Who cares for the caretakers?

11th July 2003 at 01:00
Seemingly no one ... but that could change with calls for a council to represent them. Emily Clark reports

SCHOOL caretakers declare that they are fed up with their lot - being patronised by teachers, threatened by pupils and stereotyped as smelly old men in boiler suits.

Their discontent has surfaced on a website launched a year ago to give site managers, as they are officially known, a forum to express concerns.

Caretakers poured out their woes, saying that they do not get the respect they deserve for a job that is often dangerous and lonely. And all for an average salary of pound;13,940 a year.

Harrowing stories have emerged - one caretaker told The TES that he had been attacked after school by pupils who threw stones at him.

Paul Cockerton, caretaker for 10 years at Filsham Valley school in St Leonards-on-Sea, East Sussex, says he has to mop up when teachers spill tea or meals on the floor. Once he was told to pick up a banana skin lying by a bin, which a teacher said was a safety hazard.

His concerns led him to set up the website a year ago. He said: "We do not get enough recognition, the perception of us needs to change. People think we are smelly boiler-suit-wearing old men with nicotine-stained fingers.

"The odd one or two teachers treat you like a personal slave."

Mr Cockerton, 55, sometimes works 70-hour weeks. He manages 16 cleaners and is responsible for security, building work and organising events.

The website's 100 registered users have discussed everything from dealing with ant plagues, seagull droppings and fire alarms during lightning storms to the behaviour of teachers and pupils.

Some website users have called for a council to be set up to represent the 40,000 caretakers nationwide.

A caretaker from Surrey was threatened at gunpoint by a dog-walker who refused to leave the premises.

Tony Tomlinson, 44, is on 24-hour call at Thames Road primary in Blackpool.

Recently, a murder took place outside his school. He said: "We have a good alarm system, closed-circuit television and safety guidelines, but it still feels very unsafe. We get big lads on the sports pitch every night who I would never tackle."

Working alone during the school holidays is a concern for Geoff Porter, 47, who lives on site at Weybourne community infant school in Farnham, Surrey.

"I could be lying unconscious on the hall floor for hours before anyone noticed," he said.

At a previous school pupils threw stones at him and threatened him after hours.

Mike Sweeney, chief executive of the British Institute of Cleaning Services (BICS), said: "Caretakers are largely under-valued and under-trained. We are aware of their plight, especially in cities where there is vandalism and arson."

The Department for Education and Skills provides no guidance for caretakers - that responsibility is left to the schools or local authorities which employ them.

Carol Davis, 60, a caretaker for 14 years at Bulphan primary, in Essex, who got an MBE this year, says: "I would like to interact more with other caretakers."

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