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Mike Kent column

'If you want all them balloons blown up,' advised one of their husbands, 'pass 'em over there. They've got enough hot air to fill a gasometer'

Celebrities and school aren't an ideal mix. Returning from a farm visit, Class 3 spotted a minor TV personality through the coach window. The following day their accounts of the trip contained little about the visit, but a great deal about living and loving in Coronation Street.

And when Year 6 took part in a children's TV programme, they returned to school so elated from hurling custard pies at each other their teachers spent days coaxing them into picking up a pencil.

Which is why I was in two minds recently when our local MP asked if Gordon Brown could visit and chat to the parents, hopefully fired by election fever, outside the school gate. I agreed, as we've been talking to the children about elections and how they work. And if I could get close enough to Gordon, I could ask him for a blank cheque to finish my school garden... Our MP asked if I'd mention the Chancellor's visit to parents, and since I was finishing a newsletter, I suggested I put it in that. "Good idea," she said. Within three minutes she was back on the phone saying it wasn't such a great idea after all. Half the neighbourhood might descend, and there would be all kinds of security problems. Then a call came from central office, asking for a resume of the school by email so that Gordon could be briefed before arriving. I hurriedly typed a short note, saying what an utterly wonderful school we are, but we wouldn't mind an extra fiver or so to finish the school garden.

Friday dawned, and by 8am photographers had commandeered the road outside the gates. Labour party aides arrived soon afterwards, several asking if they could pop into the school powder room. I agreed, warning them that our powder room might not meet the health and safety standards they were accustomed to at party headquarters. Then, as parents and children began to wander inquisitively towards the school gates, boxes of leaflets and stickers were unpacked, and bright red balloons distributed. My little group of "challenging" mothers, always ready to grumble about school, perched themselves on the low wall opposite, inspecting the scene suspiciously. "If you want all them balloons blown up," advised one of their husbands, nodding towards the group, "pass 'em over there. They've got enough hot air to fill a gasometer."

Children were arriving, asking what was going on and whether the Queen was coming. I told them about our visitor, and how he held the purse strings to the country's finances. "He'll talk to your mums," I said, "and he might even talk to you. So tell him about the school garden..." One of them spotted the stickers, and the kids quickly realised the aides weren't sure who'd been given one. By hiding stickers under their coats they could keep going back, saying they hadn't had one. Ten minutes later, Year 5 looked like walking sticker banks. Meanwhile, Mr Brown had arrived, and was already shaking hands with a growing crowd of people. I admired his conversational skill, and he was completely unfazed by one of our parents helpfully suggesting that Tony Blair was a fucking liar. It was time for the whistle, and the road show moved on. In assembly, I asked the children what questions he'd asked. "What's your best subject?" seemed the favourite. I trusted they'd all said "gardening". Only Tommy had a longer conversation, but then Tommy would. The main thrust consisted of Gordon pointing out very firmly that, no, the party worker standing alongside him wasn't his girlfriend.

Mike Kent is head of Comber Grove primary, London borough of Southwark.


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