The first day of school. The last time all those pieces of uniform would be gathered together….
The modern school can be a minefield of parental etiquette. Are you only allowed to talk to the parents of children that your child knows? Where do these omniscient mothers, the ones who know everything that is happening at school BEFORE the letters come out, get their information? There are newsletters, and the office usually has some helpful staff or parental volunteers that can help you out if you have some queries. If your child is moving up from a nearby nursery or crèche, the chances are they’ll even be taken on a tour and you might receive some helpful paperwork to get you through the difficult time of transition.
However, God help you if you plan to pitch up at a school at any other point in the school year. For one thing, there will be no school uniforms available. Anywhere. None of the shops in the high street will be able to help you, and the only option will be to thrust your poor, self-conscious and half-paralysed child through the gates in only their shirt and trousers/skirt while you go to the office and negotiate with the parental volunteers to purchase a school jumper, fleece, PE shirt and ludicrous shorts. While you’re there, buy two more of everything. Because you’re in such a rush, you’ll hand over the jumper and PE kit to your child without marking them with your name, and you won’t remember to do it until the little moppet comes home on Friday in their shirt again and you realise they’ve lost everything you bought.*
My favourite new school experience came a few years ago. We arrived during the summer holidays, when naturally the school was as deserted as an agoraphobics open air rally. I questioned local mums about the school, hoping to pick up the vital information. Could we have some paperwork to tell us what we needed to know about…well, everything? Sadly, no. The school did have a Parent’s Handbook, but it was being re-written by the current Headmaster, who was only temporary, having taken over from the previous Headmaster when the school failed its Ofsted** report….What? Didn’t you know? I neither knew or cared, to be frank – this was the nearest school and the Moppet in question was attending even if the work was done on slates and the teachers carried guns for self-defence. I had a pleasant holiday, until the week before school was due to begin again and I realised I still knew nothing of importance, aside from where the wretched place was. What time did it begin? How were the kids to get there? (I knew the tiny car park was not for use by parents, thanks to the huge noticeboards at the entrance). Was there a canteen or did I have to provide food myself? Luckily for me, these questions were answered by a teacher who was passing the Reception phone on his way out for a smoke on the day before school started (A Tuesday, naturally, since the Monday was an inset day***). Thus we found ourselves crammed into the tiny atrium of Reception on the first day of school, fighting our way through chattering Mums, reunited after days apart, trying to buy uniform, bookbags, pay lunch bills in advance and find out if there was anywhere to leave our bikes. There wasn’t. In addition to this physical discomfort was the clear implication that I was somehow lacking as a parent – no, as a human being – for not knowing automatically what time school began, that there was hot food available for the children and that uniform was only sold through the office on Wednesday afternoons.
Remember, when moving house (along with the other thousand and one things you need to arrange), either contact every school in the neighbourhood to compile the necessary information, or brush up on your telepathy skills so you can draw the knowledge out of your neighbour’s living brain. It’ll be the easiest course of the two.
*In these times of financial hardship, it is perfectly acceptable behaviour to visit the Lost Property box and rummage through until you find a jumper the right size. If it is the same size as the one you lost, TAKE IT! If it has someone else’s name in and they haven’t claimed it, then what is the purpose of Lost Property? Once you get it home, cut out the offending label and sew in a nametag of your own. You’ve probably got a bunch of them left in the school uniform from the last school…Yes, you meant to hand them out to friends, but in the flurry of moving…We understand, really.
**Ofsted is a report in the UK on the successfulness of a school. The only purpose of this report is to drive up house prices around certain schools, and reduce parents to gibbering morons.
*** An Inset Day is the UK term for a Pro-D day. The purpose of a Pro-D or inset Day is to allow teachers some training time and to reduce parents to gibbering morons.