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I do not, of course, mean that to have public services is lunatic, I merely wish to comment on the bizarre structures and unwritten operational rules which undermine the smooth running of these services. It is foolish to assume that there is any joined up thinking in such institutions. Heaven forbid that an employee or service user should expect one aspect of the running of a school, for example, to marry up with the running of another aspect of that same school. And of course, every employee should know exactly how the winding and contradictory systems work, without ever having had it explained to them. I must have missed the training which taught us how to absorb this knowledge by osmosis.
About four years ago, I was sent on an in-service training course (my first one in six years) to help me in my delivery and assessment of the AS English Language syllabus. (That's Year 12—or Lower Sixth in old money for those of you not familiar with the way Britain has its education system organised at this point in time.) Sensible enough, so far.
The course was delivered by the exam board in a dry, yet essentially helpful fashion and I came away from the building with a sense of a day decently spent, not least because I had missed my Wednesday lesson with Year Eight, Set Grotbags. (I challenge the truthfulness of any teacher who claims not to also rejoice at this type of outcome.)
Next day in the staff room I was greeted by my Head of Department with a dourer expression than usual and the words, “You didn’t fill in the cover book. Your classes weren’t covered.”
Taken aback, I couldn’t find the words to reply with before he turned away. “Good morning to you, too,” I thought.
Bear in mind, if you will, that this was half past eight on a wet October morning and I had been feeling smug to have got my own children up, fed, dressed, packed, and combed (well, sort of) and delivered to their own school, and I had made it to Morning Briefing on time. My feet now refused to move for several seconds as all my cranial activity worked towards settling this teaser of my uncovered classes.
Did I know of the existence of a cover book? Yes, I did, that small part of my brain reserved for organisational faff acknowledged. I didn't think it had been around six years previously when I was last on "day release" from my institution...but yes, the phrase "cover book" sounded not entirely alien.
Did I know what it was for? Probably, came the honest reply from my brain to itself. So why had I not tracked down said tome and inscribed the necessary information therein? You're obviously incompetent, was the brash condemnation my brain laid upon me.
...But hold on a minute. Just one cotton-picking second.
Andrea, our close-to-retirement Drama teacher extraordinaire, spotted my furrowed brow and temporary paralysis and immediately clutched me to her motherly bosom.
“You alright, darling?”
Once extricated from the cleavage, I put to her the words we had so often shared in discussions regarding the workplace: “Is it me?”
“What’s that now, my love?” She could tell it was going to be a beauty.
“I went on that course, yeah? A level. My classes weren’t covered.”
“Ah. Didn’t you put your name in the cover book?”
“You have to put it in the book or Wayne won’t know you need to be covered.” Her infectious grin was starting to flicker, but, to give her her due, she didn’t deny me the opportunity to deliver the punchline myself. Au contraire! She couldn’t wait to see how I was going to deliver it.
“But…” I began, and faltered. She waited patiently, still not taking over the show. “But… I was booked on a course.”
“Wayne booked me on a course.”
“So…?” And I looked at Andrea for a long time with my mouth gaping. She gazed right back at me, her eyes dancing. “So…when Wayne books me on a course…I have to fill in the cover book…to tell Wayne…that I’ve been booked on a course?”
Andrea hugged me tightly, then left for class, chortling her way down the corridor.