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Charity begins

Punch-ups and platitudes. It's parents' evening at St Brian's

The school hall is like Argos on a Saturday morning. Long queues, lots of shouting, the odd scuffle. A male voice rises above the others. "That's it, mate! Outside!" An irate man is nose to nose with John Baller, our blunt northerner of a maths teacher. John is rolling up his sleeves and beckoning the man with his hands. "Come on then - if you think you're hard enough!"

This is my second parents' evening at St Brian's and so far it's going to form, although no one has called the police - yet. Teachers like John Baller should be barred, because they haven't grasped the simple fact that parents' evening isn't about being honest, or putting minds at rest, or reaching out to the community. It's about survival. The truth is an optional luxury.

I try not to make eye contact with the turbulent multitude before me. As two women wrestle one another in front of my desk, Cherelle Carson's mum slinks in. She's squeezed into a tight blouse and jeans, has her hair piled up, and wears a month's-worth of make-up. She has a wolf motif on her nails and on her contact lenses. Mrs Carson almost looks younger than her 13-year-old daughter, who sits slumped next to her vivacious mum, silent and dowdy. I'm struggling to remember anything of significance about Cherelle when her mum spots that Jason the Kiwi is free and bolts for his desk, adjusting her cleavage as she goes. Cherelle rolls her eyes and follows obediently.

The next mother to emerge from the scrum sits down breathless and flushed, joined by a small, weedy-looking man with deeply lined skin. I am not surprised to discover that she spawned the Gunner twins, Gareth and Gavin; the Gunners are currently the subject of 15 local authority orders for anti-social behaviour. Mrs Gunner is sick of her sons being picked on.

She's come here tonight to sort out that snobby cow who teaches English, Mrs Hatch, and when she's dealt with her, she's going to "have" the acting head, Nigel Horsmel.

Dean's dad has the opposite philosophy. He would be very pleased if I could beat Dean whenever possible. I have his full permission. I look over at the class clown; he is cowering. I abandon the speech I had planned about Dean's lack of application and laziness, and replace it with a panegyric to my star pupil. Dean manages a weak smile of gratitude as he leaves.

The hall is clearing and the 13 Horseshoes beckons. I collect up my papers but a shrill voice stops me in my tracks. "Hey you, wait for us!" Jennifer Morrison's father is perplexed by his daughter's recent history assessment.

She's at least one if not two levels higher than the grade I've given. She did so well last year with Miss Crock, adds her mother. She doesn't like my teaching style, Mr Morrison continues. I don't make the subject interesting enough, I'm obviously inexperienced and I've got poor classroom control. He demands I alter the grade.

I cringe as I see Nigel Horsmel approaching. "Is there a problem Mr and Mrs Morrison?" St Brian's token middle-class parents run through my inadequacies once again and repeat their demand for their daughter's work to be upgraded. Horsmel turns to me and smiles. "I don't think we have a problem with that, do we, Miss Casement? After all, the customer is always right!"

Next week: Charity tries to get out more

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