Corinne had come full circle at her beloved Hill Park Primary . . .
TEN! Corinne gazed round the classroom in astonishment. She had never been in such a place before.
It was like the Cave of Wonders from “Aladdin”. Everywhere she looked there were things to do and see and play with.
Then Mum was squatting down beside her, gripping her by the shoulders.
“You mustn’t worry, dear,” she said with a tremble in her voice. “Everyone is nervous and scared on their first day at school.”
“Are you crying, Mum?” “Oh, darling.” Her mum sobbed, giving her a damp hug.
Then she was gone, chased away with the other mums by the cheerful old lady with grey hair who seemed to be in charge.
A boy was standing in front of her.
“I’m Farquar Mclean. Will you be my friend?”
Corinne looked at him thoughtfully. He had freckles and grubby hands, but there was a mischievous look in his eyes which she liked.
“OK,” she agreed.
Mr Campbell, the headteacher, smiled as he looked round the packed hall. He held up a sheet of paper.
“Children, we’ve counted your votes to elect the chair of the pupil council here at Hill Primary, and we’ve come up with an interesting result.
“It was a tie between two of our Year Six pupils, Farquar Mclean and Corinne O’donnell.”
Corinne blushed with pleasure as applause rang round the hall.
“However, it does leave us with a problem,” Mr Campbell continued. “I suggest that we toss a coin to decide the winner.”
Corinne quickly stuck up her hand.
“Yes, Corinne?” “Couldn’t Farquar and I be joint-chairs?”
Mr Campbell’s eyes narrowed.
“Do you think the two of you could work together?”
“Of course,” Corinne said confidently.
Farquar was a simple soul; it would be easy to persuade him to go along with her ideas.
“What do you think, Farquar?”
“Fine with me, sir.” Farquar grinned.
Corinne was besotted with him. He knew persuading her to go along with his ideas would be a doddle.
“That’s settled, then.”
EIGHT! “Farquar!” Corinne gasped. “Are you doing your work experience here at Hill Primary as well?”
Farquar gave a florid bow.
“I am indeed. It’s good to see you, Corinne.”
She went to the girls’ grammar, so the two of them rarely met these days.
“But surely you aren’t planning to become a teacher?”
“You must be joking. No, I’m spending the week shadowing Old Parky, the caretaker.”
Corinne nodded. “That makes more sense.” Farquar decided not to take offence.
It seemed to him that Corinne had changed. Her proportions were different somehow; more curvy. He found himself becoming entranced by the movement of her lips as she spoke.
He wondered what it would be like to kiss them. “Farquar!”
“Sorry, what? My mind was miles away.”
“I was saying that maybe we could get together during our lunch break.”
“Sure. That would be great.”
Corinne frowned. “Are you all right? You look a bit flushed.”
Mr Campbell smiled round the hall.
“Children, I am delighted to welcome Miss O’donnell as our new Year One teacher.”
Corinne stood up and gave a little wave.
“I am so pleased that she is starting her teaching career here at Hill Primary. It only seems like yesterday when she was sitting where you are today.”
Corinne felt herself blushing.
“And don’t get too used to Miss O’donnell’s name. It will soon be changing to Mrs Mclean – just before Christmas, I think?” Mr Campbell announced.
Corinne nodded. Life was a bit chaotic at the moment, but she and Farquar couldn’t wait to be married.
Mr Campbell grinned. “As Miss O’donnell has shown, it’s quite common for people in the same class at primary school to end up falling in love.”
Around the hall, pupils gazed at their classmates in horror. Corinne smiled. There were worse things in life.
Corinne pressed the sodden lump of tissue against her eyes.
“Oh, Farquar, I just don’t know what to do. I love Hill Primary so much. Mr Campbell even talked about me going for the deputy head’s position one day.”
“Well, Mr Campbell is retired,” Farquar retorted. “And things are clearly very different now.” Corinne sighed wearily. “I can’t stand Mrs BurneJones’s approach. All she cares about is classes demonstrating
progress in their learning.”
“Is that such a bad thing?”
“Children aren’t machines!” Corinne cried. “They’re learning all the time, but it doesn’t necessarily show. Demanding constant evidence of their progress puts such stress on them.”
She turned to him, tears overflowing.
He took her hand gently. “Life is too short to stick with a job you hate. I know what Hill Primary means to you, but I think you’re going to have to leave.”
The telephone call had come the day before.
“We haven’t met, Mrs Mclean. I’m Khalid Shah, and I’m the chair of the governors at Hill Primary in Sunlington.”
Corinne had laughed. “Good heavens. There’s a name from my past.”
“I have a proposal for you. Would tomorrow be a convenient time to visit?” “I suppose so.” Afterwards, she and Farquar had talked late into the night.
