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On Tuesday, the alarm suddenly goes off....

...It's an incredibly piercing sound, worse than Year 3's first descant recorder lesson We have a shiny new fire alarm. I listen in awe as the electrician proudly explains the high-tech console, the red glass-panelled boxes screwed to the wall. It's a shame that so much of the children's work has had to be ripped off the walls to fit these boxes, but that's high tech for you. It worries me that the boxes are within the children's reach, and one is perilously close to the juniors' playground exit.

On Tuesday, the alarm suddenly goes off. It's an incredibly piercing soundI worse than Year 3's first descant recorder lesson. I come out of my room to find teachers in the corridor, their bodies vibrating. Then the noise stops as suddenly as it started. I hurry to the control console, where Dave, premises officer par excellence, has switched it off. Meanwhile, two teachers have discovered Mary (Year 4, special needs) standing sheepishly near a little red box with its glass broken. Her brother George is beside her. George is into high tech. He looks at me carefully. "Me sister dunnit," he says.

Next day, I'm running the lunchtime film club in a room full of infants. The fire alarm goes off. Teachers emerge from the staffroom, puzzled. A fire drill? Should they go outside? Should they fetch their registers? Aaron is discovered, his mates having grassed him up. Aaron didn't mean to do it; he just happened to be waving his arms around when he hit the funny little box. At the following day's assembly I explain the importance of treating the new alarm with respect. I read The Boy Who Cried Wolf, and the children listen intently; the message seems to have struck home. At 3.30pm, off it goes again. By now, the staff have almost come to expect it, and I have a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach.

The bell rings interminably. Dammit, Dave is at a premises officers'

meeting, so I open the control box myself. I stare at the flashing console, but it might as well be the flight deck of the Starship Enterprise. What did Dave say? Turn the key twice, pull the lever across, push a button. After five permutations, the noise stops. Meanwhile, a parent governor has cornered Andrew by the playground gate. Andrew left us last year. He swears he leant against the button by accident, with the innocent expression he'll no doubt use to tell the judge he was only borrowing the motor to do some shopping for his gran.

The following week, I call the electrician. Could he remove this particular box? There is a sharp intake of breath. Difficult, with this new high-tech system. It would mean some wiring adjustments and he'd need permission for that. And there's the expense. Could it just be put out of the children's reach? Another intake of breath. It could, but you've got the same wiring problem, and what if a child discovered a fire?

The alarm goes off again at 2.30pm the next day. I rush downstairs to find a quivering delivery man in the corridor. He tells me he was just unloading netball equipment and he smashed the glass accidentally and Jesus doesn't it make a racket. Later that day, when I eventually get home, my wife tells me that a neighbour a few houses away has been burgled again, and we really should think about getting an alarm. The nearest DIY superstore has one on special offer, and it's late-night opening tonight if I fancy popping up there.

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

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