Charity begins

18th February 2005 at 00:00
Is it a wheelchair ramp? Is it a skateboard park? It's St Brian's

We've had the builders in. Renovation work at St Brian's is usually restricted to repairing the head's Jacuzzi or reinforcing the perimeter fence of the referral unit. But this time Dr Scarlett has promised an exciting makeover of the school. "You won't recognise the place," he assured us as we bolted for the 13 Horseshoes on the last day before half-term.

He wasn't wrong. The staffroom lies like the ruins of Pompeii under a two-inch layer of white dust. Someone kicks over a bucket of white spirit and curses. Apparently, the deputy head gave the men a key to the room so they could use the toilets; it looked derelict so they decided to set up base here. An easy mistake. Filthy cups are scattered about the room, cigarette butts floating in mouldy tea dregs. Teachers hunt furiously for their mugs. "Is yours the 'I love Center Parcs', Les?" shouts John Baller.

"No, it's 'Friend of the Congolese Gorillas'," says Les Twigg, who is staring distractedly out of the window. "Jesus Christ, what have these people done? It's like an Escher drawing out there." People gather around, taking in the sight of a series of ramps and stairways that seem to defy the rules of geometry. "What is that?" gasps John.

"It's the new guidelines for building under the Disability Discrimination Act, Mr Baller!" says the deputy head, Nigel Horsmel, who is wearing a yellow hard hat. "Haven't you heard of inclusion and equal access?"

"Yes, I have. And I also know a bunch of cowboys when I see one. I suppose this is another one of those PFI cock-ups."

"Well, not exactly, although we have signed an innovative deal with a local leisure company." When pressed, Horsmel admits that the new facilities will double as a skateboarding park and that he has taken bookings well into the summer term.

Down in the playground things are not going well. A man from the Health and Safety Executive is staring at the main ramp and scratching his head. "Mr Horsmel, I really don't think this construction offers safe access. The gradient is at least 1:3. This isn't a ramp, it's the Cresta Run."

Horsmel, panicking, points to a Year 7 boy in a wheelchair. "You, out!" he shouts. Nigel squeezes himself into the chair and accelerates down the slope. "Look! It's perfectly safe!" he screams, just as he takes off, hurtling 10ft into the air. There's a gasp of appreciation from the gathered skateboarders as Horsmel plummets to the ground.

Amy Studds, the bursar, is charged with telling the head that the LEA has refused to approve the work and that major alterations are required. She knocks on the office door. "Enter!" Dr Scarlett is bent over his Le Corbusier table, architects' plans spread before him. "Ah, Amy. I'll be right with you. Anyway Anton, I'm really keen on the sunken seating area and I absolutely refuse to compromise on the infinity pool." A young man in Prada suit and loafers nods earnestly as Scarlett waves his arms dramatically.

Amy breaks the bad news. "Damn nuisance," Scarlett spits. "Oh well, I suppose the pool will have to go...." Anton taps the table with his pen.

"Sir, might I suggest a hot tub as a cheaper alternative. You could always upgrade when the revenue from the mobile phone mast comes on stream..."

Charity Casement is the alter ego of a teacher in north London. Next week: Being Blaine

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