Father's day: A parent-helper's view

4th November 2005 at 00:00
Fire-eating and juggling is all good fun, but where's the job security, asks Michael Cook

As regular readers of this column will know (Hello, Mum), Class 6 are studying the circus. Until now, their work has been purely theoretical, but today they put it all into practice. Today, the circus workshop comes to school.

It does have limitations. Those busybodies at health and safety won't allow man-eating lions in school - not even trained ones. It is now also considered politically incorrect for children to gargle paraffin and spray jet-streams of flame across the hall. And infants may not juggle with knives.

So, as we file in, one class at a time, it's not wild-looking circus folk who greet us, but two sensible young women with matching T-shirts and a crate filled with kitemark-approved equipment: long streamery things with weights on the ends that we can twirl round our heads like rhythmic gymnasts and weighted clubs that look like bowling pins that are juggled with skill and precision in front of our very eyes. There are also tiny clown bikes that require you to cycle with your knees around your ears. And "Pedal-Go's", which look like bicycles too - only bicycles without handlebars, seats, crossbars or, seemingly, wheels - and which shoot across the room at amazing speeds once you've got the knack.

Our circus trainers demonstrate the safe way to twirl, throw, spin and ride, then it's our turn. And not only do the children take to the challenge with whoops of delight, but their attempts at plate-spinning are impressive. I don't really need to help. I just stand in the middle of the hall and have mini-bikes ridden into me, to avoid serious bloodshed.

After 30 minutes, everyone takes turns to put on a little show. This has all the thrills and spills of the big top, but with better central heating: kids pulling wheelies on the mini-bikes, or throwing and catching twirling batons with choreographed precision. By the end of the morning, every other child wants to be an acrobat or a juggler when they grow up. Which is, of course, a terrible idea. The circus profession in the 21st century is unlikely to be the economic driver of the nation. What we should be doing is extending the hands-on workshop idea to encourage that buzz and passion, but for proper jobs.

Why is there no accountancy workshop touring schools? We could have teams of professional number-crunchers juggling balance sheets and VAT returns.

Where's the retail management workshop? Where's the topic on IT communications solutions? It's all very well filling infant school with fun, passion and colour, you know, but in 30 years' time I want my pension, and I don't see how a bunch of fire-eaters is going to pay for it.

Michael Cook is a freelance copywriter and a parent-helper at Ernehale infants school, Arnold, Nottingham, which his children, Alfie and Poppy, attend

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