Where there's smoke. . .

27th December 1996 at 00:00
Monday: A "please-take" this morning for Ruth Lees, who is away on a course about Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder for the next two days. She insisted to Mr Tod that her attendance was necessary if the school was going to have a policy for dealing with the more behaviourally-challenged children.

Mr Pickup pointed out that "every course that ruddy woman goes on takes place on a Monday or a Tuesday. And why? Because they're the only two days she has any bloody classes, that's why!" I tried to point out that depute heads, such as Ruth Lees, need to consider the broader picture and offer cascade-support for behaviour therapy. While we in the classrooms would have to implement such theory, there would have to be someone to give leadership, direction and managerial advice.

He looked set to explode. Then he realised that I was joking.

"That's my boy, Morris," he placed an arm around my shoulder. "It might have taken 13 years, but you're beginning to learn a thing or two."

Tuesday: I have decided to start researching my report to the senior management team on the appalling disciplinary problems surrounding our school buses.

Ruth Lees' suggestion that this report might pave the way to brighter career prospects by categorising the problems and suggesting remediation measures to the school management team still has something to commend it.

Thus it was that this afternoon's final bell witnessed me standing sentinel - clipboard in hand and muffled up against the weather - at the school gates. I was appalled by the behaviour of our pupils. They barged their way on to every bus in the line, elbowing, shoving and jostling each other in their indecent haste to get the best seats. But I was even more alarmed by the state of the buses.

The front bus, in particular, was in a disgraceful condition. Its two front tyres were almost completely bald and both windscreen wipers - down to bare metal in parts - had scored enormous parabolae on the screen. As the idling diesel engine gamely attempted to maintain a semblance of coughing life, every so often a thick black cloud of exhaust fumes would ejaculate across the pavement and settle into a rolling ball of poisonous fumes which lumbered slowly across the playground. I decided to take the matter up with the driver, a scruffy looking individual with lank greasy hair and a cigarette in his mouth.

"Excuse me, driver!" I said, "but would you really consider this bus to be safe?" He shrugged a disinterested shoulder and curled an upper corner of his lips.

"Because to me," I continued, "it looks distinctly unroadworthy. Why, even your tax disc's out of date." I peered closer at the windscreen and began to make elaborate notes on my clipboard. "You can take it from me that I'll be writing to Mr. . .er. . ." I gazed at the name along the side of the bus. "Yes. I'll be writing to Mr Paton about the disgraceful state of this bus."

"Save yerself the stamp," he shrugged carelessly. "Gie it tae me directly yerself. Ah'm Sam Paton. An' this is ma bus." With which revelatory remark he closed the bus doors - or, rather, the only one which seemed able to close -with a swift "pfft", and drove off in a cloud of blue smoke.

If that was the owner of the company, no wonder his buses are in such a state. What on Earth is the council doing awarding a contract to a company like that?

Wednesday: Ms Lees returned from her course this morning, brimful with enthusiasm for a whole raft of behavioural remediation strategies and intent upon applying them in Greenfield Academy.

"It was wonderful," she enthused. "The lady who runs these courses gave us a raft of multi-modal assessment strategies to ascertain which of our children are suffering from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and I'd say that it's well over half of our persistent troublemakers." "Impulsive," she quoted from her course notes, "restless, fidgety behaviour, poor self-control and intolerance of delay - that could apply to just about every member of 2N, couldn't it, Morris?" I gulped a hesitant agreement.

"And if we get them diagnosed as such, then there are loads of suggestions in this workpack for remediation strategies before they develop. . ." she referred briefly to her notes again. "Yes, that's right, before they develop any Oppositional Defiant and Conduct Disorders."

"Beg pardon?" asked Pickup, a smirk of disbelief playing around his lips.

"Oppositional Defiant and - oh, never mind the terminology just now, David, " she assured him warmly. "Apparently if Jack Boyd reckons they're ADHD, then we can implement some of these strategies, including getting some of them on to medication."

Pickup's eyes lit up. "Medication? What, like bromide in their tea, kind of thing?" "Not exactly, no, but with the same kind of effect, I gather. Mrs Leyland showed us some videos and the transformation in some of the kids she's treated was unbelievable. Anyway, I'm just off to tell Mr Tod about it, " she concluded and scurried from the staffroom.

