“Sherlock bloody Holmes, that’s who.”
His ears were burning, and not for the first time. Of course, the fact that the other teachers talked about him behind his back was certainly not news to Professor Holmes, but it was still unpleasant to hear your supposed colleagues speak ill of you. He paused, just outside the staff-room door, and listened for a moment.
“Hey, say what you will, the man gets results. Every single one of his students was in the top 5% for A levels in both of his subjects last year.” Greg Lestrade, the House Master for the sixth year and the man in charge of the boarding students, a geography teacher who also coached the senior football and cricket teams, was, as usual, the only one to defend him.
“He’s got half the fifth formers terrified that they won’t pass his ridiculous tests! These kids just want to take his subjects so they can get into a good Uni, and half of them won’t even be admitted because of his cryptic bloody criteria!”
Okay, that was enough. His criteria are hardly cryptic, thank-you-very-much. Just because an under-qualified English teacher and the failed actress of a Drama coach couldn’t discern what those criteria were didn’t make the systems he used any less valid.
“Afternoon, Sally. Oh, Mr Anderson. You’re here, too.”
“Professor Anderson, as you well know, Holmes.”
“Don’t condescend to me, Anderson, and maybe I’ll stop condescending to you.” It’s idle banter, as usual, and Sherlock is losing interest already. He’s the youngest teacher at this school, and likely will remain as such for another five years. Not that he cares, or even particularly notices.
‘Professor’ Anderson has never hidden his distaste at a twenty year old being assigned a teaching post, and every year since Sherlock’s employment, has submitted complaint after complaint about his conduct to the institution’s administrators.
Fortunately for Sherlock, the results from his classes speak louder than any complaints from an English teacher whose pupils refer to him as ‘Professor Tosspot’ behind his back. That and, despite his abrasive nature and sometimes intimidating methods, most of Sherlock’s students genuinely like him, not least because he’s the youngest member of the teaching staff by a solid decade.
At least Sally Donovan has kept her complaints mostly to herself, although, now that she and Anderson are sleeping together it’s likely that she’ll voice her displeasure at Holmes’ methods more readily.
Sherlock turns his attention to the grey-haired Geography teacher who is sipping a cup of tea and working on his second sandwich. The term might not start for another three days, but most of the teaching staff are on site this week for pre-term preparations, and Sherlock is trying to schedule the interviews for the students who have requested his classes.
“Lestrade, did you have anyone who isn’t a complete bone-headed twit in your fifth form classes last year?”
“Well, there’s Moran, he’s bright and he’s got a real flair for chemistry. Jackson and Turner are quick, as well, but they both need a bit of structure to stop them going off the rails. Moriarty, well he’s too smart for his own good, but he knows the material.”
“Yes, yes, good. What about the girls? I’m sick of having a class full of boys; it’s impossible to manage. Blackwood’s been co-educational for almost five years, now... surely we have some girls who want to take Chemistry or Biology for their A levels?”
“I was getting to the girls, Holmes, if you’d let me finish. Michaela Butler and Greer Williams are probably the only ones who will express an interest. Although, little Molly Hooper has been doing great things in Mike Stamford’s classes - why don’t you ask him who you should interview?”
“I did, this morning. He told me to ask you because he doesn’t know what I’m looking for.”
“Fair enough. Neither do I, most of the time. You had lunch, yet?”
Sherlock raises an eyebrow at that. It’s well known that he doesn’t eat the slop that the school kitchen calls ‘food’, even after the Jamie Oliver-esque makeover the kitchens had been given the year before.
“Right, right, he-who-never-eats. There are two scholarship cases, too: a girl called Asher Reilly and a boy, John Watson. They’re both coming in from other schools as part of the A level program, they’re entering straight at sixth-form level. From the look of their transcripts you should grant them both interviews.”
“And the rest of the applicants?”
“As per usual, Holmes, it’s your prerogative. You’ve been managing your department well enough for three years, I’m hardly going to intervene now.”
Sherlock nodded, still ignoring the whispers coming from the next table, and the dark looks Donovan and Anderson threw him every few sentences.
“Alright. Does the new admin staff know my process? They’re prepared to shuffle schedules as I let them know who qualifies?”
“More than ready, Holmes. After the debacle last year, both the Chemistry and Biology classes for the sixth formers have been given the same schedule block, so chopping and changing students is just a matter of switching names. There have been new guidelines issued, though – you’ll have to accept a minimum of fifteen. Nothing like your second year when you only wanted eight and Gregson had to strong-arm you into taking on the extra four to make up the minimum class size. Dimmock just wants advance notice of more than three minutes if you're sending him an extra body to deal with.”
Sherlock rolls his eyes at that, but knows that he can’t really argue. The Education Department does actually care about minimum class sizes for a reason, apparently, although that reason baffles Holmes. He’s found that he gets the best of the students in groups of less than ten, but he can work with fifteen.
“Did you talk to Dimmock about his opinions on who should be allowed admittance?” Lestrade asks - there are, after all, two members of the senior Science faculty, not that Sherlock likes to acknowledge his opposite.
“Yes, and he told me the same thing as last year, check his attendance records and read the reports. I wish he’d let me install that camera in his classroom, it would make life so much easier…”
“We’ve been over this, Sherlock, no surveillance equipment on campus. Look, the boarders are arriving in the morning - that includes at least half the kids I’ve recommended and a few wild-cards. Come up to the boarding-house in the morning and I can get you some face-time with each of them. Mrs Hudson might even let you use her sitting room for the interviews if you ask nicely enough.”
“Oh, alright. When are they arriving?”
“Between nine and noon, come up during lunch and see if you can stop yourself from insulting them all about how boring their holidays must have been before you tell them they’re too stupid to possibly keep up in your classes.”
“Oh ha, ha, Lestrade. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“Looking forward to it, Holmes.”
Sherlock left the staff room, ignoring the glares directed at his back by the two conspirators in the corner, and made his way back to his own home just off-campus.
Blackwood Academy is located in the heart of London, just near Hyde Park. It’s one of the more prestigious public schools in England, and enrolments are based on academic merit. It does not matter if you are Prince of a small country (or even a large one), if you can’t pass the examinations, you don’t get in. You cannot buy your way into Blackwood, you cannot coerce your way in and it doesn’t matter if four generations of your family went there before you did – you don’t pass the exams, you don’t get enrolled.
The criteria are strict, but the admissions process, over the last fifty or so years, has become more fluid. The examinations are no longer purely written essays and ‘answer the questions’, now the entire curriculum is looked at – students are interviewed, sometimes observed in their existing school environments. And there are also a number of ex-staff from Blackwood who are now employed at other schools around the country, and recommendations from these teachers are taken very seriously.
John Watson is one of the students being admitted on the basis of a recommendation from an ex-staff member – he has a good academic record, not fantastic, but solid. He also plays cricket and football, he’s an exceptional spin-bowler and a good defender. But none of these things are the reason for his name being put forward for one of the coveted full-boarding scholarships at Blackwood Academy.
No, the fact that he’s been sent to school in the same steadily-more-tattered uniforms for the last eighteen months, that he tries (and fails) to hide the bruises from the buillies, the marks that his mother doesn’t notice, too busy dealing with her confused, borderline alcoholic older daughter (whose ‘gay phase’ is getting ‘out of control’).
He’s not a charity case, he’s a rescue… and it’s high time somebody started to take care of him.