Dress, pound;100. Limo, pound;300. Saying goodbye in style? Priceless

With Formal Evening Wear, Hire Cars And Lush Venues, School Leavers Have A Night To Remember. While Photographer Sam Friedrich And Students At Thornden School, Hampshire Capture Scenes From The Year Prom, Steven Hastings Reports

When School Proms First Found Their Way Across The Atlantic, Cynics Dismissed Them As End-Of-Term Discos By Another Name. But The School-Leavers' Send-Off Has Been Getting Glitzier By The Year. With Posh Frocks, Stretch Limos And Swanky Venues, Uk Proms Are Now The Real Deal.

Putting On A Prom Is Hard Work. "A Bit Like A Wedding" Says Lisa Welch, Head Of Year At Thornden School In Hampshire. But She Was Helped Out By A Student Committee, Eager For Thornden'S "Best Prom Ever".

Previous Venues Had Included A Boat In Southampton Harbour And A Swish Hotel. Not To Be Outdone, This Year'S Committee Plumped For A Suite At St Mary'S, Home Of Southampton Fc. "When I Arrived To Set Up, There Were Film Crews Everywhere," Says Ms Welch. "I Was Getting A Bit Excited. Then Someone Told Me The Southampton Chairman Had Just Resigned."

By The Time The Children Rolled Up, Tv Crews Had Been Replaced By Parent Paparazzi, Anxious To Capture Sons And Daughters Dressed To The Nines, Stepping Out Of Limos - Or In Some Cases "Monster Trucks" - And Walking The Red Carpet In Best Hollywood Fashion. "Everybody Looked Stunning," Sighs Ms Welch. "Even The Boys Had Spent Ages On Their Hair."

Arriving In Style Doesn'T Come Cheap. Limo Hire Starts At Around Pounds An Hour, Rising To Over Pounds For A "Prom Package". Even Split Between Half-A-Dozen Passengers, That'S A Hefty Bill. Hiring A "Tux" Or Dress Can Cost Upwards Of Pounds - Still Cheaper Than Buying. Then There'S Extras Like Hair, Nails, Fake Tans, Shoes And Jewellery, Perhaps Even Professional Photos To Show It All Off. All On Top Of The Cost Of The Ticket, Which In Thornden'S Case Is Pounds . A Total Bill Of Several Hundred Pounds Isn'T Unusual.

After The Grand Entrance, Pupils Help Themselves To Non-Alcoholic Punch And Admire The Results Of Ms Welch'S Meticulous Planning. Table Decorations, Banners, Giant Balloons, A Chocolate Fountain - Even A Cake Decorated With A Photograph Of The Entire Year Group. "I Drove Back From The Bakery Very Slowly," Says Ms Welch . "I Didn'T Dare Touch The Brakes In Case It Went Flying."

The Buffet Meets With Approval, And Then The Year s Head For The Dance Floor, Whilst Staff Linger Round The Chocolate Fountain. Ms Welch Is Relieved When The Dj Goes Down A Storm. "Absolutely Brilliant! He Got Everybody Dancing, And He Took The Mickey Out Of The Teachers, Which The Kids Loved."

It'S Hard For A Prom Boss To Relax, Even When It Becomes Clear That The Event Is Living Up To Expectations, Without Any Hint Of What Ms Welch Calls "Security Problems".

"I'D Made It Clear That Anyone Under The Influence Of Alcohol Wouldn'T Be Allowed In. The Prom Is So Important To Them, They Wouldn'T Risk Getting Turned Away. I Trusted Them - But You Still Worry. There May Have Been The Odd Party Afterwards, But That'S Beyond My Control!"

As The Evening Draws To A Close, Some Of The Pupils Are Tearful. "Children Are Sad That School Is Finishing - But The Prom Is Such A Nice Way To End Things. Pupils Could Come In To Sit Their Gcses, Then Just Drift Away. It'S Important To Get Them Together One Last Time, To Say Goodbye Properly."

So, Was It Thornden'S Best Prom Ever? "Colleagues Said It Was," Says Ms Welch. "And Lots Of Kids Said Thanks. They'D Clearly Had A Fantastic Time - Which Makes It All Worthwhile."

Staff Take Turns To Organise The Prom, So For Lisa Welch It'S Job Done. For Her Successor, The Work Has Already Begun, With Next Year'S Venue Booked.

"I'Ve Passed On The Folder And My Advice," Says Ms Welch. "Now, I'M Going To Take A Rest. I'M Due To Give Birth In The Next Few Weeks, But I Had To Get The Prom Out Of The Way First."

Year 'S Photo Story

10.30 am

Despite The Butterflies And The Hard-To-Contain Excitement, The Prom Committee Arrive At Southampton Fc To Decorate

5.30 pm

Alana Is Back Home To Begin Her Going-Out Routine. Will She Be Able To Do Justice To That Dress?

6.30 pm

The Rolls-Royce Awaits. Chris And Friends Have Time For A Quick Photo Opportunity Before Being Whisked Away


Nav, Jen And Crew Live It Up In The Back Of Their Hummer On The Way To The Prom


Ryan, Tom, Chris, Tom and Paul form a welcoming committee at the far end of the red carpet as the luxury cars arrive


As the last dance sounds Julia and Chris manage one more smile for the camera, before heading home with many memories of a never-to-be-forgotten night

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