Last week, Edinburgh folk were shocked to hear the news that a (possibly) pregnant young female knows the identity of the father.
Tian Tian is a panda currently enduring a somewhat compact living arrangement with her lover, Yang Guang, a loafer who lolls around all day shooting the breeze and eating leaves. If she does, indeed, have a cub in the oven, Edinburgh City council housing department will award her extra points, meaning that – within a few short decades – the happy couple will be given keys to a Wester Hailes flat.
I’m certain the pandas are enjoying the decrease in the number of voyeurs watching their every move. Yesterday, as the new academic year kicked off in many parts of the country, there was a marked decline in the number of holidaymakers traipsing to the capital’s animal penitentiary.
Glum chalkies departed their homes for their destination with the enthusiasm of a death row inmate leaving his cell for the last time. Winsome days spent in Tuscany sampling fine wines and amusing locals with phrases plucked from Linguaphone CDs seem but a few short seven weeks ago as Sir enters the portals of the House of Pain, the local comp. The absence of kids, due to the first few days of term being taken up by displacement activity (aka in-service days), merely adds to the eerie feeling of déjà vu. Encountering perma-smiling management team members in corridors only serves to heighten the suspicion that one is a bit-part player in education’s version of Total Recall.
Colleagues invite you into their empty classrooms to gawp at family holiday snaps, their kind bidding only succeeding in exciting dark voices inside your head to end their torment.
All too soon, it is time for the first item on the day’s agenda, a debriefing regarding SQA results. In failing schools, glitzy headteacher-led presentations prepared by a minimum wage audiovisual technician are peered at through trembling fingers. Taking patronisation to new levels, rectors skip over the objective evidence provided by the detritus of Standard Grade and Higher statistics and heap vacuous praise on staff for the school’s positive intangible achievements, that is, anecdotal tales of pupils feeling greater levels of self-esteem and well-being. News that some former pupils have managed to secure employment in supermarkets in the face of stiff competition from eastern European immigrants gives a warm glow of satisfaction to the proceedings.
The announcement that the school has been recommended for an Investors In People Award and, rumour has it, is in the running for being declared A School of Ambition is greeted with self-congratulatory knowing nods.
At magnet schools, dominies sit back and smugly watch the killer stats appear on the screen to Nuremburgesque spontaneous applause. Amid the mass hysteria, a toast is given to absent friends, the army of tax-dodging private tutors who helped make it all possible.
The first whole staff gathering resembles an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting where new teachers stand up and state their name and subject. For some, the shame of admitting to being a Home Economics teacher can be overwhelming. Somewhat touchingly, in a show of solidarity with fellow holders of dodgy degrees, teachers of PE hug the Dough School graduates.
The baton of care being handed over to schoolteachers signals the end of the summer’s prolonged bonding session reviled in equal measure by parents and children. With the “how was school today?” question taken out of possible conversation starters, mums and dads find they have nothing to say to their sullen teenage issue. Lame jokes only lead to a crippling silence or the youth staging an impromptu stomp in the direction of his den.
When learners return to school, the first hour is often a holding operation as “glitches” in the timetable become apparent. Frantic redirecting of befuddled and excitable students exacerbates the organised chaos, a situation that reduces the ambience of the teaching and learning environment.
This year, the Curriculum for Excellence begins in earnest and, for many old sweats, it will surely be the final campaign. In my opinion, older staff haven’t bought into the concepts behind CfE, with its emphasis on self-assessment, peer assessment and group presentations. They would rather be somewhere else, possibly a panda enclosure.