21st July 2000 at 01:00
Frankie Searle watches the birdie

There were no mitigating circumstances. One in four parents returned their child's school photograph and it wasn't difficult to see why. Specs glinted, ties drooped, eyelids fluttered.

This year a new firm arrived - a feisty woman nearing retirement and her dizzy blonde assistant. Armed with light meters and silver umbrellas they assured us all would be well.

Soon after 8am the mums with pre-schoolers began filing in. The photographers coaxed smiles and mopped up Ready Brek emissions.

At 9am, a minor army began massing at the top end of the school - eldest siblings sweeping hallwards collecting brothers and sisters en route. The women rescued ties, smoothed hair and dampened squabbles.

Barely pausing for coffee, they launched into reception. Not yet having learnt self-consciousness, the littlies were a joy - happy to sit just as the wind had blown them in - until the women tidied them.

After lunch, the snappers were back on duty. Before tackling the baked bean-stained KS2s there were the activities groups to get through. The choir arrived resplendent in the gold lame robes from their recent Egyptian extravaganza. Careful shooting cut the dazzle to a shimmer.

The orchestra passed with barely the scrape of a violin and then the Year 6 boys' ootball team thundered in. They were in high spirits and keen to mess around long enough to avoid an impending spelling test.

Dizzy blonde removed the ball from the goalie, wiped the floor with the team captain and made some incisive comments on their pathetic performance this season. Before they knew it they'd been snapped and were out.

Years 3 and 4 passed without a hitch - then came Year 5. James, the attention-seeking scourge of his class, pulled faces, poked the children in front and kept up a stream of stupid comments. The older photographer hauled him out and dumped him behind a pile of gym mats while she attempted to restore order.

Years 5 and 6 had been snapped and the photographers half packed away before anyone realised James was still behind the mats.With 10 minutes before the end of school, the class was hastily re-assembled and James placed in the front row, within striking distance of his teacher.

The results arrived last week. KS1 have gap-toothed smiles, KS2 look great, and the football team even look like winners. And James? Beneath his teacher's glare the little sod is covertly holding a Pokemon card up to the lens. There are no mitigating circumstances; we just hope he can be digitally obliterated.

Frankie Searle works at a school in the West Midlands

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