Someone, early in my teaching career uttered the immortal words, "Expect the unexpected and you won't go too wrong".
I’d done the course, as an aspiring Deputy Head, dealing with the roles and responsibilities of management and, along with colleagues had considered the myriad of potential eventualities that might occur. The reality, when it came, had not been prepared, nor could it have been.
I had been a deputy for all of a couple of weeks when the head went off on a course. Signal a rapid change in the weather, with an overnight deluge of snow; many colleagues will recently have had the same issue to deal with and may still be suffering the aftermath. Inevitably, the calls from colleagues started arriving to say that they wouldn’t be able to get in. I had, but mainly because the motorway had been gritted. All available staff were deployed to the gates to turn back families and also to mop up the solitary children who had walked alone, to start the calls home for them to be picked up.
Eventually, children had all been dispersed, so staff also started their way home.
Before I could do the same, the caretaker arrived to say that we had run out of heating oil, none had been ordered and, if it couldn’t be sourced, we’d be closed another day. The forecast was for a thaw. Several phone-calls to the supplier and a bit of arm twisting resulted in the promise of a delivery by the early evening. In the interim, the individual hot air blowers started to shut down. In so doing they were drawing any gunk into the pipes from the oil tank, so, when the oil arrived this would necessitate an engineer to come and bleed the complete system. Calls were made to the engineers, to put them on standby.
The oil tanker arrived with the dusk, so the tank was filled by torchlight. The engineer arrived around 7.30pm, having been to several schools earlier in the day. By 10.30pm, with the school filled with a blue haze where each boiler had belched out exhaust fumes, we had virtually reached the point where the system had been put back together.
Arriving home after midnight, having had to secure the school and set alarms, the alarm was set again for 5.30am, to get into school to check that everything was working.
I took up my headship in January 1990, walking as calmly as I could through the avenue of Scots pines that lined the path between the car park of the old Victorian school and the “new” school, Scola built, in 1975. These trees had been a part of a large estate from which the original school had been carved and were somewhere over 90 years old, planted during the Victorian period. The original school dated from 1846, with the benefactor board being found in the new school loft area.
On January 25th we had a seasonal storm. This one took everyone by surprise. It was a case of the wind howling relentlessly. The first sign of a problem was a child detailed to tell me that a classroom window had shattered and that the class had moved to the school hall. It was clear that the wind had become extreme.
Parents began to phone to say that the local roads were being blocked by trees and could they pick up their children to get them home safely. Rather than being marooned on an “island” with 160 children, the message soon got out that getting home was better than sticking it out at school. One phone line was permanently in use by office staff, phoning home or emergency numbers. As numbers allowed, non-essential staff were also sent home.
As always, we were left with a small number of children whose parents could not be contacted. They were taken to the lee side of the school, to enjoy regressing and a distraction through using the Reception class equipment.
Meanwhile, the wind picked up even more. As the children dwindled in number the safety of the staff became paramount. It was decided that those living furthest should leave first. Most of the cars were in the old school, but the wind frightened many and they took the long walk around the road. We asked them to phone when they arrived home.
By mid-afternoon, the school was almost empty, and, having contacted our local contractor, were waiting for the glazier to arrive and make good the broken window.
Consoling ourselves with a cup of well-needed tea, the first “crack”, sounding like an explosion near to hand, was the precursor to a substantial demonstration of the power of nature. The view from the office was directly through the avenue of trees. Within ten minutes, 20, 25m trees had been reduced to matchsticks, swaying and toppling, taking each other down like ninepins. Trees that had stood for 100 years were no more.
The clean-up took the best part of week, with the whine of chainsaws the backdrop to all learning.
It did make for a great deal of very exciting writing and artwork, right cross the school. Well, if you can’t make use of an event…
The new extension to the main school, negotiated over a number of years, based on the sale of the Victorian school designate as excess places brought the fun and games of endless negotiations with builders and architects.
Part of the build went into the winter period, and this included extending the alarm system.
The caretaker had been off sick for a while and, while we had a good cleaner prepared to undertake some locking up, as senior key-holder, I was, at that point, first call for an alarm activation. Over a period of ten days, we had eight times where the alarm was activated, with me turning out to school in the middle of the night, needing to call the alarm company. The police were involved on a couple of occasions, checking the building, as was the security company who also did periodic checks.
The police letter saying that call-outs would be suspended led to serious talks with the builders and alarm company, who eventually agreed to do a full survey, during which they discovered that the wiring into the new extension had been “pinched” between two different materials. Cold nights had caused some movement, resulting in the alarm going off when the temperature had changed.
It all needed ripping out and redirecting, causing further disruption, but no more call-outs, at least for a while. There were many other occasions with a semi-rural school on the edge of a large estate.
It’s probably one thing I don’t miss from headship.