Safety warnings ring in my ears

27th May 2005 at 01:00

As the examination season draws to a close, the staff at Greenfield Academy prepare for the earliest ever start - next week, in fact - to a new academic year, another of Patricia Gibbon's initiatives.

Apparently, our head wants to give our putative fifth year the earliest possible start to their Intermediate and Higher studies. Alas, the selfsame group, having been denied the privilege of study leave this year, are unlikely to share her academic enthusiasm.

Such predictions were borne eloquent testimony when today's diet of history and modern studies Higher exams was disrupted by no fewer than three fire alarms, all initiated from the corridor leading to the fourth years'


Each time, the entire school was decanted to the playground; each time, the alarm was declared false; and each time, Mr Fairbrother's elderly team of exam invigilators looked tighter lipped than before as they prepared to add yet another addendum to their examination reports.

"Haven't we got their images on the CCTV?" I asked Richard Broadbent at lunchtime. "That's how we caught 'Mainstream' Michael Kerr doing the same thing last year, wasn't it?

"The criminal element likes to stay one step ahead, Morris," explained our depute head of the upper school. "There were three of them, we know that, but they all had baseball caps and back-to-front balaclavas for good measure, so they're impossible to identify.

"But I'd like to get my hands on the little bastards, that's for sure. And I will," he set his jaw forward. "Believe me, I will."

I'm not sure how he will manage it, to be honest, but it is true to say that Mr Broadbent has a habit of getting his own way.


We had two more fire alarms today, again originating in the fourth year corridor and again proving completely false.

The interruptions must have proved especially tiresome for our (two) Higher music candidates, whose concentration couldn't have been helped by the shrill cacophony of the bell. However, it has to be said that the early interruption of Standard grade science proved a blessing for Michael Dixon, who arrived just in time to join the entire candidature making its way out of the exam hall to the playground assembly points.

"Where the hell have you been, Dixon?" urged David McManus of biology. "I spend two years trying to prepare you for the only exam that you have the slightest chance of passing and you can't get here in time for it!"

"Wisny ma fault, surr," protested Michael. "Ma taxi frae the social nevurr came oan time."

Mr McManus raised his eyes heavenward and bit his lip. With some reason, I thought to myself.


Happily, we were free of fire alarms today, so perhaps Ms Gibbon's stern warning to the upper school has had some effect.

The absence of such disconcerting interruptions to the day meant that I could leave promptly in order to wave off Margaret on her Parkland Primary school trip, destined to be the highlight of her P4 year.

Unfortunately, it proved a sorry experience, the blame for which is being laid - most unfairly, I feel - at my door.

To explain, I was as excited as the next father when Gail and I lined up with the throng of parents to await the arrival of the luxury coach arranged for the four-day York trip. Margaret was huddled excitedly with a group of friends and screeched in delight as the bus turned into School Road.

Actually, "lurched" would be a better word than "turned", and I was slightly alarmed by the black smoke emanating from the rear as the driver crunched a gear in his attempts to stop the coach. Nobody else seemed too concerned, however, and soon the entire throng was caught up in the excitement of loading up suitcases and rucksacks.

My own attention, however, was directed away from the hysterical delights of loading 56 children on to the bus and towards the state of the coach's tyres, most of which seemed dangerously close to the legal tread limit and one of which appeared almost bald! I quietly inched towards the driver, who was idly smoking a cigarette while propping up a nearby lamppost.

Maybe it was his careless response - a shrug of the shoulders - or maybe I would have taken the next step anyway. But I felt that I had no choice.

"Mrs Clark," I whispered to the headteacher, who was also present to wave off the outing. "I'm afraid that I'm going to have to withdraw Margaret from this trip. And I'd strongly advise that you consider the safety of the children by advising other parents to do the same. Have you seen the state of those tyres?"

The transformation was instantaneous. One minute, she was a headteacher looking forward to a few days of relative peace and calm in the oasis of a partially empty school; the next, she was contemplating the awesome alternatives of a potential parental riot were she to act on my suggestion, and the horrific potential outcome if she didn't.

There was, of course, no choice to be made. But I do wish that she hadn't been quite so detailed in her acknowledgment of my role in the whole affair. I could understand the bus driver's anger, but it was difficult to handle the vitriolic wrath of more than one irate mother whose four-day respite had just been snatched from her grasp, and harder still to experience the hatred of 55 children plus the pained bewilderment of Margaret, by now ostracised by all of her erstwhile friends.

Gail hurried to collect her and her suitcase, then dashed to the car, throwing me a glance that suggested I could follow whenever I wanted and that I'd better have a good explanation ready for our daughter.

I walked slowly and calmly through the crowd and attempted to maintain the fullest dignity, even as I heard an unfortunate parental descriptor - "What a wanker", to be precise - lingering bitterly in the air behind me.

It remains true, alas, that a prophet is seldom honoured in his own country. Or even in his own daughter's school.


Happily, Cachray's Coaches managed to provide a replacement bus this morning, so the York trip went ahead at lunchtime. I decided not to attend the departure, but I was worried by Gail's telephone call that described Margaret's tear-stained face as she waved goodbye from the splendid isolation of her seat near the offside rear.

I determined, however, to put the matter from my mind and attempted, instead, the completion of my second year Assessment of Achievement profiles, a tedious collection of reportage which tells as little as possible to the parents while claiming to do the opposite.

It was certainly easier to do so in our alarm-free school, although I am worried about the means by which Mr Broadbent's aims have been achieved.

He explained to me, in complete confidence, that he has caught the boys responsible by setting up an alternative - and unadvertised - portable CCTV system in the boys' toilets, where three of the fourth year's finest were to be seen donning balaclavas prior to their attempted alarm-raising scheme yesterday morning. In fact, their attempt failed for the simple reason that Mr Broadbent had arranged with Mr Dallas, our chief janitor, to turn off the fire alarm during SQA examination times for the rest of this session.

Apart from the dubious interpretation that some observers might put upon the issue of cameras in the boys' toilets, I am horrified at the disregard for safety occasioned by this fire alarm business. However, I think that I've volunteered too many safety observations for one week and am determined to keep my opinions to myself this time around.


Mr Broadbent's chickens came home to roost today and with a flaming vengeance, so to speak.

There was no disturbance of fire alarms today, but there was a unique interruption to my third years' lesson on metaphorical imagery. A fireman clad in full uniform and yellow helmet (and brandishing a fearsome axe, to boot) come bursting through the door of room B15 yelling: "Get the hell out! Thurr's a fire in the class next door an yurr alarm's failed."

The third years and I needed no second bidding and departed forthwith, as firefighting reinforcements arrived in the corridor and other classes spilled into the playground.

It wasn't long before the (relatively minor) conflagration was extinguished, but I could see Mr Broadbent's collar growing hotter with every corresponding drop in the fire's temperature. He quietly took Mr Dallas aside to ensure that the reason for our fire alarm's tranquillity remained a secret shared by few. It was clearly going to cost him more than a few pints of beer.

On the plus side, at least our three candidates for Standard grade German didn't know about the excitement and got to finish the exam in peace, even if there was a tinge of acridity in the air.

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