Beware Range Rover Mum
The primary school gate is a fascinating learning grid for any new teacher.
By watching the incoming traffic of mothers you can gain an insight into how their children might perform at school. Parents are increasingly encouraged to support their children's education. Indeed, much of the chatter in the staffroom tends to link dysfunctional students genetically with parents who can't cope or don't care.
In our competitive education marketplace, pole position is occupied by Range Rover Mum, a new breed with a disturbing influence. These mothers roar up to the school gates in their battle tanks, mounting the pavement and are clearly determined to give their children a head start. They know all the teachers in the school and can give you a better assessment of the good and the bad teachers than any Ofsted inspector.
They work as a team, often have organised an informal baby-sitting service as most have young children and so only their husbands work. They have access to past Sats exam papers and lose sleep if their children are not in the top three.
These women are relentless when it comes to taking their children to extra-curricula activities, usually ballet, gymnastics, piano and swimming.
Bringing up the rear is Welfare Mum or Two Jobs Mum whose child attends the same school. But she doesn't have a team who can support her.
Her biggest problem in engaging first gear is the child's father who provides little or no financial or social support. These men, described by a headteacher as "sugar daddies", arrive in the child's life every few months or so, bearing useless tools, while the mother has to deal with the day-to-day grind of raising the child - and possibly other siblings - and running the home.
Range Rover Mum does not need help. She sends a signal to other women that it is easy to keep all the wheels turning.
One enterprising headteacher in an impoverished east London school decided that he would bring his single mothers in and provide them with a full service. Since after dropping their children at school they spend hours talking at the gate, he suggested that instead they come into school and talk to him. This grew into an exciting group discussion, where mothers came with case studies about their lives and their children.
In time, it began to have a real impact on the standards and behaviour of the children in the school.
Dr Tony Sewell is an education consultant and a non-executive director of The Learning Trust, the body that runs schools in Hackney, east London