Thank God it's Friday

17th April 1998 at 01:00
Monday The last day of the holidays. We buy pencil sharpeners, unearth PE kit from beneath the stairs and wonder what our new head will be like. It's a strange sensation, wondering about a new head. You spend months checking out schools, then a few terms later you hand your children over to someone whom you haven't checked out, whom you haven't even met, and who might turn your carefully chosen school into somewhere you would never have considered in the first place.

So what am I hoping for? For someone who will listen to my worries but close her ears to the "more homework" lobby. For someone who will be kind to my children but hard on the head-bangers. For someone open and friendly but guarded if I tell her anything in confidence. For someone energetic and full of new ideas but a careful planner and cautious about bandwagons. For an inspiring leader who doesn't make her staff, parents, or children, feel small.

The Archangel Gabriel would do nicely.

TuesdayFirst day back. Is she at the gate? No - but that's because child C forgot her lunchbox, child D had a tantrum, and everyone but us is in the classroom. What a giveaway: a Parent-Teacher Association chair who can't even organise her own family to get to school on time.

Back at afternoon picking-up time. That must be her, at the other end of the playground. What can you tell from someone's back? A light jacket. Slightly padded shoulders. Our last head, temporary for a term, power-dressed like a French navy Porsche. I think this one could be more of a family car.

Wednesday Our nine-year-old observes that the new head's first assembly was like all the others. "What's that like then?" I enquire. "A story with a moral" is the scornful reply.

These children can seem blase about heads: the latest is their third in three terms. But underneath, they are anxious. What are the new rules? How quickly can they prove yet again that they are likeable and not naughty, without being sycophantic or goody-goody?

I reach the school gates and see the new head. Should I introduce myself? Would it seem pushy? As a new chair I'm still struggling to demonstrate that I don't claim any special status, without turning into a shrinking violet. How do I prove that I am likeable and not awkward, without seeming sycophantic or goody-goody? Where have I heard that before?

I steer the children past her. She says hello to them and smiles at me. I smile back. I'll introduce myself tomorrow.

Thursday A breakfast bulletin from the five-year old. I know the head taught her class yesterday. But asking her what happened at school is like conversing with a clam. Now the clam's mouth opens. It is full of Shreddies.

"The new head is much nicer than my teacher," it says. "Why can't she teach us all the time?" I set off for school. The head is at the gate. She introduces herself. I introduce myself. It's all very friendly. Moving on to the classrooms I remember something I want to ask her. I turn round to call out. Then I go cold. What do I call her? The head before last used first names. I tried that on Mrs Porsche and was frozen out. What do I do? Swivel towards the classrooms and melt away.

Friday The phone rings; it's the head. "I just wanted to consult you about something," she says. My jaw drops so far she must surely hear it clatter on the kitchen table. I feel like a bashful teenager on her first day.

I suspect the words "I just wanted to consult you" don't figure big in the Archangel Gabriel's vocabulary, but I think I could get to like them.

Elizabeth Morris chairs a primary school Parent-Teacher Association

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