So I was sitting couched in a sofa in the Head’s office opposite his armchair he had elevated especially so he can look down on people. It’s something he likes to do because of a condition he has - it’s called - what’s it called again? A lot of bosses have it. Ah yes, that’s it : he’s a cunt.
But even his cuntishness pales in comparison to his Deputy Mr Heep. Sykes - that’s the Head - becomes relegated to a mere twat when pressed up against Heep’s being a cunt. And when a slimy cunt is pressed up against a slick twat then you know there’s going to be quite a floorshow - with me the little prick in the middle of it.
Heep stood next to Sykes’ ridiculous desk (yes, he even had bull horns!) rubbing his Mantis hands and telling me with his Kaa the snake lisp that Darren “shan’t be long”.
Darren was probably strapping on his boots for the kicking he was about to give me. Yes, this man was the Principal of an academy school - responsible for the welfare and smooth running of a community full of kids - and he’s got a name like ‘Darren Sykes’. More like a Fourth Division football player or an Eastenders villain.
I thought I’d bite the bullet and ask the weasel Heep directly :
“Is this just a ‘Return to Work’ meeting, Steve? I mean, the email just said ‘Review Meeting’. Is that a review of the Drama Department? Or is it a review of me? My professional development?”
“It’s both.” he told me. I knew then to strap myself in for a rocky ride.
Sykes came in just then, running his fingers through his hair before stomping on the coffee table to tie a loose lace. Despite my bricking it inside, I couldn’t help but smile at his studied machismo. Posturing at me like I give a fuck about his alpha male bullshit. He lolled opposite me on the armchair with his legs apart, chomping on an apple, staring straight at me while saying something to his minion about “getting this over with and we’ll grab a bite to eat”.
It was then that Heep brandished the file dampening in his wet fish hands and he announced how we were here to discuss my lacklustre observation scores on my recent lesson observations; my unorthodox approach in teaching an A Level text as a pantomime; and an anomaly in my data entry of a Speaking and Listening grade in January of last year. Where would I like to start?
My head span and swam at the same time - if that’s possible. And once my mouth finished its Edvard Munch’s Scream impression I managed to point out that I thought we were here to discuss my return to work after my medically sanctioned sick leave due to stress and bereavement.
“We’ll get onto that shit in a minute.” Sykes said, spitting apple across the room at me as he spoke. “What have you got to say about these charges?”
I laughed in disbelief at his words. ‘Charges’!? Who did he think he was? Fucking Hastings from Line of Duty!?
I turned to the Monkey as the Organ Grinder in this case was being more of a monkey than the monkey. I asked the simpering Heep if I should maybe have my union rep in the room with me? Steve Heep switched into automaton mode straightaway, telling me how I’m welcome to have another party present during a Review Meeting, but he didn’t think that...
I didn’t get to hear what he didn’t think as I cut him off to tell him that said union rep would surely have something to say about my being called to a meeting which I specifically requested information about regarding the agenda which was not provided for me.
“Information was provided for you...” Heep retorted.
“Yes. Just now.” I pointed Sykes out to him. “While he was climbing a tree for that apple. One word : “Both”.”
Sykes told me there was no need to be so defensive and so I said what else am I supposed to be when while I’ve been burying my Dad and dealing with depression they’ve been digging around trying to get something on me. And is that the best they can do?
“Serious questions regarding competency.” said Heep.
“Trumped up bullshit from two desperate men trying to sack a guy who’s never put a foot wrong.” I countered.
Heep said he wouldn’t call jeopardising an A Level practical exam through totally misdirecting the genre of the production “not putting a foot wrong”.
So I explained that that particular incident was the trigger which led me to seeking the help I needed. I was the one who realised I was breaking under the pressure. The pressure put on me by their management as the sole staff member responsible for putting on a school pantomime and an academic Performance exam simultaneously. Not only should I have been offered assistance with both the curricular and Enrichment strands of my job; but they are also duty bound to support me with some form of counselling in such extreme circumstances.
I knew the “counselling” line would touch a nerve with Sykes - if indeed he had any. “Listen you little shit…” he spittled apple pips at me. “You’re the one who decided to play the Mental Health card...”
“Darren.” Heep said warningly.
Sykes suddenly smiled, black apple pips making a piano keyboard of his gob. “…Which of course you have every right to do, and we sympathise with you...”
Heep nodded like he had the beast trained.
“So let’s move on to the lesson observations, shall we?” With a sentence like that Heep had to hate that lisp of his. “Three grade ‘3’s within one academic year...” He sucked at his yellow teeth like a plumber at a botched job. “…We need you at the top of your game, Paul. We have a possible Ofsted inspection on the horizon, and I’m afraid that merely ‘Satisfactory’ just won’t cut the mustard...”
I asked them then, in all honesty, when did ‘satisfactory’ come to mean ‘shite’ in our slave-driven Hell of a society? When you eat a meal and you enjoy it and you’re full you say you’re “satisfied”, don’t you? That doesn’t mean you thought it tasted like pigswill.
I went further still with the analogies as I was on a roll.
“…When you’re making love to your wife and she manages to reach orgasm then you’re “satisfying” her, aren’t you? You’re not disappointing her..?”
