We governors have all been concerned about religious education this year, in view of the new Department for Education regulations. We believe that the children should appreciate and value religious and cultural traditions from round the world, and Diwali celebrations have been a highlight of this term.
In a school that prides itself on treating everyone equally, we find the concept of giving anyone special status, even if he does happen to be the Son of God, alien and disturbing. Except at Christmas, of course. Everyone deserves a bit of extra fuss on his birthday.
We did consider holding a meeting for parents to discuss our policy on RE and collective worship. But would they come? Someone suggested offering cheese and wine. Someone always suggests cheese and wine. The feeling of the meeting was that the parents wouldn't come to a meeting about religion even if we offered loaves and fishes.
They'll all come to the Nativity Play though. After all, tinsel stars and halos, and shepherds in dressing gowns and tea-towels, are part of our cultural heritage. Nothing has really changed since I was at school, except that in our curiously designed modern building with its circular hall, all performances take place in the round, and sound disappears upwards, like smoke in Saxon Hall. Indeed, from the outside the building has been taken for a crematorium.
On the evening of the performance, the children are relaxed and cheerful; the parents totally focused on their own offspring. I see one father reach from the audience to wipe the nose of a tiny angel. The staff are rigid with fear. They know that they have never had a perfect run-through, the stable looks wobbly since the donkey backed into it, the choir have all got colds and one of the three kings was sick on the back half of the camel at dress rehearsal. Anything could happen.
Whatever does, it will be recorded for posterity on half a dozen video cameras. These now are a feature of every school event. At Sports Day, the traditional cry of "On your marks, get set, go!" has been replaced by "Lights, cameras, action!" Children run not so much towards a tape as into a battery of camera crazy parents. It can only be a matter of time before dead heats are decided by studying the slow motion replay.
The Christmas show is an obvious cinematic highlight. One enterprising private nursery I know of banned parental filming, then sold the "official" video at Pounds 20 a copy. This policy is based on the rash assumption that parents want to watch the whole performance, rather than one that stars their own little angel, even if he was only cast as Fifth Sheep.
Attending school events is one of the joys of being a governor, especially when one's own children are past the primary stage. You can wallow in sentiment and nostalgia, free from the nagging fear that your own child is going to shed a wing at a crucial moment or forget her lines. Sorry, line.
We are ready to begin, A hush falls, and the First Narrator stands up. "Once, long ago, in a town called Bethlehem, there lived a lady called Mary and a man called Joseph."
The delighted four-year-old I have brought with me pipes up, loud and clear, "I know this story!" So do I, oh, so do I. But that will not stop me crying all the way through. With some people it's weddings, with me it's infants singing. Just avert that video camera, please.
Joan Dalton is a governor in the Midlands