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Service with a snarl

A reception area is the gateway to a school, and first impressions count.

All those framed Investors in People certificates, vibrant displays and potted plants. And of course the receptionist: charming, neat, and attentive.

This week, I visited a local secondary school and marvelled at their arrangement of foreign language welcome signs. "Hello there, I've come to see the head of science," I explained, expecting to be offered a seat while I waited. Instead, I was given two minutes of disinterested chomping, ensuring the receptionist finished her flapjack, followed by a sort of scoffsneer, followed by a stroppy "So what do you expect me to do?"

Erm... help me? Find him? Do your job? I don't want to bad mouth the receptionist community - although the ones at my local doctor's surgery aren't called the The Rottweilers for nothing - just the grumpy ones.

Imagine flustering at a desk, trying to sign in with one of those awkward chained-up pens, while explaining that, although you have forgotten the name of the person you are visiting, you know it begins with a P. It makes such a difference to have someone calm and lovely come to your rescue.

I did eventually find my head of science, having taken it upon myself to sneak through the security door amid a group of latecomers wearing dubious versions of school uniform. I told him of my troubles with the receptionist from hell, and as it transpires, she's a lovely lady. So what about her momentary lapse of etiquette? "Oh, it's not you," explained Mr Science.

"She's a bit short-sighted - and you're wearing magenta. She probably thought you were a pupil."

Next week I shall be visiting the school again and, needless to say, I shall be wearing my most official looking, non-pink clothing. And if that doesn't work ... I'll make a badge that says "Ofsted"

Louisa Leaman is a London teacher

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