Yellow sink ruined my blue skies day

18th April 2008 at 01:00
"Busy day ahead?" asks my wife, as I prepare to leave for work. "A big one," I announce proudly. I've organised a complete day on strategic planning, doing what every good-to-great school leader is supposed to do. Leave the small problems. Resist the urge to be out and about. Think vision: it's a big picture day.

My office desk is cleared, my diary free of appointments. My role is to reflect, to be a blue skies thinker.

I need to begin with my vision, explain the mission, articulate my aims, and state our values. Already it sounds like a Barack Obama speech. Then there are the self-evaluation forms to update, the priorities for the year ahead to list, the school development plan to write, along with the performance review documents.

Already exhausted, I move from green tea to coffee. The blue sky is turning grey.

Accidentally, I press a button on my computer and see 16 live views of the site. Video surveillance brings the school into my office like never before. As I watch, one of the toilets is visited by a suspicious-looking youth, followed by another. I go to the block and tell them to get back to class. I return to the blue skies base.

Halfway through the scribble that might become a priorities list, I'm asked to visit another boys' toilet. This is a smart, motorway service-level convenience with fittings that could be gold. It cost thousands. Rolled-up pellets of wet tissue stick to every surface. A handbasin is full of a yellow liquid that tells me the offender hates us, or missed out on potty training.

As the dedicated staff prepare to clear the mess, I decide to play Inspector Lewis and hunt the culprits, using the new digital system. We go through the video and find the first to exit at around the time the loo was reported vandalised. The screen shot is emailed to the sixth form centre and, within seconds, we have a name. TV detectives never achieve results this quickly.

Speeding through the recordings, we find the last students to go in, who confirm all was well. Then we have our vandals: three Year 11s who spent 15 minutes in there - the last to exit before our witness.

Now it's just the interviews, more in sorrow than in anger. "Bring them in," I say, in my best Lewis voice.

They can't explain why. Perhaps they really are just potty. Two caretakers have spent an hour restoring the room to normality. So the three miscreants agree to 12 hours' community service with the cleaners. Judgement passed, they are led away and parents informed.

The incident has taken most of the afternoon and wrecked my blue skies day. I look again at the scribbled priorities. I cross out personalised learning and curriculum innovation. Instead, I write in bold my first and only priority: extend security cameras to provide total site coverage. It may not be visionary, but forget the blue skies. I'm on a real mission now.

Ray Tarleton, Principal, South Dartmoor Community College.

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