Miss Slater, headmistress of Ripley Collegiate, was in her office browsing her correspondence. She picked up a letter, and the handwriting on the envelope was distinctive to her.
"My brother has finally written a letter to me," she thought.
The letter was full of news, which Sarah Slater was glad to receive. However, the important part of the screed was near the end:
Our dear Pamela is eleven now, and is very enthusiastic about the idea of going to boarding school. Kate and I have discussed this, and we have decided to see if your school will accept her. We know that Ripley hasn't been getting the best press recently, however, I know you and I know that you're probably already aware of everything and you're just about to launch a full scale attack on the problems. Will you be happy to accept Pam into your school?
Sarah cast back her memories to when Pam was born. Had it really been eleven years? It must have been. She checked the lists for the First Form - there was still enough space for Pam, with no difficulty. She picked up her pen and wrote a response to her brother's letter, including mentioning that it would be delightful to have her niece join the school.
However, her mind was still firmly on the fact that Ripley's reputation was starting to go down. She had had a rude awakening to the problems of her school when last term, ten of the girls from the Middle School had been withdrawn. None of the parents had mentioned a problem, but the underlying tone of the letters suggested a great deal of dissatisfaction with the school. Sarah had undertaken a task of checking out the Middle School in particular, and was shocked to find a level of slang, rudeness, insolence and a simple lack of manners and obedience. An ethic of work had been practically abandoned for athleticism, and even the Seniors spoke slang in droves that were unsuitable for girls of their age.
It was clear: Ripley needed a good, thorough shake-up, and as she was the one in charge it fell to her to make sure it happened.
She had given a few comments to this effect at the end of the term, and over the summer had come up with some ideas on how to tackle the various problems. But she wasn't fooled - the toughest part would be to implement them...
A trio of Fourth Formers were ambling the grounds of Ripley. They were waiting for assembly, which always happened at the beginning of term, and there was little else to do until then.
"Guides is going to be absolutely ripping," Angela Stewart said. "My cousin's a Guide and she says they do the most topping rags,"
"Yeah," agreed Sandra Palmer. "But what vile luck that Moll and the others won't be with us. They'd have loved it so!"
She was referring to the gang that had been the leading lights of the form last year: Mollie Fitzgerald, Heather Raphael, and Sibyl and Sylvia Townsend. All four of them had now been sent to other schools, or in Heather's case had started lessons with a governess.
"Hey! Angela - Sandy - Chris!" called a raven-haired girl who already seemed to be the height of a lamppost.
"Martha! Ripping to see you!" Christine cried back. "How were your hols?"
"Absolutely filthy," Martha grimaced. "The Governor was completely rotten, making an awful fuss and being preachy all the time - especially about slang. He says if I'm like that at Christmas he'll take me away from Ripley, which is clean balmy!"
"The Governor was frightfully down on me too," Sandy said, running her fingers through her short blonde mop. "Do they want us to talk like mim prim Victorian asses?!"
"I expect so," Christine said. "It's all awful rot, of course. Heigh-ho, there's the bell,"
The quartet scurried off to the hall. Miss Slater stood at the front, with her deputy Miss Blakeney behind her. The room was hushed and Miss Slater started speaking.
"Good afternoon girls, I hope you all had a pleasant journey," Miss Slater smiled. "Welcome to Ripley Collegiate."
Miss Slater gave out notices about hockey and Guides and exams and various activities, and gave out the list of Prefects, requesting to see them later. She then had this to say:
"We have a few issues to iron out, unfortunately," Miss Slater said. "It has come to my attention that many of you display a concerning attitude in your work, behaviour and language. As I mentioned last term, you girls represent Ripley as a school, and unfortunately many of you do not seem to think about that when you go out into the wider world. I see now that this can only be changed if the school itself is changed.
"And so, the following will occur. Slang fines will be introduced, and any fines shall be written in this book" - she held up a book - "by the staff member or Prefect who catches you using it. On Sunday mornings after Church there will be an hour in which you will pay your fines. If you can't pay your whole fine the rest will be taken out of your pocket money for the next week. If you don't pay up at all then in addition to the fine - which will also be taken out of your pocket money for next week - you will also serve detention.
"Secondly, rudeness towards any member of staff will not be tolerated at all - including all of the domestic staff. All of the staff here are essential to keep you all fed and well, and keep the school clean and tidy. Any rudeness will automatically make you eligible for a Head's Report - you all know what that means, I'm sure,"
The fourth-formers knew exactly what! No pocket money, no access to fun activities, and most importantly, no Games! For any length of time the Head chose! The horror!
"It makes sense to add that if you don't work hard in your lessons, you won't get to do Games either," Miss Slater added. "But now, onto the House Tournament. Instead of being just a hockey tournament, this term we've decided to expand it. Staff members can give or take points away at will depending on your work and behaviour. During Sunday's assembly I'll announce the number of points each house has got. At the end of the term the house with the most points will gain," she smiled, "a prize. And so every member of your house will want it to win, won't they?"