Arnold's world;Opinion

24th April 1998 at 01:00
David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, describes parents' even-ings as "the most wasteful use of time devised". He obviously hasn't heard about Mr Mandelson's Dome, watched The National Lottery Big Ticket, used the World Wide Web - or been to a parents' evening. Mums and dads who hate the annual shindig at their child's school never bother to turn up. Those who do attend, do so because they love every moment of it.

There is that marvellous sense of anticipation as the school's central heating system clicks off and a preternatural chill descends on every classroom and corridor. The day's suspended accumulation of dust settles on the furniture. The photocopies of Our School Rules Blu-tacked to every peeling wall billow in the evening air that whistles through the broken window. The staff room disgorges its ragamuffin staff, their smiles fixed like bayonets as they shuffle towards their appointed desks, where the queues, already long, are impatiently waiting for them.

Teachers who regard the event as a ghastly ordeal should try to see it from the point of view of the queuers. They will grizzle about the school choosing such an inconvenient time but, in reality, they welcome the opportunity to escape from their usual twilight rut. For stay-at-home mums, it occupies those grisly hours normally reserved for the alphabeti-spaghetti, Home amp; Away and incomprehensible explanations from loved ones of how they've managed to return from school wearing an odd pair of socks, neither of which is their own. The workers of the world have even more to gain by answering the summons. It offers them a perfectly legitimate - indeed wholly commendable - excuse to down tools and, as heroically as Bruce Kent, transform themselves, into Super Parent, before hightailing it to school.

And it is there that the real transformation happens. It is indisputably true that anyone - other than a teacher - who passes through school gates feels the miracle of the years falling away, the sudden need to chew gum insolently, to hang around on street corners, to set off fire alarms, to draw love-hearts on book covers, to snog, to smirk, to scowl, to smoke in the bogs, to be a teenager again. Teachers might think that the parents look po-faced. In fact, they are suppressing an overwhelming urge to giggle. The dads might seem lost for words - in reality, it is a glorious demonstration of the dumb insolence they never quite mastered as adolescents. The mums might be wearing too much make-up, too revealing a dress for so sober an occasion: they are, of course, challenging Sir or Miss to do something about it. These kids just wanna have fun. They want to do those things they longed to do through their long school days. Anything could happen.

Teachers should keep an eagle eye on the queuers, who, at any moment, could emit a collective raspberry, so exuberant as to melt the Blu-tac and bring the School Rules tumbling to the floor. Mums and dads, mischief coursing again through their hardening arteries, will clasp the nearest pair of hips and burst into raucous song. "We can do the conga, we can do the conga, da-da-da-daaaaa," they'll sing as the queues merge and weave their way to the exit. If Mr Hart is right in his assessment of parents' evenings, teachers should have no hesitation in joining that jubilant snake.

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