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Parental wolves in chic clothing

The wisdom of Henry Walpole

I RECENTLY read about a school where a set of secret reports on parents described them in less than glowing terms. One of the terms was "wally". What a mild 1980s-geography-teacher insult that is. Perhaps in Kent they are all still wearing white socks with slip-on shoes and trying to moonwalk. Or maybe they just can't spell "twat".

Writing reports on parents is an interesting idea. Excepting the majority of decent, normal parents, I'm sure we would all have plenty to say about those who seem to have regular slots booked on our calendars. These parents are divided into two distinct socio- economic groups. The first usually arrive with a screaming baby covered in Boden clothing and feel that their perusal of the Guardian's education section means they are qualified for headship and happy to give advice. The second group arrive with a screaming baby in a Burberry romper suit, huge hoop earrings and hair pulled into a pony tail so tight that their eyes are escaping to the side of their head. With this sort of parent, I usually spend the meeting working out if I can get a new job before the latest member of the Knuckles family arrives at school.

Sometimes you can get both types of parent in one day. In a brief stint as acting head of a school in special measures (don't ask it was a bad year), I had to spend an hour of my morning on the phone to a woman who insisted her child had to bring in a bottle of orange squash to school as she didn't like water. Unfortunately, she spent so long describing how her daughter's human rights were being violated that I never got to ask her if she would like me to provide alternative forms of other fundamental aspects of life such as oxygen and light.

The afternoon was spent in discussion with a woman who felt that the red traffic-light labels on supermarket food was meant as a recommendation rather than a warning, who stank of booze and couldn't understand why her son's repeatedly telling teachers to "fuck off" might be a reason for his exclusion. I realised that the iron bar the previous head had kept under the desk was less to do with self-protection and more to do with his possible need to end it all after another depressing circular conversation with possibly the most stupid person in the world. We parted on amicable terms with the office staff double-bolting the front doors as she left. Clearly, she was untouched by New Labour's Respect agenda. Her son was named Jak. And no, that's not a spelling mistake.

Either way, any teacher's report on the parents would say the same thing: "get a full-time job". The bulk of troublesome parents in primaries are mothers with too much time on their hands. Doing courses in making mosaics or organising the estate lynch mob against paedos isn't really classified as employment.

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