Averting disaster

29th March 2013 at 00:00

I was invited to my old school recently, to judge its annual World Book Day competition. The children are encouraged to dress up as their favourite literary characters, and it's a riot of colour and inventiveness as the classes gather excitedly in the hall. After a very enjoyable hour I popped in to the new headteacher's room to see how he was enjoying the job I'd loved for so many years.

At first it was difficult to keep a straight face as he was still dressed as a giant mouse, complete with hand-sewn tail and pipe cleaner whiskers. "One of the lovely bits of the job," he said, smiling.

But it hadn't been all plain sailing, he revealed: "We've certainly had our moments recently. Like the radiator and Andrew's arm."

It was one of this winter's interminable wet lunchtimes and the children were crowded into the hall to watch a DVD. Frustrated at not being able to play outside yet again, Andrew was absent-mindedly tossing his tennis ball in the air when it fell behind a radiator and became lodged. Without asking permission, Andrew pushed his arm behind the radiator to grab the ball and then found he couldn't get it out again. What's more, he quickly realised that the radiator was uncomfortably hot.

Andrew's friend pointed out the situation to the nearest teaching assistant, who tried to extract Andrew's arm. It didn't work, causing the children around him to watch the situation with mounting interest. The assistant realised that Andrew's arm could become burned if she didn't act quickly and the head was summoned. He couldn't release the arm either, and he had visions of fire engines rushing to the rescue, aggrieved parents threatening to sue and a child needing serious medical attention.

The premises officer was sent for and he noticed that the radiator was slightly loose on its mountings. "We'll grease the boy's arm," he said, "then we'll drape towels over the radiator and see if we can pull it slightly forward. The downside is that we may split the pipe and have hot water running all over his feet."

Fortunately, it worked. The radiator could be moved just enough to release the arm, the tennis ball was confiscated and Andrew was seated in full view of a watchful teaching assistant. "Dodgy moment, though," the head admitted. "Even now I break out in a cold sweat when I think of it. There's always something. Like Emily and the teapot last week."

Infant Emily had been playing at tea parties and had pushed her finger into the spout of the plastic teapot. Her friends chuckled with amusement, until they realised that Emily couldn't remove her finger. Unperturbed, she wandered over to her teacher and plonked teapot and finger into her lap. The teacher, who was listening to a child read, pulled and pushed gently, took her to the washroom and applied soap, and then sent for the staffroom washing-up liquid. After an unsuccessful 15 minutes, she realised this was a mission for senior management and sent for the head, who took Emily to his room, put hand and pot on the table, and told her to sit very still. Then, with infinite care, he slit around the seam of the teapot with a Stanley knife. He shivers inside when he thinks about that one, too.

But he's realised that whatever happens, the buck stops with the head. You just have to hope a child doesn't trip over it, throw it at somebody or try to swallow it.

Mike Kent is a retired primary school headteacher. Email: mikejkent@aol.com.

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