IN ROYAL circles, the middle classes are apparently identified by their use of the word "toilet" and their misconception that "Pardon?" is more polite than "What?". In school, you only have to look at the cars they drive.
Teachers discussing the class question in The TES online staffroom reckon that the car park has become a school version of Debrett's: an at-a-glance guide to position and class. First there are the old-style teachers, who read The Guardian, wear leather patches on their elbows and drive old bangers. One contributor harked back to the days when "teachers sneered at materialism and were happy to drive everywhere in their tatty old Renaults".
Then there are those who bring nouveau flashiness into this formerly middle-class preserve. One teacher said: "You can always tell when Ofsted are in, can't you? Just count the BMWs and Mercs on the school forecourt."
Others suggest that fast-track headteachers in suits also like to flaunt their status with a sports car.
But the gravest schoolyard sin is to display wealth that cannot be accounted for by status. One contributor moaned: "The best cars are driven by teaching assistants (on about pound;10,000 a year), because their husbands have proper jobs."
Another related how she bought a cheap, second-hand Jaguar, only to be told off by the deputy headteacher, who feared that the young upstart was usurping her status.
Many middle-class teachers, sitting in their Volvos, succumb to bitterness.
One contributor re-marked that a young colleague had just bought a Porsche.
This met with the speedy retort: "Bet she doesn't have a house. A Porsche, eh? How many bedrooms does it have?" Another added: "Fair few flash cars in my school car park. Bet they have the flashiest overdrafts, too."
But they can take comfort in the fact that even the youngest, flashiest teachers can always be outdone by someone younger and flashier. One teacher sighed: "The best cars in the car park belong to the sixth-formers."