Waiting for the axe

7th February 1997 at 00:00
Looking back, I think the first hint of impending doom may have been when we opened the staffroom door in the penultimate week of term to discover that the chairman of governors had decided to attend the staff meeting. Or was it during the week before when the headteacher and staff governors refused to look anyone in the eye?

Those of us who have been here for a few years, well quite a few actually, knew instantly what was in the offing. It wasn't sweet sherry, Happy Christmas and haven't you all done well? Our youngest member of staff, a mere stripling of 25, is still a little naive. "Isn't he good to come?" he whispered. "Shut up!" the rest of us hissed.

It was one of those excruciating meetings when everyone in the room appears to have a burning desire to memorise the diary on their lap or gazes fixedly at their shoelaces.

After much paper shuffling, several dry coughs and a false start, the chairman, a kind, intelligent young clergyman, got to grips with the matter in hand: the budget. It was not looking good. In fact, it was looking very bad. The long-term view was even worse. (Long faces didn't improve it either. )

The word "deficit" was bandied about for a while before one of the Diary Observation Corps went straight for the jugular . . . "How much?" he asked. The silence which followed the reply was of the deafening variety.

The chairman shifted unhappily in his seat and said that, in view of the parlous state of the budget, if anyone was contemplating early retirement he was afraid they would have to take it before March 14 or the school would not be able to afford it.

The two members of staff who might possibly have qualified suddenly acquired bright youthful expressions and tried to appear fascinated by their wedding rings. Another pause and then: "We aren't, of course, mentioning the 'R' word at present but . . . Well, we know, of course, that some of you may well be looking for promotion in other schools and, of course, that would alter the situation but we may, well . . ." The silence reigned until broken by the Newly Qualified Teacher worriedly saying that he was sorry, but he didn't actually know what the "R" word was.

"Redundancy."

There was a sharp intake of breath and a cloud of unspeakable gloom and dread descended. The conversation which followed centred around the iniquities of the funding situation as regards junior schools and the almost rock bottom state of our country's allocated funding.

We are an experienced staff, with a great OFSTED report and the school cannot afford to keep us all unless a miracle occurs. Vertical grouping looms with class sizes going over 36.

We left the meeting very sadly. We are a close staff and are well aware of each other's domestic situations and how catastrophically redundancy will hit one of us.

Now that we have had the early warning we have to sit it out and wait for the axe to fall and see where it lands. We all hope that good humour, common sense and friendship will prevail. But can it, under this sort of pressure? Time, as they say, will tell.

The writer lives in the south-west

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