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The gripe before Christmas

Our Christmas concerts were wonderful. The children performed beautifully, and even the smallest children were perfectly behaved. I wish I could say the same for the parents. Every school in the land probably suffers some of the groups below. I wonder why we seem to suffer the lot.

First, there's the "heavy brigade". The chairs we put out are normally used for upper Juniors, but the average-sized parent manages pretty well for an hour. Unfortunately, the obesity factor rises each year and some of our mothers could now do with two chairs per buttock. As they plough through the rows to find a seat, they ruin my orderly lines. Worst of all, a few have invariably done a bit of Christmas shopping, so they stagger through the chair lanes complete with bags.

Then there's "The David Lean Set". A few years ago, these parents came in with massive video cameras on their shoulders and jostled for suitable filming positions. These days, the ubiquitous mobile phone, with its ability to shoot video as well as stills, seems to have taken over. You can guarantee half a dozen parents will stand up to film, blocking the view of other mums, as soon as their children walk on. There's no guarantee the footage will be much good, of course, and this year two parents immediately played back the sequence their child was in, to check it was OK. With the volume fully up. Incredible.

A classic group are "The Chattering Classes". Why do parents talk during concerts? And sit in the centre of the hall, making it impossible to wade in and tell them to be quiet? I administer a loud "Ssssh!" from the side of the stage, and most of the time it works, but there's always a persistent couple who start again almost immediately. God knows what they talk about, especially as they've had time to natter before the show. And you can guarantee a mobile phone will go off. Either the parent answers it and has a loud conversation, or they stagger through two rows of audience to have a loud conversation in the corridor.

One of our newest groups are "The Whoopers and Air Punchers". We are so conditioned by vacuous American game shows that parents seem unable to simply clap any more. They whoop. They watch the performance given by their child's class and then they clap and cheer. And whoop. They usually stand up to do this, and wave their hands in the air, or punch the air repeatedly as they whoop. I don't mind a bit of this at the end of the concert, but it's heavy going when there's whooping after every class item. And even worse when they sit down again and miss their seat.

And then there are those who treat it as "The Family Outing". We ask parents not to bring babies to the show, but they always do. Fine if they're asleep, but invariably they wake up in the middle of the show and demand to be fed, or entertained, or both. This entails mum scrabbling about in a bag to find a bottle or a rattling toy. This year, a breast was popped hurriedly into a hungry mouth, but at least the child slept for the rest of the show.

Finally, we have "The Afterthought Group". The tickets clearly state the time the show begins, but there's always half a dozen who amble along the corridor half an hour into the performance. Then they block the doorway, making it difficult to move classes in and out. Two parents this year turned up just as the show was finishing. Still, at least they helped stack the chairs and pick up the crisp packets, newspapers, sticky sweets and screwed up programmes. And one of 'em, bless her, put a fiver in the collecting tin.

Mike Kent is headteacher at Comber Grove Primary, Camberwell, South London. Email:

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