Boiling over, thanks to the snow

17th December 2010 at 00:00

The temperature has plummeted, the boilers have been making clunking noises and the premises officer phones me late in the night. "They've packed up," he says. "One of the massive fuses has melted. I'll phone the engineer." I have heard the weather report and already snow is settling. I move my car closer to the main road, so I will have a chance of getting to school in the morning.

I'm up early and the snow is 20cm deep. The cat takes one look, hesitates and heads for her tray instead, while I fill two bottles of warm water for the windscreen. My deputy texts me: are we in or out and should she text staff? I say I'm going to try to get in, but if there is no heat we won't be able to have the children. The main road is thick with slow traffic and it takes 90 minutes to reach school.

The premises officer hasn't been able to contact the heating company, so he tries their head office. Yes, they will send an engineer, but I have to fax to prove we need one. Do they get hoax calls when the snow falls, I wonder? I put a message on the LEA website, hoping parents will check it before setting out.

I know I'm in for an hour of answering the phone. At first all is well, and parents accept that they will need to keep their children at home. Then the first irate parent comes on the phone.

"I hear the school is closed. What's going on? You lot seem to close as soon as a bit of snow falls." I explain, politely, that closing the school is the last thing I ever want to do.

"So why's it closed then?"

"Our boilers aren't working and the building is freezing. The engineer may not be able to drive here."

"But your boilers broke down in February. Didn't you bother to get them fixed?"

"Yes, but it isn't the boilers this time. It's a fuse."

"A fuse? Don't you lot have a couple of spare fuses?"

"Not of this type I'm afraid. They are huge and a qualified engineer has to fit them."

"Well, it sounds ridiculous to me ..." He doesn't cease his flow, so like a talk-show presenter dealing with an argumentative listener, I talk over him, explaining that I have to stop because other parents will be trying to get through.

Six parents later, I get a technology nut on the phone. I may not have realised it, he says, but this is the 21st century. Why can't I just text every parent? After all, there are companies which specialise in this, and for a modest sum they will link into the school admin system and send parents a message. Couldn't be simpler.

I take a deep breath and say that no, it isn't exactly a "modest sum" and that out of the 10 mobile numbers we recently called when parents were late to collect children after school, four of the numbers had changed and the parents hadn't notified us.

All any parent needs to do, I explain patiently, is check the LEA website. But at least the final parent to call is wonderfully sympathetic, telling me to wrap up warm, go home, and have a nice hot mug of cocoa.

The engineer calls and switches the fuses around because he doesn't carry spares. One boiler now works, but we have no idea whether it will give enough warmth to open tomorrow. The Christmas concerts and the disco hang in the balance.

Please God, if you are sending snow, can't you just send a little bit? Just enough for the nursery children to play happily in ...

Mike Kent is headteacher at Comber Grove Primary, Camberwell, south London. Email: mikejkent@aol.com.

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