contrast to Gail's apprehensions, because Rockston Primary is in the throes of inspection.
"It's all I need," she muttered over breakfast. "Four months pregnant and the inspectors come to call. And at three weeks' notice! It's ridiculous."
"It's not really, Gail," I tried to calm her for the umpteenth time. "Three weeks is really plenty of time to prepare. After all, the inspectors don't want to see anything out of the ordinary, so they don't want you to make special preparations. They just want to see how Mrs Maitland's school operates on a day-to-day basis and that's why a spontaneous approach is best."
"Hah!" she scoffed harshly. "Spontaneous, Morris? Veronica Maitland's arranged this week so that each and every day goes off with all the spontaneity of the state opening of Parliament!
"Now, I'd better be off," she pecked me on the cheek.
"You what?" I checked my watch. "But you're an hour earlier than usual."
"Don't want to be late, Morris. Don't want to be late ..."
So much for the everyday experience.
Helen Tarbet has co-opted a new member of staff to the home economics department. In this case, it is a relatively inexpensive appointment, without salary or pension costs, because the member in question is an astonishingly lifelike virtual baby. She has been enlisted as part of Miss Tarbet's social and vocational skills course.
Although less expensive than a full-time teacher, this piece of electronic gimcrackery doesn't come cheap. She can be programmed to cry, demand food, require a nappy change as well as nursing; in short, she is designed to replicate as closely as possible the unceasing demands of a real baby. Thus, it is hoped, those of Miss Tarbet's teenage students for whom the acquisition of a baby is a fount of ambition, rather than trepidation, will be brought up sharply by the consequences of such an arrival, long before it becomes a real situation.
"I've wanted one of these for years," she said, displaying her cooing bundle proudly, when I called to see her this afternoon about a disciplinary matter with the first years and some cake mixture, "but I could never get it through the social and vocational skills budget."
"So what's happened?" I asked. "Have they increased the budget?"
"Oh, no," she shook her head. "I got it through the enterprise budget. It satisfies all the right areas - citizenship, social responsibility, that kind of thing - in fact, exactly the same as SVS, but it has a sexier name and lots of dosh around it."
Clearly, if you want to have some proper funding in education, it is still all about spotting the right bandwagon and then jumping on board for the ride.
Meanwhile, Gail's inspection seems to be going well enough, although she was furious to discover that several colleagues had been at school over the weekend, making their classes extra attractive for the inspectors'
"Nobody told me the school was going to be open on Saturday!" she muttered bitterly at tea-time. "Tricia Walkman was in all Saturday plastering her walls with poems, some of them even written by her own class! And Kate Ferrier has festooned her room with more wall displays than I've seen in the past five years. She's got jungle scenes, garden scenes, ocean scenes I You wouldn't believe it, Morris!"
"And were the inspectors impressed?" I wondered aloud.
"Don't know," she conceded. "I don't think they're supposed to say anything until they are finished. The only comment we've had so far is that the gents' toilet could do with a lick of paint."
As long as they are concentrating on the essentials of education, that's what I say.
Melissa Chalmers has found an interest in life. At last, the mini-skirted fishwife of the third year has melted into a warm, loving teenager, eager to please and keen to show affection at every opportunity.
The reason behind her astonishing character transformation is, of course, Miss Tarbet's virtual baby. The girl has become completely captivated during her SVS classes and is desperate to take the "child"
home, so that she can spend an evening showering devotion and care on the robotic charmer.
Miss Tarbet is understandably reluctant to let it out of her sight, so is pondering a decision, much of which will be dependent upon Mrs Chalmers'
willingness to indemnify the school against any potential damage that might be sustained.
I tried to enthuse Gail with the story this evening, but she was too full of the entertainment value afforded by the inspector visiting Kate Ferrier's over-decorated classroom this afternoon.
"It was hilarious," she assured me. "I was in with her doing some team teaching and the guy couldn't find his way out when he wanted to go to another classroom! He spent a good five minutes casually walking along every wall trying to find the door in among all the displays!
"Eventually, Kate had to go and open it for him and he scurried off muttering something about clearly marked doors and hazardous conditions in a fire. Serve her right for trying to tart the place up so much," she concluded, somewhat harshly, I felt.
Whatever happened to group togetherness? Clearly, a ladies only staffroom is no place for the faint-hearted or sensitive.
Gail is delighted with the results of her inspection lesson this afternoon, and is quietly confident of a "good" or "very good" in the marking stakes.
"The kids were great," she explained as we sat down to a post-prandial cup of tea and a night in front of Bleak House. "The groups worked out perfectly and they ..."
"Hang on!" I interjected. "What groups? I thought you'd kept this lot in straight rows since August because they couldn't be trusted to do group activities?"
"That was BCI, dear," she explained.
"Before the Coming of the Inspectors. And we'll be back to rows of desks in the AGI era - After the Going, before you ask - but for today the novelty was great! They all worked together like a dream, couldn't believe the fun they were having and got on with investigating the topic in a real child-centred fashion, while I went around facilitating for all I was worth!"
I do wonder whether these inspections get a fully rounded picture of a school's worth, but who am I to say?
At any rate, Gail's delight meant that she was more than receptive to my tale of meeting Melissa Chalmers leaving the school premises complete with a gaggle of admiring friends and the virtual baby wrapped in a papoose around her neck.
It had been an entertaining discussion: "Ah wis goanny stuff her in ma school bag," Melissa explained when I congratulated her on the new "arrival", "but Miss Tarbet said ah hud tae dae the whole baby thing."
Personally, I couldn't help but wonder what passers-by might think of this mini-skirted schoolgirl "mum", replete with an infant bundle that was mewling for all it was worth. Miss Tarbet must have set it on a "hungry"
"Well, I hope you have a peaceful night, Melissa," I encouraged her. "Have you named her yet?"
"Oh aye," she confirmed cheerfully. "Ah'm callin' her Chlamydia."
"You're calling her what?" I asked doubtfully.
"Chlamydia. Ah think thurr's a pure dead nice sound tae it, that name. It wis either that or Chardonnay."
I bit my lip and bade her on her way.
Gail didn't want to take the car to school today (they have a late afternoon celebration planned, I understand, to mark the inspectors'
departure). Consequently, I dropped her off at the same ungodly hour as the rest of the week, thus arriving in school earlier than usual myself, and in time to witness Melissa Chalmers - earlier at school than in her entire life - in frank discussion with Miss Tarbet.
"Take the wee bastard back!" she urged in vulgar tone. "Ah couldny sleep all night. Ma mother waanted tae pit me oot at wan a.m. wi'
all the noise it wis makin'. Miss, it wis awful! An' it hud three dirty nappies an' wanted fed a' night!"
Miss Tarbet looked sympathetic but I couldn't help noticing a small smile playing at the edge of her mouth. Clearly, Chlamydia's restlessness throughout the night was not entirely unexpected.
And, glory be, the week has ended with some uplifting news. Michael Kerr is unlikely to return to school next week. He was seen in the school grounds throwing stones at a classroom window this afternoon, so the police were summoned.
Alas, the visiting constabulary were even less inclined to view with sympathy his socially-included status after he head-butted one of Rockston's finest for daring to challenge him about his activities.
He has been suspended again. With luck, we won't see him before Christmas.