In the ring with raging parents
Virtually all our parents are friendly, supportive and interested in their children's education. I chat to them every day as they bring their boys and girls to and from school, but since we are in a very challenging area, I always have to be prepared for the determined troublemaker, since aggression can explode at a moment's notice.
I discovered this during the steep learning curve of my first year of headship. On the opening night of our summer musical, we were less than 15 minutes into the action when I noticed a commotion on the other side of the hall. A mother had accused a woman in the next row of sleeping with her husband. She had obviously come with the intention of accosting the other woman, and was well oiled with lager.
In seconds, a scuffle had broken out. While the children valiantly carried on, the teacher who was nearest to the brawling pair bundled them into the corridor and down the stairs, receiving a knee in the groin for his trouble. On stage, my little actors hardly skipped a beat, but I wondered whether it might be worth breathalysing the audience before the next performance.
I'm always amazed at how involved some parents become in their offspring's petty squabbles. One Monday morning, Jasmine's mother followed the class into the corridor and pushed Andrea's mum forcibly, saying Andrea had stolen Jasmine's coloured pencils and she wanted them back, right now. Andrea's mum, no stranger to confrontation, snorted angrily in denial. The two parents began shoving each other, and minutes later they were tussling on the floor, at which point the cook strode out of the kitchen and threatened to pour cold water over them. By the time I got there, both parents were leaning sheepishly against the wall, breathing heavily and apologising profusely.
Serious arguments between parents are rare, but if they do happen it is usually in the playground, often when the weather is very hot. One July afternoon, just before hometime, a woman strode into the playground and accused a much smaller mother of shouting at her daughter. A row broke out, and what the smaller mother lacked in stature she made up for in strength. She ripped the large woman's blouse off, revealing her ample bosom to an astonished group of Year 6 boys as they were coming out of school.
Before long, the parents were surrounded by intrigued children, a premises officer who didn't dare part them, a dozen mothers trying to calm things down - and me. Fortunately, the larger woman's boyfriend suddenly drove up and she ran off to join him.
But the most spectacular incident of my headship to date occurred during an after-school meeting with social services and a family suffering horrendous problems. Five minutes into the meeting, the mother decided she had had enough and began shouting abuse. Shoving her chair backwards, she stormed into the corridor and kicked over a filing cabinet. At this point the father turned up. He began a pitched battle with the mother and her eldest son while my deputy phoned the police. Eventually they collapsed in a heap on the floor, staggering to their feet only to pick up my music stands to chase each other round the room with. I felt as if every serious parental incident in my career had been mere preparation for this one.
The police eventually turned up in the form of a very young, bespectacled constable. I'm glad he didn't meet the mother. She would have eaten him for breakfast.
Mike Kent's new book Tales From The Head's Room is published by Continuum, priced #163;14.95.