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Are you a roast potato - or a Brussels sprout?

A school is like your host's Christmas dinner next week. Unless it's an utter disaster it is a feast to be consumed with gratitude and not with a grading manual. Here's a guide to who's what on that plate:

The headteacher is, of course, the turkey in the middle, influencing the flavour of everything else. Generally speaking, the plumper the better. Julius Caesar wanted the men around him to be fat, but we and the pupils want Caesar himself to be carrying the extra pounds. Pupils respect bulk. It conveys authority, gravitas, and a conceivable crushing against an office wall if ever crossed. We hear reports of proud, deluded headteachers slimming down in the name of Healthy Schools. A terrible mistake. Their schools are almost certainly under special measures now, with the head under a "notice to inflate" order.

The deputy heads are the head's closest colleagues in the heat of the kitchen, the bacon and sausage. The pastoral deputy is perhaps the bacon, ideally streaked with warm textures, with a gnarled crunchy edge when needed. The curriculum deputy is the sausage, usually best when developed organically. Avoid those containing minced brain.

Maths teachers are our roast potatoes - a fundamental, core-curriculum feature of the meal. Though, sad to say, no one really notices them until they go wrong.

English teachers are the glasses of wine - slightly "above" everything else on the table. They are, however, a fragile presence at such a crowded meal. They are easily upset and we all soon hear about it.

Science teachers are the worthy but slightly outcast Brussels sprouts, living in a world of pungent aromas and the butt of many unkind jokes. Nonetheless, best not experienced on their own.

Ed Balls is not actually a part of the meal but a new guest at the table this year, having married into the family. A few anxious glances will be exchanged across the table upon hearing some of the new man's views - particularly his idea of a new "diploma" Christmas meal alongside the existing feast next year. Under his scheme different households in the street will offer different speciality courses, meaning that consumers will move around during the mealtime and choose what most suits them.

The PE staff are the bright, sprightly carrots, sometimes a touch overdone.

The art staff are the cranberry jelly - cool, flamboyant and well-preserved in their own self-contained world.

The technology staff are the less cool, less flamboyant bread sauce. They do what it says on the packet: It's sauce and it tastes of bread.

The language assistants are those mysterious parsnips - most people are not quite sure why they are there, though quite tasty in some people's opinion.

And we humanities teachers are naturally the pudding and rum sauce - the richest, most essential and most enjoyable part of the entire meal. Possibly.

Stephen Petty, Head of humanities at Lord Williams's School in Thame, Oxfordshire.

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