Make sure you're saved by the bell

16th January 2004 at 00:00
Advice for teachers in their early career

Did you know that getting a Department for Education and Skills number gives you psychic powers? There are lots of parts to a teacher's job that no one seems to train you in, yet you are supposed to know how to do them properly. Evacuation procedures are a case in point. A vital issue, but sadly neglected.

A contributor to The TES online forum ( said he had no idea what to do when a fire alarm went off in his lesson with a Year 9 class: "I said, 'Right, go!' and they all ran, not tucking chairs in. It was a nightmare."

New teachers are terrified at the thought of fire alarms. Will they be able to recognise the bell? How do you get the pupils' attention? What do you say to them? Who goes first - pupils or you? Where do you go? What do you take with you? What should pupils take? What do you do with a class of barefoot infants in vest and pants? What about the register?

Fire drills are important, but staff and pupils often don't take them seriously. Yet they should: each year more than 2,000 schools in the UK suffer fires big enough to need the fire brigade. The odds on your school experiencing a real fire are about one in 15, so speak to senior staff and ask for information.

Everyone in school should know what the fire bell sounds like and what to do when they hear it. I have heard of a teacher in a mobile classroom where the alarm lasted for just three seconds and was so quiet that she thought it was a telephone ringing.

As soon as you hear the alarm, tell pupils to stand, tuck in their chairs, and line up without taking any belongings.

It is essential that pupils understand the rationale: why the register is so important, how running can lead to accidents. Your calm demeanour can be an important factor in getting pupils out quickly. All rooms should display instructions about the nearest exit. You should be the last to leave - with the register if you have it - making sure that no one is left in the classroom or toilets and shutting doors behind you. You should then walk the class calmly but briskly to the assembly point, where you check everyone off against the register.

Sara Bubb's The Insider's Guide for New Teachers is published by TESKogan Page (pound;12.99) See

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