How to play with a full deck

The best school leaders are on duty all the time. At any hour of the day or night, the phone might ring and a voice will say, "Is that the 'ead? It's raining. Is there football tomorrow?"

Christmas, though, is particularly tricky, because it's just too easy to forget where your priorities lie.

Luckily, I can help you with this. Last year I was fortunate enough to lunch at Christmas with a veteran headteacher.

"You know," he said. "You may not believe me, but I used to forget about school on Christmas Day! But then I heard on the radio that song "The Deck of Cards", in which an American soldier explains to his sergeant how the pack is linked to his beliefs. The two - the deuce - suggests the Old and New Testaments, the three reminds him of the Holy Trinity, the Queen is the Virgin Mary and so on."

"Do not tell me," I exclaimed, "that you have devised a similar conceit with which to remember your headship responsibilities?"

My friend took up a fork with which to point at various items on the table, and proceeded: "When I see the roast potatoes, old friend, crisp, fresh and round, I think of my eager young NQTs, golden with youth on the surface, burgeoning with hot enthusiasm within.

"Then the apple sauce, to me, is the tangy perkiness of a group of Year Nine boys, ready to add a bit of extra bite to the blandness that surrounds them.

"And stuffing, redolent with sage and onion - wisdom and tears - represents both the good sense of my ever-faithful senior admin officer and the number of times she's brought me budget figures that have made me weep.

"When I see the gravy in its elegant boat, I think of my pension pot, quietly steaming into rich maturity, ready to pour forth a life-enhancing benison upon my sunset years.

"Brussels sprouts, are to me our national curriculum - barely palatable, and yet so essential to our inner health.

"And then, old friend, the turkey itself, in pride of place at the centre of all things, is to me a typical government education policy - nurtured at length in well-fed darkness until slapped triumphantly down, dry, impenetrable and stone dead, upon the table.

"So you see, my dear fellow, my Christmas dinner is my logbook, planning schedule and management information system all in one, and never again will I settle down to my seasonal repast with my duty shamefully forgotten."

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