Big deal over a little accident

10th July 1998 at 01:00
"I'MAFRAID Tom's had a little accident," the secretary says. I jump as any parent might - the word accident conjures up my child with his legs splayed out beneath the wreckage of a car. "Can you come and collect him, Mr Mourby?"

Clearly this is no job for an ambulance. We're not talking body bags here but plastic bags, rank with marinating underwear and handed over by the infant teacher at home time. Nothing worse. "We rang your wife but they said she's in court all morning. We've changed him now but can you come round?" "No. I'm at Heathrow airport." "Oh. Is there anyone else who can come and collect him?" "Not in the departures lounge, no."

Our schools have absorbed many social changes over the past few years. Muslim girls who wear trousers are OK, single parents are OK, even gay parents get by. But when it comes down to "little accidents", the average British primary is still in the 1950s believing that at least one parent should always be on standby at home, ready to provide ancillary services between the hours of 9 and 3.15. I've never fathomed the rationale behind this temporary expulsion of children who soil themselves.

"Little accidents" are not infectious and I doubt if they encourage others to emulation either, but both schools that Tom has attended have always quarantined him. Yet, when I tell the school that neither of us can get there before 3.15 the secretary gets quite huffy. "I'm afraid we don't have the facilities to cope with little accidents, Mr Mourby."

This strikes me as strange, because if any organisation should, surely it would be a school with five-year-old boys who - as we all know to our cost - come very late to the subject of bowel control and even, when they achieve it, still get totally absorbed in Lego until suddenly it is too late.

As it is, my wife will get reproachful looks when she arrives at the classroom door this afternoon and poor Tom - who has been sitting there like a naughty boy in the secretary's office, listening to her phone round for someone to remove him - he will now have guilt and shame added to his initial embarrassment. Last time he was sent home he hid under the duvet for half an hour. Must these "little" accidents always get magnified out of all proportion?

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