Children were scrabbling up the walls, hanging over the fences, or lying flat on the playground floor trying to get a view

17th March 2006 at 00:00
The neighbourhood surrounding our school isn't known for its tranquillity, and we'd had a gangland shooting in the main road at the weekend. There was a murmur of gossip about it as the children filed into school on Monday morning, and then it seemed to be gradually forgotten.

Until Wednesday lunchtime, when a classroom assistant hurried up to me as I munched my meat and two veg.

"A bloke has just rushed into the corridor," she said. "Says he's being chased. Can you have a word with him?" Several children had overheard the helper and were peering outside as I approached the man. He was leaning against a cupboard, panting.

"I need help, mate," he said. "I'm a reporter and I went to interview the family of the bloke who was shot. I'm being chased by a gang of youths."

I'd heard this kind of thing before. Years ago, a woman walked into the office, said she wanted to register her 15 children and then began to remove her clothes. Last year, a gentleman who told the children he was an inspector quietly removed three handbags from the staffroom and legged it over the wall. People aren't always what they seem.

I asked if he had any identification. He produced a laminated card with a faded photo and a title saying "Press". I wasn't convinced, but he seemed genuine enough. By this time, faces were staring through the hall doors with interest, and I suggested that we walk towards the gate, away from the children. He blanched. "I'm not going out there, mate. They'll kill me. I need police protection." I said Dave, our premises officer, was in the playground, and he had a mobile, so he'd phone immediately.

More children gathered as we came outside, and Dave summed up the situation in a flash. Within minutes, a police car and a police van roared up the road, sirens blasting. By now, children were scrabbling up the walls, hanging over the fences, or lying flat on the playground floor trying to get a view under the solid metal gates. I led the "reporter" quickly outside, explained the situation to the boys in blue, and left them to deal with it. I never did find out whether he really was a newsman.

Persuading the children nothing much was happening was a bigger task.

Rumours shot around the playground and Daniel, never our best attender, ran up and asked if school would be closed tomorrow. It occurred to me that I should write and reassure the parents, but I quickly dismissed the idea.

After all, nothing much had happened.

The phone calls began at eight the following morning. Was it safe to come to school, asked Mrs Gray; Samantha had said three gunmen were holed up in the school yesterday and there were rumours one was still in the building.

Is it true the school will be closed for three days, asked Mrs Staines, only Daniel said some of the teachers had been trapped in the corridor and one had been attacked. Why weren't we alerted about this, demanded Annie's mum, who cries bully if somebody as much as brushes against her daughter.

Are you all right, asked a friendlier parent, only I heard you'd been attacked by a huge man who rushed into the corridor yesterday... Within a day normal service had been resumed, but I had to smile when our local minister, one of our parents, came in to take an assembly at the end of the week. "I hear you're a hero," he said. "I'm told you were chased round the playground by a man with a samurai sword, and you grappled him to the ground in seconds."

Mike Kent is head of Comber Grove primary, London borough of Southwark.


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