All set for the annual Christmas panto

3rd December 2004 at 00:00
We are just going into what I call the silly season - the run up to Christmas - in primary school.

For a change, this year the C-word relates to Cinderella. Away back in June I thought it would be a very good idea to break with tradition. Instead of staging yet another adaptation of the Christmas story and risking going stark staring mad as a result, I decided that we should present two versions of the same pantomime on the same day. I forgot that it would coincide with the season of goodwill.

We are lucky to have a drama teacher visit for one morning a week and are immensely grateful for her input into production of a festive entertainment for parents. However, such intermittent contact with pupils does not help her become acquainted with their individual idiosyncrasies and makes her task of casting something of a challenge. As a result, we have one ugly sister "acting" hyperactively in the background whenever he is on stage and the other whose idea of a comic walk is to adopt the gait of a constipated chicken. Buttons is on his very last warning.

I ran the risk of upsetting teachers by arranging extra rehearsals and withdrawing pupils from lessons for a second time each week. "How can we get through our plans of work when so much time is taken up with drama and music?" Erm, Christmas usually comes around in term 2 ...

Then I had to face the annual wrath of the OAP Bowlers Group over my request for use of the hall for rehearsals and performances near the end of term, which would mean cancellation of a couple of bowling sessions.

Negotiation with Genghis Khan and his mongol hordes would have been easier.

There was an instant response from parents to our request for volunteers to make costumes. They volunteered grannies. I discovered that grannies work on things other than needlework, in full-time jobs to be precise. Getting any kind of coordinated group up and running which would operate with little direction from me proved rather difficult, as I could never find them at home at any time of day. How do they have the energy to go out in the evening when I can barely stay awake past Heather the Weather?

We remembered that we would have to obtain parents' permission to allow photographs and videos of the pantos. With any luck, the children who are kept at home by parents who would rather not have them caught on someone else's camera will be those we would have chosen ourselves, given the chance.

When it came to the choice of pupils' Christmas entertainment, we went for the democratic approach. A vote was duly arranged in each class through the Children's Committee and bookings were made. A few days later I became aware of a petition being circulated by a group of Primary 7 girls, who had changed their minds about the attractions of a mini-football tournament at a leisure centre. I drew on their working knowledge of National Priority Number 4, reminding them of the procedure leading to the decision, which reflected the values of the democratic society in which we live. I reminded parents in similar fashion when the complaints came in.

Primary 1 children are too young to go out of school for their entertainment, so teachers will arrange parties for them. At one time there would have been sandwiches and home-made goodies for them to take one bite out of and then discard, but the rules on food hygiene now forbid anything other than pre-wrapped, shop-bought fare. Since this greatly resembles the usual contents of their packed lunch boxes, it is not received with shouts of joy.

And so we will eventually arrive at the last day of the term and the staff night out. We will be bringing a party to a party this year, confident that the memory of sharing a venue with kilted police officers at the last such do has finally faded. I will do my best to unclench my jaw and to get into the festive spirit, but I suspect that the ho, ho, ho bit will kick in next day with the start of the Christmas holidays.

Joan Fenton is headteacher of Dyce Primary in AberdeenIf you have any comments, e-mail

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