What goes up must have a downside

11th May 2001 at 01:00
Monday

It was good to get back to school this morning after the Easter break and my colleagues seemed similarly upbeat. Of course, there are challenges ahead: the second year's increasingly anti-social behaviour continues to give serious cause for concern; and Damien Steele's exclusion order runs out this week, which could lead to further violent and abusive classroom exchanges; plus, it looks as if the Scottish Qualifications Authority is gearing itself up for a repeat of last year's examinations fiasco.

But all of this potentially depressive intelligence pales into insignificance against the mightily heartening pecuniary fact that this week will see the arrival of our biggest payslips in history! God bless Jack McConnell, I say.

I haven't yet been able to work out exactly what my payslip will comprise (like the Latin mass, the workings of PAYE and superannuation deductions remain impenetrable mysteries to me), but Gail and I are pretty sure that we'll now be able to make significant steps up the mortgage ladder. And now that Gail has admitted that we can't afford to send Margaret to Abbotsgrange Academy (our own salary increases would be almost completely wiped out by the increase in fees occasioned by the needs of the Abbotsgrange staff), it looks as if we're going to start some serious house hunting. A nice little detached residence just outside the catchment area would suit me fine.

Tuesday

Tension is building up as we approach the examination season, and with good reason.

Mr Dunbar of maths was telling us this morning that he had received a telephone call last week asking if he would be willing to move from Standard grade marking to Intermediate 2.

"Don't you want to?" I queried.

"I don't give a toss what I mark, Morris," he shook his head. "It was just that they telephoned me in December with the same request, and I said yes then.

"And then they phoned me in February to ask me the same question again, at which point I told them I'd already agreed to it, so could they make sure that's what they had in their records. 'Certainly,' they assured me.

"And then they go and bloody ask me again two months later. It beggars belief."

I said I thought it must be a data management problem, but Mrs Harry of business studies chimed in with further criticism. Apparently, she has not yet been asked for any estimates of grades for her Higher pupils. A chorus of agreement burst out around her.

"Me neither," confirmed Simon Young.

"Nor me," agreed Coarse Davie McManus, our vulgar principal teacher of biology. "It's all a load of crap as far as ah kin see."

George Crumley had a more measured response to make, in the form of a letter to the national press. Space does not allow a full exposition of its contents: at three pages, I advised him that newspapers always reserve the right to edit such contributions ruthlessly, but he didn't seem concerned.

"Let them," he shrugged. "I just wanted to get it off my chest." He thrust the article in my hand for approval. It was a vitriolic document, to be honest, which gave little quarter and asked for even less in its assessment of our national examination board's state of readiness for the coming diet.

Although too long to quote in full, I feel that his concluding paragraphs should be recorded for posterity. After questioning whether "the ink will be dry on any examination papers that actually make it to our school in time for pupils to sit them this year", he continues thus:

"I congratulate the SQA on providing pastoral support for their staff. I look forward to the day when our local education authority will likewise offer counselling and stress workshops to those of us who have to deliver a half-baked curriculum model that is open to blatant cheating by ambitious parents and their dishonest offspring.

"And I salute the promise of performance-related bonus payments to senior staff. No doubt this reward model will soon be extended to the poor bloody infantry such as myself?

"Certainly, I have achieved my own particular target of submitting all internal assessments on time, despite having had to jump backwards, forwards and then backwards again through every fresh administrative hoop constructed by this discredited authority with the sole purpose of removing my professional discretion I" I expressed guarded admiration, but warned Crumley of my belief that sending this letter could seriously affect his career. He guffawed very loudly.

"Career, Morris? Ha! What career's that, then?" After which declaration, he carefully stuck a first class stamp on the envelope, and walked out of the staffroom.

Wednesday

The payslips arrived this morning and a fine sight they made, even accounting for the increased taxation burden that has accrued with the new financial year. Suddenly, even last month's ridiculous inflation-busting rise in subscription to the General Teaching Council seems an irritation rather than the financial outrage that some of us still believe it to represent.

Of course, not everyone was quite so elated with this month's pay cheque. Jack Boyd, our long-serving and only slightly ineffectual educational psychologist (for whom the rise was considerably less than teaching staff), has made his feelings very clear on the matter by reducing the "golden hour" for Michael Willis and Peter O'Farrell to a "golden half-hour". This positive reinforcement session (whereby Boyd takes these two recalcitrant pupils out of class for fun and games if they have amassed enough "discipline points" in the preceding month) has been a source of some controversy, especially with those pupils who haven't misbehaved badly enough in the past to be rewarded for an improvement! And now Mr Boyd has halved whatever effectiveness it might or might not have had by reducing the session to 30 minutes.

"It's very simple, Mr Simpson," he explained as he returned the odious pair to my English classroom this afternoon. "I used to write up the case history at home in my own spare time. Now I'm doing it in the time I'm paid to do it. So here they are."

As he left his charges in my tender care once more, O'Farrell broke wind as loudly as possible and Willis kicked Kylie Paterson's school bag out of the way as he lumbered to his desk.

"Watch ma mobile, ya tube!" screeched Kylie.

"Shut it, slapper!" rejoined Willis.

I sighed, restored discipline as swiftly as possible and pondered whether my pay rise was really as generous as it had seemed earlier.

Thursday

Mr Dunbar has invested his salary rise already. This morning witnessed him parading our new-found financial status to all and sundry by the purchase of a tastelessly bright red, Y registration sports car. It has a rasping exhaust, tyres the width of a tractor's, an improbably sized engine and an even more improbable seating configuration (to wit two bucket seats at the front, leaving little room for Mrs Dunbar and none for their offspring).

Such a car has apparently been a long-cherished dream of his but, as I watched him trying to shoe-horn himself into the driver's seat at 3.45pm this afternoon, I couldn't help observe that a reduction in his middle-aged spread would have been advisable before he tried to make the dream come true.

Friday

Gail has set her heart on a new house. And I mean brand new. A local builder has started an elaborate development only 20 minutes from our current home with a selection of prices that make the national debt seem small in comparison.

I have told her that there is absolutely no chance of us taking on such a house, but have agreed to go and look at the show home this weekend, if only to check out some decorative ideas. But I've made it very clear to her that we'll need to set our sights a lot lower if we plan to continue eating as well as living in any new house we might select.

Meanwhile, at school, Mrs Harry has been doing her bit to ensure that last year's improved examination performance is maintained in the business studies arena. This looks likely to be achieved by the simple expedient of marking her own pupils' examination papers!

Her happy discovery came to light as she was sifting through the latest batch of unit assessment materials to be sent to her from Dalkeith for Standard grade administration.

"I noticed an explanatory letter that looked devilishly familiar attached to one set of scripts," she explained. "And then I realised it was the letter that I had written to explain a slight irregularity in one of the assessments that I was worried the assessor would mark down. Which, of course, won't happen now."

"Why not?" I queried, slightly behind the pace. "Surely you'll be sending them back?" "Only when they're marked!" she scoffed. "If they're daft enough to send me my own pupils' scripts to mark, I'm certainly not going to be daft enough to let them know."

Of course, she doesn't want news of this grade enhancement technique to become public knowledge, so we've all been sworn to secrecy on the matter.

But I couldn't help noticing George Crumley fixing his lips into a tight frown as he headed towards the geography department's Apple Mac. I detect another letter coming on.

John Mitchell

Next month: the Simpsons buy a new house. Plus, assertive discipline: it's all the rage at Greenfield Academy


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