Vladislav says:'You are the headmaster of this school?' I agree that I am. 'Then why you have this little Mini?' he asks

1st November 2002 at 00:00
School life is full of little rituals. Each day I perform several. Come rain or shine, I wander into the playground for the last 15 minutes of dinner hour. I can help calm any troubled waters, but there's also pleasure and amusement to be had from watching and talking with children. Take yesterday, for instance.

Katie runs up. "You know that music you played in assembly? My dad likes John Williams too. I've got some CDs upstairs he said you could borrow. And there's another one he said you might like. It's byI " She thinks a moment. "Vague Williams." I explain that I love Vaughan Williams and I'll be playing his music in assembly too.

Vladislav, recently from the Ukraine, is looking thoughtfully at my car. "You are the headmaster of this school?" he says. I agree that I am. "Then why you have this little Mini?" he asks. "You should drive a big car, and the other teachers a small car." I promise to sort out the travelling hierarchy of my staff and he looks at me quizzically before wandering off to philosophise with other Year 6s.

Jamin tells me there's "rude writin'" in the toilet. I call Cedric and Tunji over. They're my toilet wall troubleshooters. They shoot off for the damp cloth and Cif bottle, knowing there's a free film club ticket if they can remove it before the whistle.

Kieran spots me and hurries over. Kieran is adopted. He was assaulted by his natural parent, and school hasn't been easy. He takes out the two conkers his dad has strung on shoelaces and gives me mine. A small crowd gathers. They cheer when I bash Kieran's conker.

Gladys asks if I'll watch her friends perform. They line up, adopting poses of the latest pop group to savage the charts. The girls sing of unrequited "lurve" and their bodies gyrate with the pain of it all. They get a round of applause and ask if I want to listen again. Diplomatically, I explain that I'd better check the other bits of the playground. A football bashes into my leg and Luke apologises profusely, which is rare. Had I been a child, there would have been a shot of vitriolic abuse and I would have been harangued for being in his way.

Selim is in the park area, studying nature. He has a microscope at home and he often stands for inordinately long periods staring at leaves and things. In class, where there isn't an abundance of leaves, he stares at the ceiling instead. He's found a black and white ladybird on a bush. This is unusual and interesting. He carefully puts a leaf in an empty crisp packet, and pops the ladybird inside. I don't fancy the ladybird's chances, but I could have a budding biologist here.

I ask Molly if she's taking her violin home for the weekend, but she says her mum wants a break. Her mum says even the budgie's bought ear plugs. Three girls run past shouting at me to stop Alan chasing them, but obviously loving every minute. Chasing girls is Alan's current pastime, but he's overweight and the exercise won't do him much harm.

The whistle blows, the footballers chant "We won!" and the children line up. No fights today, not even an argument. Probably because it's sunny and there isn't any wind. But just wait till the weather changes...

Mike Kent is headteacher at Comber Grove primary, London borough of Southwark. Email:mikejkent@aol.com

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