Life is safer in school, writes an injured Bob Aston

1st September 2000 at 01:00
Schools are safer than homes. This may not be true for children, but it is definitely so for teachers. According to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (Rospa), 2.8 million people go to hospital each year in the UK as the result of an accident. Make that 2.8 million and one.

On the first day of the summer holidays, I found myself in the accident and emergency department after stepping into thin air from a ladder. The rush to get all the household jobs over and done with so that I could enjoy myself was a mistake. The Government warning about taking care didn't seem to work for me, as it obviously did not for the 100,000 people per year who, according to Rospa, had an accident caused by their bed, the 9,000 injuredby cotton buds, the 828 injuredby beanbags or the 39 hurt byteacosies.

When I got to hospital, the very friendly receptionist needed only my surname to be able to access all my details, despite it being more that five years since my last visit. Noticing that I was a teacher, she informed me that I was the third that morning, the other two having been in with gardening and DIY accidents. "Summer hols started, then?" she smiled. She then cheerfully informed me that the waiting time was only two hours, and waved me to a seat amongst the crawling, limping and walking wounded. Worryingly, most of them were children.

I have often been to Aamp;E with children injured in school, usually after football accidents or those caused by exuberant playground behaviour. Then, the attitude was quite different. Learning that I was a headteacher with a wounded child, a certain warm comradeship was evident. Now some distance as established between professional health worker and client as I was directed to a seat.

Though only opened in March by deputy prime minister John Prescott, the newly built waiting area already seemed grubby. The only distraction was a loud television set, tuned in to a chat show and ignored by all. Sick children were crying miserably, and their siblings who had been brought with them were running loose and irritating everyone else. Hopefully, the recently announced massive increasein NHS funding will be used to provide play facilities as well as boosting the number of staff.

While so musing, I wascalled for examination by the triage nurse, who humiliatingly decided that my broken ribs and lacerations were trivial injuries and that my true destination was the minor treatment area. Most of our remaining time together was spent talking about teaching - she wanted to transfer to a more child-friendly profession. Since I am an external examiner for the college to which she is applying, roles could soon be reversed and I could beexamining her.

After a noisy wait in the designated area, depressingly designed without the benefit of natural daylight, my aching ribs were examined by a young doctor who looked as if he was on work experience from the local secondary school. At least he was not an ex-pupil. I've always felt vaguely uneasy that one of our most industrious children is now a brain surgeon. I agree with Sam Goldwyn: hospital is thelast place you want to be when you are ill.

I was sent home to take it easy, but I think I'd rather go back to school. It's safer.

Bob Aston is head of a junior school in Medway

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