Some of our children are missing

31st July 2009 at 01:00

School camp is an end-of-summer term event that our older juniors eagerly anticipate, and this year they were off to an activity-filled three days at a Scout centre in Essex.

Because we've been organising these camping trips for years, the whole thing usually passes uneventfully. Perhaps I should have been a little suspicious when the coach arrived to pick up the children and the driver wouldn't let anybody on board because he was still owed 12 minutes of his break.

But after this initial hitch, off they went, had a marvellous time and were looking forward to returning on Friday afternoon, happy but worn out from all the excitement.

At two o'clock, Secretary Sandra came into the school hall, where I was rehearsing the summer musical. "We might have a problem," she said. "I've been ringing the coach firm since nine this morning to check they'll be on time, and there's no answer. And Kathy has rung to say the coach hasn't turned up. It was due over an hour ago."

I felt an icy hand grip my stomach. We hadn't used this firm before. What if they had gone bankrupt and simply abandoned their jobs? In two hours, the parents would be coming to collect their children.

I suggested Sandra try some other firms. There were plenty locally and some would have a spare coach, wouldn't they? No, unfortunately they hadn't.

What to do? I phoned the teacher in charge and said the best thing would be to leave the luggage at the camp and come back by train. We could have the luggage collected the following week, and getting the children home was my priority.

Five minutes later, the teacher was back on the phone; the camp refused to hold the luggage and the children would have to take it on the train. I was astonished. When I was a Scout, the idea was to be as helpful as possible to people.

Then I had an idea. One of my part-time teachers owned a van. I could travel with him and we could collect the luggage in that.

He agreed to come in, and I rushed home for my SatNav (even in the Scouts I invariably got maps upside down and ended up travelling backwards).

When I returned to school, parents were already gathering, and a number were grumbling, wondering why we hadn't phoned them to say the children would be late. How I love parents when there's a crisis!

Meanwhile, there had been developments. The coach had now arrived at the camp, well over two hours late. The driver had been stuck in traffic, but nobody had bothered to let us know.

Worse, after telephoning every hire firm in a 50-mile radius of the centre, one of the teachers had managed to secure two minibuses, which were now on their way to the camp at a cost of Pounds 600, charged to his credit card.

Although they hadn't gone very far when the coach arrived, the company refused to reimburse his card - until they realised they were dealing with a hot, tired and very angry teacher who'd been trying to contain 35 frustrated children on a narrow piece of ground at the pick-up point. Reluctantly, they agreed to reduce the charge to Pounds 150.

By 6.30pm the children were safely back at school. Most had been collected by their parents and one teacher remained to look after the stragglers.

I felt an intense sense of relief. It had all ended well - but a week can be such a long time in education.

See you in September. Meanwhile, have a great summer!

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

His book "The Rabbit's Laid An Egg, Miss!" is published by Trentham Books.

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