Are the fences Kyle-proof?
Health and Safety will be the death of me!" cries Dave.
He has been arranging a visit to a wildlife sanctuary as part of a citizenship module, but the red tape is tripping him up. He is a new member of staff and seems to be near breaking point so I help him through the "Arranging Educational Visits" folder in the staffroom and point out that we already have risk assessments for zoo trips, farm trips, pet shop trips and pet rescue centre trips so it wouldn't take long to draw up a risk assessment for the wildlife sanctuary.
"And no one wants to drive," he moans. "They say the responsibility for fastening in the wheelchairs and making sure the wriggly children don't get out of the seat belts is giving them nightmares."
"Don't worry," I say, "I can help you with a driver. Now, what's next? Have you booked a nurse?"
Dave looks crestfallen, so I show him the "Booking the Nurse" form. A nurse is necessary for his particular class because of Josh, who has sudden and severe breathing difficulties; and to help with Sunny, who requires medication in the case of a seizure; and Lottie, who is tube-fed.
"OK, have you told the sanctuary about the needs of the children and that we'd like a quiet, clean room for eating and toileting? Yes? Well then," I say, "it's a piece of cake. You go and have a lovely time with the children and don't worry; we've taken every possible precaution, considered and planned for every eventuality and you know how determined we are to give our children exciting and adventurous experiences.So just relax; we've got all the policies in place."
"Policies?" asks Dave, with raised eyebrows.
"All the policies," I confirm. "Medicine, minibus, farms trips, feeding, and dropped crisp packets!"
"Dropped crisp packet policy?" cries Dave, alarmed now.
I give him a friendly dig in the ribs. "Only joking!"
I skip off to have a walkabout at playtime, my mind on health and safety issues. I believe in the advice I gave Dave but completely understand how he felt. There are days when I am just thankful that all the children have got home in one piece.
Looking around the playground, I wonder if the fences are Kyle-proof. Kyle is an agile five-year-old who will probably do well at running and climbing on sports day - if he hasn't escaped by then. What on earth is James eating? It turns out to be a tissue, but could have been poisonous fungi. I make a mental note to get the grounds checked out. Is that fox poo in the penalty area? It is, so I put on my rubber gloves and remove it. What is Damien about to throw? I leap over the fence into the Quiet Area, shrieking like a banshee, and manage to catch the unidentified flying object as Damien hurls it into the path of Caitlin, who is toddling along in her walking frame. The missile is a mug. I have to smile as I read on it:
"World's Best Childcare Assistant! Resourceful! Safety-conscious! Tidy! Puts children first!" It's Janet's mug. Janet is one of our TAs. She's a first-aider, member of the health and safety group and all-round good egg.
If she can make a health and safety bloomer, what chance have the rest of us?
I stand at the front door, smiling serenely as Dave and his group return from their outing, happy, safe and with lots of ideas for... "What? Setting up a wildlife sanctuary at school?" I gasp, no longer pretending to be serene. Dave gives me a friendly dig in the ribs.
Maria Corby is deputy head of a special school for pupils with severe and multiple learning difficulties. She writes under a pseudonym