Neighbours, but how to be good friends?

14th March 2003 at 00:00
Every evening as I switch on the television to watch the news, with a gin and tonic in hand, I get a fresh chance to hear the signature tune of Neighbours. Would you like to be a neighbour of a secondary school?

This winter's snow brought local relationships to a head at Kilsyth Academy. One lunchtime when I was supervising 350 children eating in our cafe, another group, whose lunch consisted of a bag of chips from the shop at the roundabout, decided to throw some snowballs at cars. They were joined, enthusiastically, in their fun by a group of older youths from the neighbourhood.

Naturally, the drivers were upset at being bombarded by snow and ice and, naturally, their first port of call was the school. Six angry adults queued up to ask me what I was going to do about it. None of the pupils could be identified because "they all look the same in school uniform" and by this time the lunch break was almost over and all these pupils had returned to school.

I contacted the police who agreed to send a car.

Another series of telephone calls from other neighbours followed. They were somewhat dissatisfied with my claim that there was little I could do without identification. One insisted he would sue the school for any damage he found to his car. Another was going to telephone the director of education.

My suggestion that they call the police was met with derision: "They won't do anything!" One of the cars hit belonged to our local councillor.

The following day there were further snowball incidents at the same location, despite warnings to pupils in advance. By the time my depute arrived on the scene, there were no guilty parties to be seen.

A telephone call in the early evening revealed that when some of our pupils got off a bus in one of the villages, they threw snowballs at a car. The caller expected me to be able to do something about it at that moment. He had no idea who the boys were but they were wearing school uniform.

Our six school buses pick up 400 pupils in a narrow residential street several hundred metres from the school. Neighbours park their cars in the street and it would appear that some do so in a deliberate attempt to make things difficult for the buses.

There is a narrow, sloping lane from the school gate to the street. Eight hundred feet trampling 2cm deep snow quickly compacts it. A few blinks of sunshine melt the surface. Low temperatures overnight convert this layer to ice. The logical thing to do is to grit this area.

The roads department claims the lane is not theirs. Our property maintenance people claim it is not on their list. Our school janitors carried 25kg bags of grit by hand from the school to the lane and did the best they could but still the result was that more than 30 children slipped and fell. Fortunately, none of the injuries was serious.

Some of the sensible pupils held on to a fence to descend the path and, of course, the fence broke. The next morning brought a telephone call from the owner of the property. "Do you know what your pupils have done now? They've broken my fence."

Last summer, a neighbour complained that boys playing football in the school grounds in the evening were allowing the ball to enter his garden.

The education department kindly erected a 3m high fence along the top of the dividing wall. The result was that another neighbour telephoned me because he did not like the new fence and wanted it removed. The education department kindly did this for his length of fence.

A small shop just outside our school grounds gets most of its business from our pupils. It serves such exciting things as Pot Noodle with an extra charge for the required hot water. In the evening its range is wider, including Buckfast.

As a neighbour the shop staff felt they should complain to me when one of "your pupils" had been cheeky in the shop. I suggested I would ban the girl from going in. After a moment's reflection our shopkeeper neighbour decided this would not be a good idea and sought alternative sanctions.

Maybe I should start actually watching Neighbours for some ideas of how to co-exist peacefully with our neighbours.

John Mitchell is headteacher of Kilsyth Academy, North LanarkshireIf you would like to comment on any of the views expressed, e-mail

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