Playground spy follows the clues

13th March 2009 at 00:00

At 3.15pm on every school day, I stand at the top of the staircase leading to the playground and say goodbye to each child. Behind me is a window, and I can look down and watch the children greet their parents, sometimes in an unexpected manner.

Sadie, for example, is a charming, well-behaved child in class, and I once watched her skip out of school and ask her mum for an ice cream. Her mother refused, whereupon Sadie gave her a violent kick in the shin.

On another occasion, I could hear Mrs Elton asking Andrew why he hadn't got his reading book. She asked him to fetch it, and he refused. She asked again, firmly. Andrew promptly sat down and refused to move.

Mrs Elton looked at him for a moment, and then sat beside him, saying they needed to discuss the matter. The fact that the playground was very wet from the heavy rain earlier in the afternoon didn't seem to bother either of them, but I couldn't help thinking they must have been exceedingly uncomfortable.

It's interesting to see how parents deal with petulance. Often, those who can't cope with the behaviour of their own children give class teachers the most grief. Defending a child's behaviour seems to be an attempt to gain respect, which can sometimes lead to odd conversations, such as the one I had with Charlie's mum. Charlie was difficult at home. Dad had left and mum was struggling. But, proud and defiant, she defended his every action. She also had trouble prising him out of bed. It was unusual to see him before 10.30am.

Exasperated, I wrote a letter explaining her legal obligation to get her son in by 9am. After school, she came striding down the corridor, brandishing my letter. "Are you aware,'" she roared, "that children who are late for school are more successful in later life?" I said I'd check her assertion, but meantime could she just stick to the law and get her son to school on time.

The incident involving Jamoy took some beating. His teacher had gone to the classroom at breaktime to fetch her handbag, and she found Jamoy's hand deep inside it. A Pounds 5 note was in his other hand. His mother was telephoned, and after school she appeared in my office. Jamoy, it seemed, was not guilty. The class teacher explained that she had actually caught Jamoy with his hand in her bag. "Well, my boy has just told me he didn't do it," she said. "And that's good enough for me." No doubt his mother will eventually tell the judge that her son only robbed the safe because he liked playing with combination numbers.

But sometimes my conversations with parents are delightfully Pinteresque. I run a table-tennis club for the older children after school on Fridays. Mrs Anderson asked me how her son Tom could get to play. I explained that I could take only eight children, so it was first come, first served, and I operated a rota - one week Year 6, the next Year 5. I explained that he needed to sign up on a Monday.

"So table tennis is on Mondays?"

"No, it's on Fridays. But children need to sign up on Mondays."

"So if he signs up next Monday, he can play?"

"No, because it's Year 6 next week."

"So Year 6 play on a Monday?"

"No, they play on Fridays."

"So what do they play on Mondays?"

Eventually, I thought I'd got through. Until I found Tom waiting in the hall after school on Wednesday.

"What time's table tennis?" he asked.

Mike Kent is headteacher of Comber Grove Primary in Camberwell, south London. Email:

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