Hugh Reilly: End of school year brings little relief

Hugh Reilly
Hugh Reilly
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WHEN I was a teacher, June was a rather slack month.

By the end of May, school-leavers had fled the education workhouse to enhance their learning at institutions such as Glasgow University, Stow College and Polmont Young Offenders. By dint of the new school timetable starting in the first week of June, there were empty seats in S1 classes – the cherubs still doing their primary school stir. Despite dire warnings from teachers that Higher and Intermediate courses would begin in early June and would not be repeated, senior school students upped their hours of part-time work in Asda and checked-out of lessons.

For me, it was feet on the handlebars, freewheeling downhill, contemplating how best to while away seven weeks holiday. It pleased me that viewing edited highlights of Wimbledon was for hoi polloi – as one of the beautiful people, I could sprawl out on my chaise longue, eat fresh Scottish strawberries picked by eastern European harvesters and watch every serve and volley. After two weeks, the Open golf tournament became my sporting muse.

Things are different now. Teachers feel they are pedalling a rickshaw up Edinburgh’s Royal Mile with three flat tyres and two squawking, clinically obese Americans on board. Full-scale implementation of the Curriculum for Excellence is nigh and condemned chalkies know there is to be no education governor’s reprieve.

The Dead Dominies Walking are frantically making up coursework that fits CfE guidelines, activity that has seen a sharp spike in sales of coloured pens and poster paper. Many will be unable to relax during the summer holiday as they wade through support materials that are almost more depressing than Johann Lamont’s scripted one-liners at FMQs.

In pre-Puritan days, teachers enjoyed a few cans of beer or, in the case of flamboyant male drama teachers, a gin and tonic, in the staffroom. Drinking alcohol on the premises is now taboo – well, at least for teachers.

Celebratory noggins now take place in the nearest alehouse outside the school’s catchment area, lest any parent or pupil discover that Sir is, contrary to popular opinion, human. A secondary reason is to avoid having to buy drinks for former pupils.

With the needle of the skunnerometer in danger of going off the scale, tomorrow’s lunchtime gatherings of teachers will have something of a sombre mood, probably more melancholic than that of worn-out Wehrmacht soldiers on realising they are destined for the runners-up spot in the battle for Stalingrad.

Of course, there will be the odd Sir smiling while supping his Deuchars IPA – retirees do like to gloat. His excitable talk of plans to trek in Vietnam, to visit relatives in Australia and buy a bolthole in Spain is a stiletto in heart of those who, under the pension reforms, are doomed to move seamlessly from the classroom to the coffin. The only person not wishing him much ill will is the young teacher who hopes to get the departing pensioner’s post.

In most schools, patrician senior management teams rarely attend plebeian pub crawls. Headmasters and their posse of deputies prefer to dine in a restaurant and discuss possible improvements to the school, such as reintroducing designated parking spaces for senior staff. Classroom staff opt for the ambience of a Wetherspoons hostelry, where the cheap drink attracts herds of tattooed ladies and paunchy middle-aged men who regard their wearing of a hi-vis jacket to be somewhat Dandyish.

After a few rounds in an environment that makes Hogarth’s Gin Lane seem like a depiction of a Gentlemen’s Club, slightly inebriated pedagogues agitatedly converse about the need for regime change in the school. Back at the fine dining restaurant, a waiter helpfully hoses down the burning ears of the senior management team.

I have many happy memories of final day knees-ups in Tennent’s Bar in Byres Road (that’ll be a lager, barman, for the plug). Teachers from as far as Lenzie and Balfron made the annual pilgrimage, taking over the pub for hours. It was a chance to catch up with old sweats you hadn’t taken the time to contact the rest of the year.

The worst thing about being an ex-teacher is that I feel an imposter, enjoying the pleasure without having undergone the pain of a year’s teaching.

That’s why, tomorrow, I’ll probably decide to stay at home and watch Serena Williams.