My five (headaches) a day

21st October 2011 at 01:00

A few years ago, we sold biscuits at playtime. Then we became a healthy school and the first thing to go were the biscuits. I think the staff missed them more than the children.

A couple of custard creams and hot drinking chocolate make playground duty seem shorter. Around the same time, the government introduced its fruit for infants initiative, which I strongly welcomed, particularly as it linked with all we were doing on the healthy eating front.

Crates of fresh fruit arrived twice weekly and there would be a choice of bananas, tomatoes, apples, satsumas or crunchy pears. Chat to the children in assembly about the delights of fresh fruit, encourage them to eat a piece each day, and watch their faces become healthier daily as they savoured this treat. What could possibly go wrong?

Well, quite a lot actually. The first problem occurred when the middle-aged gentlemen delivering the boxes of fruit found lugging them up two flights of stairs hard work. I suggested he left the boxes in the bottom corridor for the premises officer to bring up when he had time. This was fine for a while, until I noticed a box of bananas had shrunk in the space of a few hours to a mere handful. I assumed the teachers had taken them into their classes, even though I'd asked for fruit to be collected from the office. Two days later, the same thing happened with a consignment of apples. Hovering discreetly at the end of a corridor one morning, I discovered it wasn't the teachers at all ... the parents were helping themselves as they delivered their offspring and then left the building.

This was simple to remedy. Since I knew when the fruit was delivered, I arranged a rota of Year 6 children to bring the boxes upstairs, where they were left in the area outside my room. But then the fruit starting disappearing again ...

Secretary Sandra had the boxes moved to a position where she could see them through her doorway and the disappearance became obvious. The dinner register monitors from the infant classes had been instructed to collect two fruit bags as they delivered their dinner registers to the office, but the youngest children seemed to have a problem with the concept of two. They were leaving the office area with several bags under each arm. Once again, the remedy was simple. Sandra put one bag into each hand of the monitor.

Then, when the novelty of the fruit wore off, we began to find it in all sorts of strange places. Three half-consumed pears on a toilet cistern. Two satsumas in a teacup on a window ledge.

Meantime, banana skins and satsuma peel were constantly dropped in the playground, which didn't endear the fruit initiative to premises officer Scott. Nevertheless, one had to admire the inventiveness of the naughty child who had slipped a couple of tomatoes under a toilet seat, presumably hoping to spray an unfortunate sitter with tomato seeds.

We solve one fruit problem, and another arises. Infants now eat their fruit, in class, just before playtime. Juniors are required to eat fruit in a designated area. Trouble is, many forget to rinse their hands afterwards, and I've suddenly discovered we're getting sticky flutes, clarinets and guitars when they've gone to practise their instruments straight afterwards.

I sometimes think we should revert to custard creams. Until I remember how many pigeons wandered into the corridors looking for crumbs ...

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

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