Last summer we had our school windows replaced. Well, refurbished actually, apart from those so weather-beaten they were nailed shut in case they fell out of their frames. We'd sweated pounds during previous summers without fresh air, and rejoiced when we heard the LEA was coming along to sort us out.
Naively, I'd assumed the LEA would arrange for a firm to do what I'd done to my house: remove all the old windows and replace them with tough white plastic ones closely modelled on the originals. Then, unlike the wooden variety, they'd probably last until the building fell down. But it wasn't as simple as that. The responsibility for decorating the inside of the building (including the window interiors) lies with the school, while the LEA looks after anything to do with the outside. And since some of the windows in the more sheltered sections of the building weren't disintegrating, only the worst ones would be replaced. By the time the contract was signed, the outsides were to be refurbished and the insides untouched, unless the insides were damaged while they were refurbishing the outsides, in which case they'd touch up the insides. With me so far?
After an extended half-term holiday while the school was covered in scaffolding, the work began. The LEA had decided that the brickwork should be steam-cleaned while the scaffolding was up and, to stop muck flying everywhere, the building was shrouded in polythene. And thus our troubles began. The building became unbearably hot, but you couldn't see out of any window to know whether the sun was shining or the rain pelting down. Since we had more rain than Noah last year, runners had to be organised every five minutes in the minutes before playtime to check if the children could go out. When the wind blew, the polythene flapped like the wings of the mythical Roc, making it difficult to be heard in the classrooms.
But worse than this was the brick cleaning machine which made a fizzing, high-pitched scream. If it was outside your room, teaching became impossible. You could guarantee that if you moved out of your class for the morning, the next bit of wall to be done would be outside the room you'd just escaped to. Several times I'd just started assembly when the machine fired up, drowning out my voice. It amused the children; they began to think the workmen were doing it deliberately.
Nothing seemed to have been co-ordinated. When we stopped for playtime, the workmen stopped, too. When a class moved to a different venue while the scraping and painting was done, it always seemed to be half-finished when it was time for the class to return. You could be in the middle of discussing the parts of a plant because Sats were approaching, and two workmen would wander along the planks outside your window, discussing in colourful language how many pints they'd downed last night. Another workman removed the nursery door in the morning, offering an escape route for 25 small children. He left his Black and Decker plugged in on the bench by the door. It only takes one inquisitive little finger.
My premises officer, determined that the work wouldn't go on a moment longer than necessary, watched the proceedings like a hawk. He's so good-natured it's hard to get him upset, but he refused to budge when a workman drove up with a bald tyre and no tax disc. And I did feel sorry for the painter who accidentally knocked a guitar off its hook in the music room and damaged the tuning pegs; Dave told him it was the headteacher's own instrument and cost pound;500.
Don't the worst things always happen on Friday afternoons, though? The muck from brick washing clogged a drain in the playground, and one of the workmen had a bright idea. Since they had a high pressure hose with them, it would take a moment to shift the blockage. Unfortunately, the playground drain was linked to the one in the infant toilet, and a barrage of filthy sludge shot around the toilet walls and into the corridor. Dave nearly had a heart attack, and had to hire outside help to make the place habitable again. Thank God there were no children in the toilet at the time. What would I have told the parentsI Mike Kent is head of Comber Grove primary school, Camberwell, south LondonEmail: email@example.com