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Open evenings: get ready for the show

Forget the return of ‘Strictly’, says Hilary Goldsmith – the school open evening is where you’ll see real showmanship

The glitz and glamour of school open evenings is almost upon us, writes Hilary Goldsmith

Forget the return of ‘Strictly’, says Hilary Goldsmith – the school open evening is where you’ll see real showmanship

It’s September, the sun loungers are safely stowed in the spidery depths of the garden shed and there’s the first hint of autumn pumpkin in the air.

Suddenly, there’s a flash of sparkle in our peripheral vision, a fleeting glimpse of a limbered, home-bronzed calf, a sequinned heel, the ephemeral redolence of ylang ylang entwined with the scorched-heat tang of hair straighteners. 

Is it the new season of Strictly Come Dancing? Hell no, this is a far bigger production; this is the start of school open evening season.

And as the families of four- and 10-years-olds across the nation are whipped into a frenzy of expectation, already picking their initial favourites, adverts are appearing on the backs of buses, tied to bushes by school railings, strung up between trees on roundabouts and jostling for places alongside "man with a van" adverts in local papers.

Soon, parents will be busy wiping the fromage frais from the notices that made it home through the perilous school book-bag route, trying to decipher the times of the head’s speeches through an ooze of raspberry alluvium. 

Preparing for open evening

Meanwhile, in schools themselves, some difficult discussions are taking place.

Should we warn the neighbours about the parking carnage now and prepare for the onslaught of complaints in advance, or quietly say nothing and let our volunteer parking wardens take the flak on the night, as the visiting owners of four-wheel drives abandon their vehicles in the driveways and front gardens of local streets? 

Do we leave in place the buckets that collect the leaky roof water in the sports hall, and make them part of a creative display, or hope that it doesn’t rain on the night and show up the fact that we couldn’t afford to get the roof fixed this year? 

Should we really let the dazzlingly good-looking science NQT try the exploding jelly baby experiment and run the risk of setting the fire alarm off, or stick to the more tried and tested elephant toothpaste crowd-pleaser?  

Pride in your school community

And as the evening itself draws near, caretakers lock off the shabbier classrooms where the carpet tiles are beyond repair, bulk-buy plug-in air fresheners for the boys' toilets, and dig out the Brasso to polish the knobs and knockers of the school’s ancestral treasure box. 

The students best able to filter the shadier sides of school life are appointed "tour guides", and local dry cleaners buckle under the strain of hundreds of teacher interview suits arriving en masse, as staff prepare to show the world the very best they have to offer. 

The day arrives, and as you totter along the newly buffed corridors in your shined squeaky shoes, the sound of staple guns punctuate the hushed air, the price of black market Blu Tack skyrockets and anticipation builds, as display boards are unveiled and messy exercise books and dirty mugs are stashed in lockable cupboards. 

Exotic spices drift down from the canteen, but among the myriad of sensory top notes, you detect a different tonal scent emerging, and you realise it’s pride. The pride that your school community shares as it prepares to showcase its heart and soul. 

And as the band begin to play your theme tune, the curtain lifts, the cameras roll, you take a breath, you step out and you give them the dance of your life.

Hilary Goldsmith is director of finance and operations at a large secondary school and tweets at @sbl365 

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