Education: I protect my school like a broody hen. We're one happy family: You won't find them in the classroom, yet they play a big part in shaping a school's character. Sarah Strickland profiles the unsung heroes

Click to follow
The Independent Online
Terry Barraclough, caretaker at Eirias High School, Colwyn Bay, Clwyd.

I WAS in the services for 18 years, joined when I was 15, but I got fed up and felt sorry for my kids having to keep changing schools. So I came home to roost in North Wales. I fancied being a caretaker because it involves so many tasks, and I liked the caretaker when I was at school. When I saw this job advertised, I thought it was designed for me.

I was terrified of the place at first, by the size of it. I have a lot of sympathy for first-year students, I tell them I felt lost for three weeks. We have designed a treasure hunt for them to identify blocks and mark in where they think things are on maps of the school. But I like the school environment.

You're not able to plan your day, you have to respond to any situation that arises, from a burst pipe to someone being ill. I get up at 5am to walk the dog and I'm in school by 7am. Every morning I run up the Eirias flag (which I made myself) and salute it when nobody's looking, that's my first job. I adore flags, so does the head - it's one way of welcoming foreign visitors, if you can get hold of their flag.

I open up the school as early as I can, then there's maintenance work until mid-morning. I pride myself on being able to do any job except plastering. I've done everything from brickwork and repairing floor tiles to plumbing and mending windows. And I enjoy being involved with the maintenance budget.

I protect my school like a broody hen. We're a big, happy family. We don't have vandalism, just the odd accident with a football. We've had people looking around that should not really be here and even deterred an intruder. I arrested a man one weekend in my first year - I brought him to the office and rang the police. My guard dog wanted to lick him, but I convinced the man he was going to bite.

I know where everything is now, so the dog and I go round the school in the dark. When the girders shrink at night they make a terrific noise. Things you wouldn't hear by day sound like a horse and cart at night. I had more frightening experiences in the services, but I have been scared here.

The staff respect the times I'm off duty, but I respond to every emergency, and when a teacher is really desperate, I have opened up the school. I once locked a very conscientious teacher in during the holiday.

I like the kids very, very much. They are nice till the third or fourth year and then they go funny; but I never allow any disrespect or rudeness. At the end of every summer holiday I'm really looking forward to them coming back. Lots of them talk about different aspects of their lives or tell me their problems - nobody understands them, or they've fallen out with their boyfriend. Convincing them they are going to have 44 more is pretty hard.

If pupils don't come in with the right look on their faces, you can tell. That's why we don't get bullying here, everybody watches everyone. Sometimes I've promised I wouldn't say anything and I stick to that - there's no way I would divulge a secret unless I had to because it was a serious matter.

The kids call me Mr B, or Elvis - since the night four years ago when I was caught miming to Elvis Presley. I am a big Elvis fan and miming to records is something I've always done. If I feel a bit low I sing 'One night with you'. Revarnishing the gym floor makes you high anyway, so you come out feeling you are Elvis.

I used to mix a tape with loud applause, then get on stage and mime to it dressed in a boiler suit with all the sequins sewn on. I did it in the evenings when I thought nobody was around, but someone climbed up the fire escape and saw me; then the rumours started. Now I give one performance a year, but I get terribly nervous. I'm tone deaf so I mime everything, but I sometimes have a backing group of three school secretaries.

It helps my relationship with the kids. They scream and shout and I respond with a 'Hi there baby]' Nobody has ever been rude about it, every single one has taken it in good fun. My own kids were very embarrassed, though - it must have been awful for them. A lot of kids use Elvis for their GCSE music. I've even put books in the library about him.

Once a year I like to attack a project. I'm into DIY and have bought myself a little concrete mixer. I created a seated area outside, where the pupils can play or eat sandwiches in the sun - I did it in my own time, purely for love of the school. And I buried a time capsule in the concrete, with first-year form lists, a prospectus from 1902, cuttings about the school and a superb Elvis tape.

I have two ambitions - I'd like to create a huge wild pond where kids could do their biology lessons. And I'd like to have ramps into the hall for wheelchairs, so they could just roll in, as easily as you or I can; it's a shame when you have to carry people in. That would be a dream come true on a parallel with my pond. I'm confident one day it will happen.

To have a job you enjoy is absolutely fantastic and I'll strive to keep mine. It's not just a job, it's a way of life. The school grabs you, sucks you in. And I'd miss the kids, I'd find life strange without them.

(Photograph omitted)