Return of the Head Hunter

13th February 1998 at 00:00
I hope with a fervour that approaches ecstasy in prayer that there is no truth in the shrewd axiom that security declines as security machinery expands.

I am not hopeful. Apart from the fact that our security consciousness has been honed to levels that pre-Dunblane could never have been contemplated, never mind thought essential, its associated hardware post-Cullen has been slower to make its appearance, but it is on the way. We have been measured for controlled entry, cameras, palisade fencing, roller-shutter doors. This in an environment that until recently had an open door policy that was just about as open as they come. And they came. And still come, regardless of locked doors, bells, and a constantly vigilant Cerberus.

I would like to be optimistic and feel completely convinced that our children are 100 per cent secure from every invasion 100 per cent of the time, but I fear that is an aspiration rather than a fact. To paraphrase Cyril Connolly's comment on the declaration of war in 1939, that when it's closing time in the playgrounds of the East, anything can happen.

The locals can get through any security cordon, and by the locals I mean something other than irate parents or guardians. The four-legged ones in particular keep the city's environmental health employees busy setting traps invisible to man, but apparently not to beast, the best catch to date being a ferret. The most frequent visitor we are getting these days, though, is hard to see and harder to catch, and worst of all keeps coming back. Our old friend pediculosis humanus capitis is all the rage again.

If ever there is a Nobel Prize for the greatest larcenous mountebank in the animal kingdom, ped.hum.cap is a stick-out winner. Rarely has there been a piece of creation so colourless and feeble, that does not swim fly or jump, but wriggles slowly between hairs and spends a lot of time laying eggs, that has stolen peace of mind and mental equilibrium from so many, especially children.

Since the session started, I have had to send home the standard letters provided by the Greater Glasgow Health Board on several occasions, and this to a vast majority of parents who take considerable pride in, at great expense, in sending their children sparkling to school every day. Ped.hum.cap is no respecter of persons, and naturally questions are asked.

The gist of it is, "What happened to the heid wumman?", by whom is meant the school nurse, a prominent feature, sometimes fondly remembered, of a number of parents' early education.

Like so many other questions, I can only give the answer I know. The school nurse, known as the Head Hunter, with a gleam in her eye and a fistful of white cards, has been subsumed into the community, because the problem is now viewed as a community one, partly, probably mostly, as a result of the failures of head inspections to reduce the spread of head lice in communities. Education, education, education may be Tony's mantra, but sadly, head lice in my school haven't been able to get their mouth parts round the words yet and take them to heart, even be empowered by them, and die off. The health board takes the line that control comes from a community approach, particularly since overuse of insecticides can mean resistance, and provides an action plan for teachers in the shape of a tricky little flow chart.

Two of its components make me wriggle a bit. One is the suggestion that the school nurse will carry out health promotion with parents. I tried this in response to unrhetorical questions and 190 letters produced 20 parents. The second suggestion is for an authorisation card holder within the staff to organise an inspection. As Dipsy might say: "Oh, Oh." Literacy, numeracy, expressive arts, religious and moral, ES, PSD, PedHumCap? 5-14 head searching?

Parents I have consulted on this ticklish matter have few objections to the return of the head hunter, but there's a test for you. Did you scratch your head at all while you were reading this?

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