It would be absurd to wish you a long and active retirement, as one would a colleague retiring in his sixties. At 47 you weren't even in sight of the finishing post. Instead, may I wish you untroubled sleep and a new career or interest that wipes clean your more horrific memories of frontline teaching.

Talking about you to colleagues today there was a unanimous feeling of 'There but for the grace of God . . .' True, none of us had ever been shot at, but many teachers are feeling the effects of harassment. One friend, for example, suffers gripping stomach pains the night before teaching a particular class. The verbal abuse, the sexual innuendo and the utter disrespect for her as a human being bring her to the verge of nausea. Joe Public, of course, would simply advocate stronger discipline. But you know and I know, Duncan, that without sanctions to correct children they've blown our cover. Now that kids who swear at teachers are rewarded with a few days holiday - which is the way they interpret a suspension from school - we are teaching without a safety net. Take a look at a Nineties-style prospectus and you'll see what I mean. See the winning smiles of the teachers and the earnest ex-pressions of the pupils. Fine words; pretty pictures. But wouldn't a truer picture show a teacher standing alone against up to 30 youngsters who at the weekend were rioting for Manchester United or dealing in drugs? And what sanctions can Sir or Miss impose if misbehaviour ensues? A letter home bound straight for the rubbish bin or a 'counselling' session. If it wasn't so tragic it would be funny.

We know the Government's answer, don't we, Duncan? Bolster the school's 'image' - the buzzword in Nineties education. Then, magically, all pupils will become replicas of their prospectus selves. Peace and harmony will reign supreme.

I have been a victim of school image syndrome myself. Not at my present school, but at a previous one. While I was leaving my classroom a boy set fire to some books in a cupboard. I took him to the Head, who implored me not to publicise the incident as it could damage the school's reputation. A few weeks later the same boy did the same thing again. This time the Head told me to keep a closer eye on him and implied that his behaviour was a reaction to my teaching. Some two years later I noticed that boy's name in the local paper. He was being tried at the Crown Court - for arson. The situation has gone too far. It's time schools stopped trading reality for the ad-man's image.

So, what's the answer? A legal obligation for parents to underwrite the behaviour of their children would be a start. Not very consumer friendly, not very Nineties, I admit. But something has got to be done, Duncan, or more good, conscientious teachers like yourself are going to be pensioned off at the age of 47.

Happy retirement.

(Photograph omitted)