There's no such thing as a carefree lunch

25th January 2008 at 00:00
If you have worked in a school, then you will understand the grief that lunchtime can bring.

Supervising is such a nightmare. One Year 10 pupil has fled to the chip shop and you hope nothing goes wrong. But you can't police it.

We field complaints from a neighbour. She is unhappy with the litter outside the local chip shop that she claims has been left by the kids. Keep them on the premises is the intimation. If only we could. We run a school, not a prison.

There are so many issues here. Make quality school dinners that are interesting and hungry kids will stay to eat them. But if you try to compete with a popular chip shop by offering the same things, then you haven't a hope. Parents send letters saying that their child will go home at lunchtime. But they don't.

Of course, some parts of the community have an investment in the kids roaming free, spending their dinner money in the local shops. They are a very desirable market. They keep going back for more until someone stops them. They want the money, but not the kids.

We do our bit. We have teams collecting rubbish and, of course, outside the chip shop that makes a profit on the backs of our kids but doesn't actually empty their inadequate bins. And so litter does get blown around.

But this generation are more environmentally conscious than their elders. The careless ones are outnumbered by the litter police. The day before we had been in the local paper, receiving an environmental award for clearing an area of litter.

But one old lady isn't satisfied and so she goes to the press. On a slow news day it becomes a major issue.

They drag the old lady from her house full of cats into the front garden and get her to pose in front of some chip papers.

The fact that this old woman is barking and puts out food for the local rats doesn't matter. The fact that her son is a shifty local drug dealer is irrelevant. You can't protect yourself from this sort of journalism.

Parents are always threatening to go to the press. I have the telephone number of the paper on my wall and I always pass it on whenever we are threatened.

This story was just plain stupid. The reporter should have asked around. The woman is notorious, the litter was probably her own. But we are an easy target.

Never get caught up in a dispute that will make you look petty. Don't fall into the trap of trying to play the game. Respond to questions and emphasise the positive and then try to maintain a dignified silence.

There is little else that you can do.

Just take it on the chin and wait for the report to appear in one of those chip papers blowing around a mad woman's garden. It always does.

John Sutton is a pseudonym. He teaches in North Wales.

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