No Miss, that's not mine. Mine's got a little hole down the side here, under the arm, so that can't be mine." "Has it got your name in it?" "My mum's going to put it in when she washes it. If we find it, that is."
This routine is one rehearsed frequently at the end of the primary school teacher's day. It can be superseded on the irritation scale by detective work on one right plimsoll at the beginning of PE lessons, or searching the school field for a tiny teddy while its owner sobs loudly that she only got it yesterday. Forget the literacy and numeracy hours. What teachers need is a parents-and-children-learn-how-to-look-after-your-property-and-for-goodness- sake-put-names-in-everything hour.
The Great Sweatshirt Swap provides endless frustration. It often takes place at the end of a hot dinner hour and usually involves at last two hand-me-down garments previously belonging to children who left the school several years ago. "I can't find my sweatshirt." "Has it got your name in it?" "I don't know. My mum writ in it with a Biro but I think it washed off." "Right, everyone. Take off your sweatshirts, please, and I'll check everybody's names."
What a stimulating and educational activity. "There are six sweatshirts with no names at all. Please ask your mum or dad to put your name in tonight. Now let's see. Henry Plantagenet. He left this school five years ago. Who uses Henry's sweatshirt now? So the one you were wearing isn't yours?" "No, I must have lost mine then." "Has it got...etc etc?" "Well, it's got Elizabeth Tudor in it. She's my cousin. "Can anyone see the name Elizabeth Tudor in their sweatshirt?" "Oh no, I just remembered. The stiches came undone last time it was washed."
There are the various parental reactions to this problem: 1. "Oh well, I shall have to buy another one. That's the sixth this term. Perhaps I should put his name in it."2. "This school is a hotbed of criminality. You teachers should take more control. I'm not made of money." 3. The gut-wrenching one: "But I sewed her name in it as soon as she got it. Gran bought it for her 'cause I couldn't afford a new one, and she didn't want her to look different from the other kids. I don't know what I'm going to do. I don't know where I'll find the money to buy another."
Various ruses have been employed to solve the problem. At one school the children had to strip off and display every item of clothing to prove it had been named. They stood, frozen with cold and fear, as the headteacher inspected and shouted. But to no avail - within three weeks Lost Property was brimming once again.
So here's a suggestion: the introduction of the property hour - for parents. There would be attainment targets and SATs held at regular intervals. Teacher assessment would, of course, be ongoing and override any SATs results. Imagine it: "I can't find my coat." "Has it got...etc etc?" "No, my mum..." "Ah yes, I remember." Teacher's Very Private Thoughts:
"Your mum only got a level 1 in the SATs, didn't she? Target-setting required here, I think."
Bridget Brown is a supply teacher in Hertfordshire