Sunday, October 01, 2006

School in Crisis - days 3-5

On Wednesday morning, I noticed on my mobile that I had been left a voice mail the previous evening. I rang in and was stunned to hear that the school was going to remain closed until further notice. Despite the power being back on, the fire alarm remained unserviceable and the batteries had expired on it. The staff were uncomfortable with reopening the school without a fire alarm as they would have to set up fire wardens to patrol the building and it would increase the risk to the children. Karen was extremely unhappy with this and expressed the term "lightweight" several times. After all, every classroom has an exit directly to the outdoors, the fire evacuations happen very quickly and what was wrong with bells & whistles? That got me thinking to my primary in the 60s, I don't recall that having bells, they just used to use the playtime handbell for fire drills. (I once recall traipsing downstairs during a drill to find a chair at the bottom with the word "fire" on it and we all had to go up, across and down the other staircase).

So, Karen managed to organise two days holiday but both of us had meetings on for the Friday. They tried unsuccessfully to go swimming that day but during term time, baths are either closed for school children, or in the case of Wakefield Lightwaves- randomly closed anyway. They resolved that by a trip to Blackpool Sandcastle on the Thursday and they both came back bruised & scraped from the "MasterBlaster", a rather manic roller coaster in rubber rings.

On Thursday afternoon, Karen rang the school and talked to the Head who still didn't know the score abour Friday opening. A new alarm had been fitted but it was incompatible with the detectors so they were still on the case. Karen was very firm about this being very difficult for working parents, especially this time of year when they may be low on remaining holiday. Thursday evening, we rang the school ansafone to be informed that the school was still closed on Friday but for working parents it would be possible to bring their children in on the understanding that they would all be in one part of the school and... (the other Ts & Cs were not passed on as the message cut off abruptly. The school phone system is an odd beast- it answers the line and plays strange ringing noises to your for quite a while before it deigns to answer your call with a greeting. It is possibly something to do with fax detection but it is rather shite at it- most fax detectors do so in a few seconds and many can start to play an announcement whilst listening for fax beeps.

So, we took david in to school on Friday via the normal childcare. However it transpired that a number of parents were told they had to collect their children at lunch time and David told us that there were about 10 in the morning, 2 in the afternoon. We weren't contacted (or didn't appear to be). Could that be down to me being a Governor and Karen standing no nonsense?

He enjoyed himself playing Internet games most of the day and as we had packed him a lunch that morning in case the Kitchen was closed he was told he had to eat it even though other children were fed.

The school re-opened on Monday as normal and there was a very apologetic letter from the acting Head explaining the kerfuffle. There was a training day scheduled for the Friday and they decided to continue with it as it was a Morley Family of Schools joint event- if it had been internal to the school they would have had no hesitation in cancelling it. Of course, teachers are obliged to hold five non-contact days a year so it still would have gone ahead on another occasion.

What surprised us most of all about the whole debacle was that there didn't seem to be any obvious form of crisis management plans in place, either by the school or the local authority. It was also a classic creeping disaster where it always seemed to be close to being resolved and hours turned into days. If the place had burnt down then no doubt the council disaster recovery team dust down their Portakabin contact sheet, or maybe they don't...

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