Merry dance over playground skip

22nd April 2011 at 01:00

Funny how a headteacher's day can be filled with anything but education. We recently achieved "healthy school" status and, because cycling to school is something we encourage, we applied for a grant to buy a lockable unit that can hold 20 bicycles. The application was successful and the unit was delivered and installed in just two days. I have rarely known building work go so smoothly.

The only problem was the skip, full of bits of metal, excavated playground asphalt, piping and plastic left over from the installation. Not to worry, said the workmen. They assured us it would be collected well before school on Thursday morning.

I should have known that things are never that simple. The skip was still in the playground when I arrived on Thursday. At 9.30am, secretary Sandra put through a hasty call to the installation company. Could they collect the skip immediately, she asked, because with children around there were health and safety concerns.

Ah, said the company, we are not actually responsible for the skip. We just carry out the installation. It's down to the council and the main contractor. They would have ordered the skip from a different firm.

Premises officer Scott noted the phone number on the side of the skip. "I'll phone and get it picked up before lunchtime," he said. "Meantime, I'll put chairs round it to stop the children going near it."

Chairs, however, weren't enough to deter Jason and Andrew. These two could unscrew the inscrutable. Put into Colditz, they would tunnel out within the hour. A skip full of interesting bits and pieces was too much to resist. Five minutes into playtime and Andrew was fashioning a robot from the sharp-edged scraps he had retrieved. Ten minutes into playtime, I received the news that Josie was lying in a corner of the playground with a huge bump on her forehead, caused by Jason throwing a lump of asphalt he had taken from the skip.

Oh dear, I thought. It would be Josie. Her parents, sitting at home all day with little to do, are the sort who complain at the slightest provocation. It gives their day a focus.

Fortunately, when I got to the playground Josie was running around unharmed. Jason had chased her, she said, but she had been pretending about the lump. I explained that it wasn't really a good thing to pretend about.

When I found Jason, he assured me that he had intended to conduct a scientific experiment and needed a piece of asphalt. And no, he hadn't realised the chairs around the skip were to stop people going near it.

At 11am, Scott came to my room, frowning. He had phoned the firm and there was a simple reason why the skip hadn't been collected: nobody had paid for it. What's more, if it wasn't paid for by 3pm they would come and retrieve it, but empty the contents on to the playground. If we wanted the rubbish removed, we had to pay for the skip hire.

More anxious phone calls. The skip firm blamed the installers, the installers blamed the contractors and the contractors blamed the local authority - until the skip firm checked its records again and found the payment had been made after all. It promised a lorry before lunchtime, which was fine except that I had to get everybody to move their cars so the lorry could negotiate the narrow entrance to the car park.

The only people sorry to see the skip go were Jason and Andrew. If it had still been there at hometime, I'm sure they would have happily emptied it and taken its entire contents home with them ...

Mike Kent is headteacher at Comber Grove Primary, Camberwell, south London. Email:

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