Don't panic!

20th June 2014 at 01:00

I need to get a clean mug from the staffroom sink. The ones in my classroom have several days' worth of fungus inside. Unfortunately, Miss Brighthope is barring the way. She is on her hands and knees. Is she in a crisis or has she lost a contact lens?

"It's a drugs problem," explains Ms Fleming, without looking up from labelling self-sealing food bags.

It would be easy to assume that the pressures of completing end-of-year assessments, writing reports and managing a class of stir-crazy eight-year-olds has got to Miss Brighthope, but they haven't. She's dropped an extra-strong painkiller and can't find it. Now she's worrying about what might happen if a child were to pick it up. We live in litigious times and safeguarding regulations require us to take no chances.

The probability that an eagle-eyed child will wander unaccompanied into the staffroom, spot the offending capsule, mistake it for a sweet, swallow it, fall into a drug-induced coma and have to be rushed to hospital is slight. The consequences if it did happen, however, would be horrific. When Miss Brighthope explains this, more members of staff than the floor area can reasonably sustain feel obliged to join in the fingertip search.

Citing old age and failing eyesight, I decline to participate. Instead, I offer advice such as, "Let's set up a pill-finding working party", "Why don't we cordon off the staffroom with hazard tape?" and "Good idea to pull the dishwasher out, it's the first place a child will look".

How we intend to keep students safe figures prominently in our school development plan. Our students can now happily hang upside-down from the monkey bars in the certain knowledge that, should they fall, their heads will bounce off the rubberised flooring. Visits to the local park are relaxed thanks to the reassurance of a six-page risk assessment. Conker players can slug it out unscathed under cover of safety goggles, hard hats and armour-plated gauntlets.

I suggest that health and safety may have gone slightly batty, but Ms Fleming, who is preparing for her class to carry out an investigation into the best conditions for growing mould on bread, disagrees. "You can't be too careful," she says. "The guidelines for this experiment state that it's vital to keep the slices of bread in sealable, airtight food bags."

"Why's that?" I ask.

"Because exposure to mould spores can seriously damage a child's health," she replies. "Particularly if the child suffers from allergies or asthma. Did you know that some moulds, if ingested, can kill?"

There is a shout of joy. The missing painkiller is found. The risk of a child being rushed to hospital has been averted. "Could you help us reconnect the dishwasher, Mr Eddison," Miss Brighthope asks.

I grab some of Ms Fleming's airtight food bags. "I'd love to," I reply, "but first I have to resolve a life-or-death situation in my classroom."

Steve Eddison teaches at Arbourthorne Community Primary School in Sheffield

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