Sykes smiled wryly at Heep. “‘Depends on the wife.” I chose to ignore what was either an insult about my wife or a boast about his own.
“ ...So why is “satisfactory” such a dirty word in our profession?” I asked.
“I think perhaps you need to sample a few more “Good” meals, Paul.” Heep quipped.
“Not to mention one or two “Outstanding” fucks!” Sykes added, undermining Steve’s attempt at sophisticated humour with his own boorish bathos.
Heep, getting frustrated I sensed, said we were getting off the point - which is that three ‘Satisfactories’ in one academic year is simply not acceptable. I said it was. Heep begged my pardon.
“It is acceptable.” I said.
“Come again?” Sykes leaned in.
I smiled. And then I told them how they weren’t the only ones who’ve been doing their homework during my period of Leave - pun definitely intended - I anticipated they might be scribbling a few battle plans down against me on the back of their envelopes and beer mats. So I thought I’d get in first with a pre-emptive strike.
“I’ve been on to my union and sought advice and guidelines dictate that achieving a ‘3 : Satisfactory’ in a lesson observation is fine. No Action Needed. In fact, you could say it’s “satisfactory”.”
“Yes, but...” Heep spluttered.
“Not only that, but carrying out three observations in one academic year on one member of staff is actually unethical if they are attaining a ‘3’ or above...” I continued, quoting the invisible rule book at them.
‘“Unethical”!?’ Sykes began to panic.
“Sorry, did I say ‘unethical’? I meant ‘illegal’. It’s against employment law.” I informed them. “Two observations are all that are required to fulfil the Career Development stipulations - unless - said teacher fails a minimum of one observation on ‘Requires Improvement’.”
Sykes started to look desperately at Heep, suggesting that we “move on”.
My Cheshire Cat grin widened as Heep started coughing and looking down at his flimsy file.
“Er - yes. Now - the panto - exam confusion...”
“Dealt with. It’s all been written up between my GP and your HR department. All above board and recorded in triplicate. Next?”
Heep continued to flick his file pages, floundering.
“Er ... just give me a minute...”
“Steve.” Sykes said, doubting his minion.
“Let me help you out : the Speaking and Listening data entry.” I offered. “That was me seconded to the English department - because my Joint Honours degree is worth the paper it’s written on unlike the cheap Polyversity diploma kiddiwinks you prefer employing nowadays - to use my performance expertise to get some early Speaking and Listening and debating grades for the Year Tens. This I duly did. And even though this was basically a practice I still recorded the mark - conscientiously - working to rule - because I knew you and that Nanny State of an English department were watching my every move, waiting for me to put a foot wrong...”
“So it was a holding mark?” Heep asked.
“Yes it was a holding mark. And I wasn’t the only member of staff to do this as we were encouraged to do so by the insane new Head of Department puppet emperor you installed. The same insane new Head of English who changes our groups around every five minutes like some game of ‘Roulette GCSE’ which led to the confusion in the first place...”
Sykes snapped and grabbed the file from Heep, shutting it with the kind of slap he’d like to give me.
“Never mind all this red tape tosh. The upshot is there’s one too many teachers in the English department and so if I were you Paul I’d start looking in the job book.”
This winded me.
“Wow. Now that’s the way to bullet someone. That’s brutal. If the scalpel doesn’t work, put the boot in, eh?”
Sykes then sat back with his legs apart like the Prince Regent picking his teeth.
“Where do you see yourself in five years’ time, Paul?” That old chestnut.
“You don’t want to know the truthful answer to that question.” I said, watching Heep as he scribbled. “…Or perhaps you do.” I smiled again at Sykes.
“I see myself here supporting you fine gentlemen in achieving an Outstanding Ofsted Inspection.”
“Very clever” said Sykes. “I like how you sidestepped the ‘five years’ question and talked about five months instead.”
“Cleverness is part of the job. Or at least it used to be.”
He asked me again.
“So - where do you see yourself in five years’ time?”
“Oh, I don’t know - Minister for Overseas Development?” I’d had enough by now. “Playing in ‘Cats’ in the West End? Or sat in front of another suit trying to think of answers to his bullshit Management Speak cliches he’s trying to intimidate with because he knows he’s got nothing on you.”
“Yet.” My employer said, threateningly.
“You see, we need go-getters here at Outcliffe.” he went on. “Blue-sky thinkers. Guys that can work smarter not harder.”
“Sorry, I thought this was a school. I thought you wanted qualified teachers with subject knowledge and a rapport with kids? Not rejects from an episode of The Apprentice jangling their car keys with gel in their hair?”
And I went on to tell them that that’s the trouble with Education nowadays. And Health. Schools. Hospitals. It’s the businessification of the nurturing professions that will spell our doom in the end.
“Schools shouldn’t be called ‘academies’.” I educated them. “They shouldn’t have CEOs and league tables. They should have books. And pens and paper. And thoughts.”
“I think we’ve finished here.” Sykes stood up.
I also stood and offered a handshake to Sykes - but not to Heep.
“Well it was lovely doing business with you.”
They didn’t get it.