Wednesday, 13 February 2013

A Child, Absent.

At 10.30am today my heart stopped.

It stopped for a beat before racing on, out of kilter and aching. The reason? An automated text and automated phone-call (almost simultaneously) from The Academy where The Tween was supposed to be. Only trouble was, the automated text and the automated phone call informed us, she wasn't in school at all.

I'd waved her off at five to eight in the morning, as always. I'd checked she'd got her lunch-box and her bags, as always. I'd tucked her phone (in case of emergencies and switched off, of course) into the inside pocket of her blazer and told her to have a good day, as always. 

The last words I said to her were "I'll see you at tea-time" and then I assumed she walked, as she does every morning, the 100 yards to the next street and her best friend's house where she got a lift to school, as always.

So if she wasn't in school, where was she?

We rang the school. It clicked, like it always bloody does, to an automated answering system. 
"Press One if....," it began listing options. Nine of them.
We tried one option and got bounced to another automated system that asked us to leave a message. We hung up, rang again, tried another option with the same result. And again. And again. And ..... Eventually we got through to the finance department and a real live person. The real live person knew nothing or what to do, so tried to put us through to somebody who would know and, of course, we ended up listening to yet another automated voice asking us to leave yet another message.

While my husband left increasingly bad tempered messages on every department's answerphone in the school, I ran around the corner to see if The Tween had got mysteriously got lost on the 100 yard journey to her friend's home. She hadn't, of course. There's a groove in the pavement marking how many times she and her friend have walked between their home and ours.

It was now well after 11 o'clock. If The Tween was not in school, she had been missing for nearly three hours.

So we went to the Academy, driving slightly faster than is probably recommended in the flurry of snow that had started to fall. Twenty yards from the gates, the mobile rang. She IS in school, said a real person on the end of the line. She'd been in school all morning. Sorry, they said.

We went to the school anyway because an hour of our lives had been spent worrying and wondering and panicking, apparently needlessly, and we wanted to know why. We also wanted to know why it was so damn difficult to get someone, anyone, to answer a bloody phone.

It was all, of course, a silly misunderstanding. The register had been taken and The Tween marked absent because she'd been at the back of the class and spoken either too quietly or not at all. The register was then sent on an automated journey through the school system that noted in it's efficiently automated way that The Tween was marked absent and The Tween was not supposed to be absent. Wheels whirred, cogs ground and the automated messages were sent, well, automatically.

We didn't get a straight answer why The Academy, one of the largest schools in England with nearly 2,500 pupils, didn't answer the phone, unless you count the receptionist who just said they were busy but I'm sorry, that's not really excuse enough.

IF The Academy is going to send out automated messages requesting parents to ring to confirm whether their child is supposed to be in school or not, I suggest they get someone to answer that call when they do ring. 

I thought my 11 year old daughter was in school, because of a human error and a computer led system, the school thought she was not. BUT it took two hours for the automated contacts to reach us, another hour for us to find out where she was and for all that time nobody might have known where she was or what had happened to her. 

I sincerely hope that the next time an automated message is sent to some other parent who KNOWS their child left for school the same as they always do that she, or he, is also just a mis-mark on the register because I don't think "We're busy" will really cut it if they're not. 


And I'm NOT* going to mention that The Academy logo is "Students First" OR that the opening sentence on their website is: "The whole point of schools is that children come first and everything we do must reflect this single goal." ... Oh no, not me.


*I am

And breathes
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