Five unusual questions asked by heads

Written by: Rebecca Oram | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

Dealing with ice creams, dive-bombing seagulls and romantic attention from parents – Rebecca Oram shares the more unexpected tasks of a school leader...

We know school leaders are facing a whole host of challenges every day – from juggling national policy changes and budget pressures to ensuring they keep staff wellbeing and morale high.

But what are the more unusual quandaries to face school leaders? You’ve probably had your fair share of peculiar tasks to undertake or problems to solve in your role. From the questions we have received over more than 10 years here at The Key we want to share some of the more unexpected queries school leaders have presented us with.

Can we serve pupils ice cream and lollies at lunchtime?

As the temperature rises, so does everyone’s craving for ice cream and ice lollies. It’s therefore unsurprising that this question has popped up over the years, but what are the rules regarding these summery treats? The School Food Plan explains that ice cream and lollies can be served as part of school lunch but must not contain any confectionery. This includes sweets, hundreds and thousands and chocolate among other things – which certainly means Fabs are off the menu!

Keep in mind that desserts containing at least 50 per cent fruit must be served at lunchtime two or more times each week. Outside of the lunch hour, only fruit-based desserts are allowed (some lollies may apply).

However, there are some exceptions to the rules – when food is provided at parties or celebrations, rewarding pupils’ for good behaviour, effort or achievement and for use in teaching food preparation, ice cream and ice lollies can be served, even if they do not meet the standards.

What can we do if a parent approaches a member of staff to go on a date?

Something you may have come across during your time as a school leader is relations between parents and staff. Usually if asked on a date by a parent, teachers can handle this on a personal level, but an Association of School and College Leaders’ representative advises that if relationships do occur, it’s best to develop a school policy to cover this situation.

It is suggested that the policy should define the appropriate boundaries of professional relationships between staff, parents and pupils to ensure that staff members uphold professional standards towards all members of the school community equally, and to protect staff members from accusations of favouritism.

Can a school hold Zumba classes for staff?

Looking for an interesting activity for a staff wellbeing day? The London School of Economics held one a few years ago and planned activities such as Tai Chi and Zumba for their staff. It’s important to conduct a risk assessment to include slips, trips and falls, general lack of awareness, fatigue/exhaustion and suitable clothing ahead of holding the activity.

In regards to classes for pupils, a thorough risk assessment should be carried out first. The Jack Hunt School in Peterborough, has a risk assessment for dance and though not specific to Zumba, it may still be a useful starting point, including risks to be aware of, such as incorrect warm up and unsuitable footwear and clothing (see

A representative at One Education told us that the school would be liable if a staff member runs a Zumba class on behalf of the school, for example as part of the physical education curriculum.

However, if the member of staff rents the school premises to operate his or her own Zumba class, the staff member will be liable as an independent provider.

How do we deal with seagulls?

While you might think dive-bombing seagulls is more of an issue in coastal school playgrounds, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) has acknowledged that gulls have become more frequent in urban areas too.

As a protected species, there a number of laws associated with controlling gulls. However, to deter them from paying your school a visit the RSPB suggests making nest sites inaccessible, preventing littering and securing bins.

If someone is attacked by a seagull or otherwise harmed by their presence on the school site, the school could be liable for damages, so, it is advised that a risk assessment is conducted and the local authority is contacted to provide advice and support in combatting the problem. For example, some local authorities may already have pest control services or prevention methods in place locally.

What do we need to consider when hiring a mechanical rodeo bull?

The season of school fetes and summer parties is upon us. If a mechanical rodeo bull is your chosen form of entertainment, what is there to think about?

It is probably a good idea to ensure that you’ve conducted a risk assessment. One entertainment supplier outlines the associated hazards and possible control measures.

For example, they recommend that to avoid the risk of choking, no food, drink or chewing gum can be allowed on or near the inflatable. Likewise, spectators aren’t permitted to lean over the inflatable at any time to avoid being struck by the bull or users.

While it is helpful to review examples of risks and possible safety measures, it’s suggested that the school carries out their assessment with their individual context in mind.

  • Rebecca Oram works for The Key, which has been providing expertise to schools for 10 years. It supports all members of the senior leadership team. For more information, visit


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