Mike Kent column

September again. How time flies when you're enjoying yourself. I remember my first September as a headteacher. I went into school frequently that first summer holiday, nervous but excited by the prospect of shaping my own school. I just hoped this headship thing was going to keep me busy. Looking back on 23 years of the job, how naive I was. There was no headship college in those days, and little advice of any note. Nobody could have prepared me for the intensity of the job and those moments of insanity that occur regularly throughout the year.

Take the last Thursday of this summer term, for example. We have a security storeroom containing the safe where Sandra, the school secretary, keeps the various monies that flow in and out. The safe has two enormous padlocks. She has keys to them, and so do I, but there are no others. Just before assembly, Sandra was in her room looking worried. "I've lost my keys," she said. "It's annoying because I need to get the end-of-term accounting finished." By the end of assembly, she was even more worried. "I've checked everywhere. They've vanished." Since three classes had gone on school outings, I wondered if one of the teachers might have picked them up by mistake. We found their mobile numbers, but none had seen the keys.

Sandra thought for a moment. "Perhaps I've locked them in the safe. Can I borrow yours?" Sod's law was fully operational that morning. The safe keys were on my Mini key ring, but the Mini was on my drive awaiting a new clutch, and I'd brought the Escort to school. I could nip home and fetch the keysI until I remembered that Andrew's dad, who gives my Escort a professional valet every six months, had taken the car. Sandra could run me home. But her car keys were on her key ring with the safe keys. And the teachers who had cars were all in their classrooms, teaching. Enter Dave, our trusty premises officer. "I'll nip round the DIY and get a hacksaw," he said. "We'll cut the locks off." After 20 minutes of energetic sawing, Dave estimated getting through both padlocks would take three days. "There's a quicker way," he said. "I'll fetch my angle grinder." He returned looking annoyed. "I can't find the cutting discs. I put them somewhere safe. I just need to remember where."

Enter Donna, a classroom assistant whose husband also owned an angle grinder. "He's at home today," she said. "I'll pop over and get it." When she returned, I held the first padlock in a large pair of grips, and Dave attacked it with the grinder. Sparks flew. "Let's hope we don't set anything alight," Dave grinned. "If anyone sees us, they'll ring the fire bell."

Three minutes later, the fire bell rang. Children, teachers, helpers, kitchen staff poured along the corridors, wondering why we were having a drill at the end of term. Dave hurried to find his keys, and I sent everyone back to their classrooms, and to find the culprit - a Year 6 leaver who'd always fancied giving the system a test.

By the time the safe was open, we'd wasted one of the busiest mornings of the year. There was a time when I'd have panicked at the amount of work left to do, but not any more. I'm an older and infinitely wiser head. Oh, and Sandra's keys were in the safe, after all. But she made lots of money on our last raffle, so we're OK for another couple of padlocks.

Mike Kent is head of Comber Grove primary, London borough of Southwark. Email: mikejkent@aol.com

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