We had to close the school on Wednesday, something I haven't had to do for 12 years. That was when the snow was so bad teachers couldn't get to school and our struggling boiler broke down. This time it was a fuse. Not just any old fuse, mind, but a huge 160amp job, encased in metal and as big as your fist. All the lighting on the bottom corridor suddenly died, and chunks of the school plunged into darkness. Classroom assistants searched the toilets, retrieving terrified infants who'd stumbled for the door. Dave, the premises officer, checked the contact breakers, while teachers poked their heads around doors demanding to know which twerp from Year 6 had switched the lights off.
The problem quickly escalated. Our cook hurried upstairs to tell me that her freezers were down and it wouldn't be that long before the supplies started thawing out. I had to make a quick decision. I didn't want to close the school, but if we couldn't feed the children we didn't have much option. After a hasty consultation, the cook decided she could do sandwiches and salad the next day, and the teachers said they could manage one day in semi-darkness. I breathed a sigh of relief... until Dave told me the boilers had gone down too. There'd be no heating or hot water. We would have to close.
It was too late to get a letter to the parents, so we rang the LEA for the name of a reliable electrician. One arrived quickly, and probed the fuse cupboard with a torch and a test meter. "That's your problem!" he said triumphantly, pointing to a massive fuse. "So can you change it?" we asked.
There was a sharp intake of breath. "It's a very old one. Been there years.
Take a good couple of days to find one of these." He hurried off to order what he thought we needed, and another electrician rang, saying that he'd done lots of work for the LEA and, whatever it was, he'd be with us in 10 minutes and fix it within the hour. He tested the fuse the first man had isolated. "Nothing wrong with that," he said. "There's a fault somewhere else." Half an hour later he found another tiny cupboard and a second massive, ancient fuse. Another sharp intake of breath. "Tough one, that.
Might get it for Friday."
Next morning, Dave stood by the gate, explaining why children couldn't come in to school. Most parents, as usual, were very understanding. Mr Smith, as usual, wasn't. "So what's all this then?"
"Sorry, we've no lighting, heating, hot water, or cooked meals."
"Don't you lot have any contingency plans for emergencies?"
"Not for this, I'm afraid. It's a unique situation. We've never had this before."
"Well, it's f*****g inconvenient. God knows how we managed to win two world wars."
He stalked off down the road, his wife trailing behind him looking embarrassed. Neither of them work, but the idea of looking after his child for an extra day must have been terrible. Fortunately, the second electrician found a fuse by midday, the building was soon light and warm again, and the children were back the next day. On Friday, I received a call from a parent governor. "Is school open, then?" she asked. "Nobody wrote and told us." I made a mental note to make a public announcement on the Ten O'Clock News if it ever happens again.
Mike Kent is head of Comber Grove primary, London borough of Southwark.