Heads or tails: The problem of controlling the unpredictable
When children gazed into the large, luminous, sea-green eyes of The demon headmaster (Cross, 1982), they were immediately sleepy, then insensible and completely biddable. Seated in the school hall, they were read a litany of facts and ﬁgures which they could then regurgitate for any test. The school was orderly and safe, policed by a small number of sadistic, robotic Prefects. This subliminal pedagogy, stupefyingly cheap and effective, was of course a plot to rule the country. The head’s evil plan was foiled by a small group of children, some of whom were not amenable to hypnotism, and one of whom, despite being mesmerized, was able to work out what was going on. It was the head’s incapacity to conceive of this possibility that led to his demise on national television. While this imaginative tale of devilish educative efﬁciency is intended to
entertain children, real and aspiring headteachers may notice two things. The ﬁrst is that while hyper-control is something that many heads occasionally and secretly wish for, it is clearly a fantasy. The second, that no matter how good the plan or the head’s skills there are some things which just can’t be controlled and/or predicted, is absolutely the reality. This chapter concerns those things which appear on the local radar too late
to be headed off, and which are thus unexpected. It focuses on those things which could happen to anyone at any time, but generally don’t. These are things which occur in the public eye, and are the result of serendipity or bad luck, rather than anything else (see Box 6.1). They are serious crises or emergencies of one kind or another. The Quick Reference Handbook for School Leaders lists a number of types of
emergencies that might be faced by schools. These are:
Accident or ﬁre in the community Assault or suspected rape Bomb threat Building system or mechanical malfunction Chemical or other hazardous spill Death of a pupil or staff member at school or at home
Drug overdose, poisoning or allergic reaction Field trip incident Fire in the school Intruder or confrontational person Kidnapping, hostage situation, missing child or murder Large group disturbance or gang ﬁght Severe weather or earthquake Shooting or use of other weapon.