Victims of the magpie tendency

7th November 1997 at 00:00
I first began to realise that perhaps I was taking too much work home when my wife noticed a Post-it message from the depute head stuck to my bum. Not that this was in any way a comment on the content of the message; rather I had sat down on the couch where other work had been spread out, and the offending yellow oblong had attached itself.

Another depute head I knew had the maxim that an untidy desk was the sign of an inefficient worker, and certainly she maintained the mahogany in pristine condition - but I have never been able to avoid clutter at home. Piles of documents, papers and reports form a kind of educational archaeology fieldwork centre. Digs reveal Banda sheets from the pre-Rosla Neolithic period to the Jurassic Park worksheet and beyond. Occasional searches through the storage boxes at home reveal much that should be jettisoned. It seems unlikely that Flight of the Heron will flap into my classroom teaching again, and draft reports about the piloting of Standard grade might well be consigned to an educational black museum, but the magpie tendency in teachers is highly developed ("don't send me naked into the conference chamber or classroom") and they discard materials reluctantly from their accumulated store.

On a famous occasion one of my department - a lady who had been in seven schools in five years, and as a colleague rather cruelly remarked, "taught badly in all of them" - staggered out to her car at close of school on Friday, under the weight of four or five carrier bags of jotters and marking. As this was a facet of her educational character hitherto concealed, I was surprised.

However, I soon realised that the reason for the paper exodus wasn't unconnected with the arrival on Monday of a team from HMI, one of whom confidently stated during the following week that he would catch up with the missing teacher on his follow-up visit. Some hopes! She stayed away and, after a lengthy absence, accepted an early retirement deal.

Whether such absences would have satisfied the latest local Glasgow arrangements remains a moot point. In an attempt to reduce teacher absence we are to be offered headteacher interviews, consultations with chiropractors, reflections with reflexologists. Not that it's always the minions who have strategic Monday sickness. In one school the absent senior woman was sent a bouquet of flowers to convey the staff's sympathy for her illness. All very laudable, except that when they were delivered the selfsame woman was out at the hairdresser's and unable to acknowledge them.

Another school urgently needed to contact the headteacher, out at an important meeting. He couldn't be traced but the cryptic word "Dishwasher" was found in his personal diary. On a hunch his home number was called, and the bright boy answered himself: the men from Comet hadn't yet arrived to finish the job.

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

Top prize for chutzpah was surely the absentee from a Glasgow independent school, unable to appear week after week, thus causing the governors much angst. It was only a chance conversation between mutual acquaintances that revealed he was doing supply cover in a state secondary not three miles distant from his "real" job.

Three cheers for the enterprise culture. The only drawback I can see is that he would have twice the amount of work to carry home, and twice the number of old payslips to clutter up his house.

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