The Classroom Diaries - Chapter 3
Armstrong was late. Jason sat smugly to the right of the Deputy head who gave him a tut tut look as he sidled in. The room was laid out like a horseshoe, the three senior leaders at the top with the exams officer, then down either side the heads of their respective departments or faculties. Armstrong looked around at the mix of tired and overly eager faces. Not one along the wings was over the age of 35.
A seat was free next to Sophie. She headed up the maths Department – his natural enemy, but she was fit and not just FFS. He liked to think she found his cowardice cute so he quickly nabbed the sheer brown plastic chair and looked to her for the agenda. She didn’t make eye contact as she slid the sheet of A4 towards him, keeping her eyes on the Head even though he was muttering to the Deputy seriously. He sighed. 19 points of business. Even without the crippling boredom of AOB or verification of previous minutes he wouldn’t be out of here before 5.
‘Ok, ok let’s make a start.’ The Principal, Hamilton, was a stuffed suit. His head seemed to grow out of his stiff white shirt. Small flaps of shaving nicked turkey wattle hung over his collar and they wobbled as he spoke.
The second in department for Design Technology raised a hand shakily and said, ‘I’m here for Scott. He, uh, he had to talk to a parent.’
No answer was forthcoming from the shirt, just a little taut frown. The only parent Scott would be seeing was little Ben Turner’s mum from Year 7. Rumours had abounded about her involvement in a ‘special interest’ website and she had spent rather a long time at Scott’s desk during parents’ evening. The head of Design Tech had spent rather a long time talking to her fantastic shoes.
‘Ok then – I assume everyone has read the minutes from the last meeting?’
‘Any objections or comments?’
Pause. Silence. The shirt barely lifted his eyes from the agenda.
‘Ok then first item of business. We’ve had some communication from Jess regarding displays. You’ve all seen the email – any feedback from departments?’
Jess, the assistant principal, bristled as there was more silence. She had taken umbrage at the fact that some teachers had had the temerity to use blu-tac on the new white walls instead of the College approved white-tac. It had taken up 45 minutes of the last meeting and half a Mb of everyone’s inbox for her to make her point. Nobody argued. Nobody would bother changing either.
‘Agreed’ said the shirt. ‘Next agenda item – data positions.’
This he was ready for. Hours of data crunching, cross referencing and scouring countless Excel spreadsheets came down to 30 seconds of quickfire questions. As they went round the room one by one each member of the meeting gave their projections for their students. They told of how many will pass, who will fail, what they were doing about it – all without mentioning more than a few facts. Grades and percentages. Each student distilled into a few boxes on a spreadsheet.
When it came to Matt, the second in DT, Armstrong watched intently. Poor sod had been stitched up by Scott. He’d only been here three years but Armstrong had seen four different seconds in DT come here and fluff their figures, shuffle their papers looking for imaginary answers and leave feeling like they’d failed their head of department and their Principal - a feeling neither of them would do much to dispel. Matt spoke of 60 kids who were ‘nailed on’ C’s and 40 more who he thought had a fifty fifty chance. He sat back smugly and looked to his right. The shirt was still looking at his agenda but looked up at Matt towards the end of the question,
‘And what are these projections based upon?’
It took him a moment to register. ‘They, uh, the mocks.’
‘And what’s your confidence in the marking?’ A sure sign he wanted someone dropped in it.
‘Well, we uh all marked them so I’m sure they’re ok.’
‘Standardisation?’ The shirt loved one word questions.
‘Well we haven’t had a chance yet.’
‘Hmmm,’ came the response.
‘And ah there was parents’ evening in the way’.
Armstrong began to cringe. Excuses would have no impact here. Matt looked around for help but suddenly the agenda had taken on magical properties and new hidden depths had swallowed the eyes of all present.
The shirt continued. ‘Was the examination administered a recent one?’
Matt looked to the exams officer – seated on the left of the holy quadrology. ‘Well that was done by Steve.’
Armstrong’s jaw muscle twitched. He heard Sophie sigh beside him.
‘It is the responsibility of every member of staff to adhere to the JCQ regulations. They must ensure that all mock exams taken are administered under the appropriate levels of control. This was sent out to all staff by myself via email last month and again as a reminder two weeks ago.’
The speech was delivered robotically. The rhythm came from years of practise. Armstrong imagined the Exams Officer reciting JCQ regulations in front of his bedroom mirror whilst he preened his ridiculous beard.
‘I, uh, I...’ Matt was crumbling. He shuffled ineptly at papers whilst his eyes scanned them for any thread of hope.
‘Well, I think we should move on. Mr. Russell I think you need to have a meeting with your HOD to clarify some things.’ The final nail.
The rest of the meeting passed with the same rhythms. Armstrong spoke his part, was quizzed on what resources were being used for the free school meal kids and what would he show OFSTED to prove they are making progress. He managed only three ums and one or two paper shuffles but then it was over. Jason delivered his bullshit with relish. There were more questions asked of the room to silence and head shakes. Pose. Question. Pause. Silence.
When the packing up was done Armstrong’s eyes wandered over to Matt. The poor kid was looking left and right with a sheepish grin trying to crack jokes. Both sides ignored him. He wanted to go to him to offer some encouragement but Sophie was talking. He liked Sophie.