Pickup shook his head. "Whatever next?" he queried..

"D'you think there's anything in it?" I pondered aloud.

"Hyperactivity Disorder? Hah! Don't make me laugh, Morris! It's just another bloody bandwagon for the educational psychologists to explain away the fact that half the ruddy kids today are nothing other than vicious little toe rags who've never been taught how to behave properly by their parents in the first place."

It seemed a rather dismissive approach to a subject which has clearly attracted a great deal of research facilities and money. However, in my heart of hearts, I couldn't help but agree with him.

Thursday: Another confrontation with Mr Paton over the state of his buses. I ventured to the school gates once more to inform him that I had every intention of reporting the matter to the council, but he turned on me with a vengeance.

"Huv you goat the slightest idea, pal, whit kinda money ah get frae this tender? Huv ye?" I conceded ignorance, but pointed out that I failed to see. . .

"Naw," he interrupted me. "Well, tae get this tender at the coast acceptable tae your bloody council, ah've hud tae suspend mosta ma routine maintenance since last August. If the council wants tae pay peanuts, then they'll get bloody monkeys!" With which he closed the remaining working door and drove off in another cloud of blue smoke. Five pairs of adolescent hands made 10 sets of frantic V-signs at me from the back window.

Now he came to mention it, Mr Paton did have a noticeably simian appearance.

Friday: The last day of term, and I can't tell you how much I'm looking forward to the break - not to mention the first Christmas for Gail and myself with Margaret, our new daughter. We're planning quite a bash, with loads of presents and visitors.

Alas, thoughts of peace and goodwill towards men were farthest from my thoughts this afternoon. We had just finished our annual staffroom Christmas lunch.

It was a slightly disappointing affair owing to the breakdown of the biology department oven which we use to heat up our crusty garlic bread.

Then the telephone rang. Miss Tarbet explained that my presence was requested and transferred the receiver to me.

"Hello? Morris Simpson," I confessed my identity and then wished I hadn't. "Simpson? It's Sam Paton here. Ye're a dirty little clype, y'know that?" "I'm sorry? What d'you mean by. . ."

"Ah mean whit ah said. Ah s'ppose it wis just a coincidence that the police launched a spoat-check oan ma entire bus fleet this mornin an' impounded every single wan o them, eh?" "Mr Paton, I can assure you," I began in earnest truthfulness, "that I haven't spoken to anybody about..." "Ah, don't gie me that crap!" he argued with vigour. "Ye've clyped oan me, an' it looks as if ma business is gaun right down the lavvy an' all thanks tae Mr bloody do-good Simpson, so far as ah kin see. . ."

I was aghast. But there was no stopping the man, who was by now in full and vituperative flow. Eventually, I simply laid the telephone quietly to rest and decided to finish off the bottle of Cotes du Rhone which Miss Tarbet had pressed solicitously into my hand.

This was an unfortunate decision, because it meant that when Mr Tod arrived in the staffroom demanding all hands on deck to ferry home a phalanx of abandoned pupils whose buses hadn't turned up. I was unable to proffer my services.

Instead, I was left alone with Pickup (the only other member of staff to be alcoholically incapable of driving) bemoaning the state of education, the state of society and the state of children.

It was all the more touching, therefore, to answer a timid knock at the staffroom door, to be met by the recalcitrant Rosie McShane of 1N.

She was clutching a delicately-dressed Christmas fairy in her hand.

"Mr Simpson," she looked almost demure. "Ma Auntie Rose said tae gie you this fur yer baby's first Christmas, like. She said ye wur always hur favourite teacher, an wanted tae gie ye a mindin fur yur wee wan."

It was the longest speech I had ever heard her utter. And I was completely taken aback, especially when I considered that only this morning Ruth Lees had put Rosie down as a "potential ADHD category" in her guidance committee minutes. "Why thank you, Rosie," I eventually recovered myself. "And thank your Auntie, er, Rose as well, please. It was a very kind thought."

With which she turned away and left me to ponder on the best way to treat disruptive children. With discipline? With drugs? Or just with kindness and an interest in them for their own sake? It was a sobering Christmas reflection.

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