“He’s coming halfway across the country to see you, Corinne. It must be something important. I checked on the internet. Hill Primary is looking for a new headteacher.”
Corinne had gazed at him.
“Do you think it’s possible?” she’d asked.
Now Khalid was here in person.
“Hill Primary has achieved outstanding academic results over the past few years. But the governing body feels that, in some ways, the children’s pastoral care has been neglected.”
“That has always been my priority,” Corinne murmured.
“I’ve followed your career with interest. Your ability as a teacher is undisputed, allied to your obvious concern for children, particularly those with special needs.
“You have gained such valuable experience in different schools over the years.” He leaned forward. “Corinne, I would very much like you to apply for the post of headteacher at Hill Primary. What do you say?”
Corinne glanced at Farquar for a moment and then back at Khalid.
“I say yes.”
“Give yourself time, Corinne,” Khalid said quietly.
It was only a few days after the funeral.
“Of course you’re devastated by Farquar’s death. You and your family need to grieve.”
Corinne gazed out at the garden; she felt utterly numb.
“Take some weeks, months if you need them. In your years at Hill Primary, you’ve built up a wonderful staff team. They can look after things for the moment.
“I’ve spoken to Valerie, the deputy head. She is more than happy to be acting head until you’re ready to return.”
Corinne shook her head slowly.
“Valerie would make a wonderful headteacher for Hill Primary. The school needs someone capable like her at the helm. But not me.” She gave a lurching sob and her head sank into her hands. “This has broken me.”
“But Corinne . . .” “No, Khalid!” she shouted despairingly.
After a moment, she took his hand in apology.
“No, Khalid,” she said more gently. “I have offered my resignation as head of Hill Primary and I expect the governing body to accept it.”
He gazed at her for a long moment before nodding reluctantly.
“If that’s what you want.”
When Corinne answered the door, she found Khalid and Valerie standing there.
“Could we have a quick word?” Khalid smiled.
With a sigh, Corinne stepped back and led them through to the sitting-room.
“Before you say anything, I want to make it absolutely clear that I am not coming back to Hill Primary. The responsibility of being headteacher would be too much for me.”
“That’s not why we’re here, Corinne,” Khalid said quietly. “The governing body has been very happy with how Valerie has performed as head over the past year. We are about to appoint formally.” Corinne frowned. “Then why . . .?” Valerie leaned forward. “Corinne, everyone knows what an amazing job you did in your time as head. But there was one weakness at the school which you never managed to solve.”
“Special needs,” Corinne murmured.
“Right. So many of our pupils are crying out for extra help. Children with autism, language difficulties and behavioural issues. We need someone with very particular skills to coordinate our approach.”
“I tried for years to find the right person.” Corrine sighed. “It’s such a vital role.”
“Well, we think we’ve found that person.” “Who?”
“You.” Khalid smiled. “Think about it,” he continued quickly. “You’ll be able to concentrate on the care of individual children in need. That has always been your special concern.”
Khalid put a hand on her arm.
“So what do you say?”
Corinne looked at the card. It was filled with tiny capital letters.
DER MISS MCLAN, THANG YOU FOR YUR HELP AT HIL PRIMRY. I REMBER YOU CAM ON AR SCOOL TRIP TO THE ZO AND SAT NEX ME ON THE BUS.
It went on and on, a memory from each year. Corinne couldn’t imagine how long it had taken Carwen; he had such difficulty with his writing.
His mum gazed at her across the desk.
“He spent hours on it in his room last night. He insisted.” She clutched Corinne’s arm. “I can’t thank you enough for what you’ve done for us over the years.”
“It’s been a pleasure. Carwen is a lovely boy.” “Not everyone sees that.” Corinne squeezed her hand.
“We’ve sorted out the perfect place for Carwen to go to now that he’s leaving. They’ll understand him at Leaven Vale.”
“We would never have got that place without you.”
“It’s my job.” Corinne smiled.
“You’re an angel,” Carwen’s mother said. “Everyone says so.”
Corinne gazed round the packed hall. Her children were there; even her grandson, Farquar, toddling about distracting everyone.
Parents and colleagues from over the years and the heads of the other local schools had all gathered for the celebration.
Her arms were full of cards from the children, presents from the staff, flowers, bottles, chocolates.
Valerie led the assembly, and then Khalid spoke; first of Farquar and their relationship, then of her contribution to the school. You could have heard a pin drop.
He hugged her once he had finished, and Corinne wondered if he was ever going to let go.
She found that she liked the feeling.
Then Valerie began the countdown that would mark the start of her retirement.
Hill Primary had always prided itself on preparing pupils for their next step in life, and the school had done just the same for her.
She was ready to face the future.
A few Year One pupils had gathered round her.
She caught sight of Khalid gazing at her through the crowd, and as a little hand slipped into hers, she made her way towards him. ■