Anybody fancy a quick drink?

7th March 1997 at 00:00
As a parent slumped exhaustedly over my late-night glass of vino, I have whimsical, gloomy, murderous or (less often) inspired thoughts. Teachers probably have the same experience.

Recently the notion has often crossed my mind: wouldn't it be interesting to invite this or that teacher at my child's school to share my bottle of vino? She or he seems like an OK person, who is on my wavelength; I would like to get to know them, to move beyond the artificiality of the statutory 10 minutes of parents' nights, present or future; and then make social and intellectual contact with the human being who is behind the starched, restrictive, professional label.

After several glasses, my tipsy imagination runs riot about teachers thinking in the same way. "What a fascinating woman this journalist is! What a refreshing relief an evening in her company would be!" In real life, an assortment of Parents From Hell probably flash before teachers' eyes until merciful sleep descends. In their turn, parents can contemplate teachers with whom a hillwalk or meal would be (or has been) the most bizarre punishment.

Seriously, however, these thoughts raise interesting and frustrating issues. Fleetingly, we parents meet people who spend more time with our children than anyone else but ourselves, or who take important decisions about their lives, or who work in the same environment. We seem to gaze across a barrier of pro- fessionalism and of history and wonder then if we are allowed to breach it. We shrink from picking up the phone or writing a note, when it feels the natural thing to do. Would it break protocol, undermine professional relationships, bring awkwardness and embarrassment?

I recall the same dilemma about a medical specialist I once consulted. Here's a woman, I thought afterwards, with whom I would really enjoy sharing a drink. On that occasion I dared to drop her an innocent invitation. The total non-response left me wondering if, ever after, she has lived in dread of this dangerous lunatic reappearing with a skin infection. Anyway, write in, any of you teachers who know what the protocol is, or who have shared my thoughts. It feels very strange, this barrier against normal human interaction, and I cannot think it is productive to anything.

I've also been chewing over the hackneyed subject of school uniform. Now, New Labour has been having second thoughts (as it has on every-thing) and soon it will have all our offspring in smart blazers, looking like Peter Mandelson clones. This subject will run and run. But Ihave two gripes. First, given the resistance of most secondary and many primary children, why do so few schools (with the blessing of parents eager for uniform) ask pupils to design items that they would actually wear?

This seems to me the most obvious and productive route. Yes, it might mean regular updates, given young people's quickfire changes in fashion. But that could be a price worth paying for widespread agreement, if we lowered our expectations realistically to a few items (like sweatshirts, scarves or whatever the pupils came up with themselves).

I think this is actually a fundamental issue about consulting children, about the underlying reluctance to do that, which remains in so many areas of life. Time we made a start.

Secondly, does anyone else share my anger and shame at the continuing demand of certain private schools that primary age boys wear short trousers? In l997 these ridiculous grey garments seem like a humiliation and a stigma - ripe for mockery or, worse, the glances of perverts whenever they take to the streets.

No other boys wear these things nowadays, not even five-year-olds. Have they not noticed? If so, what is the purpose of these excrescences? To build moral fibre in freezing weather? To mark them out from their privileged older brethren who are allowed to cover their knees? To ensure that everyone knows their parents have paid for their education? This practice is outdated, cruel and degrading, and it is high time parents refused to subject their children to such nonsense.

Sarah Nelson

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