Smile please! That's pounds 23

The school photo used to be an annual event, eagerly anticipated by proud parents. No longer. A full set could reduce you to penury.
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The Independent Online
The old school photograph scam is in danger of plunging us into debt once again. For the second time this year, my kids have come home, book-bags bulging with cellophane covered packs, desperate to show me the results of the latest photo shoot.

"You are going to buy them, aren't you Mum?" my daughter asks, accusingly. What can I say, "No, I'm sending them back to be shredded"?

This time a variety of poses are on offer: single portraits, a family group, individual class photos, plus special class photos printed on tea towels... the possibilities are endless.

I wouldn't mind if they were good photos. But even my son, not usually known for his self-deprecation, will concede that he looks pretty gormless in his. Admittedly, it must be a tough job. Imagine trying to create a pleasing portrait of a sulky seven-year-old wearing a baked-bean encrusted uniform (why do they take photos after lunch?) and a toothless grin.

I am also partly to blame. If I'd been organised, my children would have been sent to school on "photograph day" looking smart and tidy. But on that day my kids were wearing their "reserve" sweatshirts featuring frayed cuffs and copious glue stains, and both happened to be in dire need of a haircut. So I'm hoping to get away with the group shot and a couple of tea towels - a snip at pounds 23.50.

I know that schools rely on this sort of small-scale money-raising activity to boost funds; and I know it is logical to arrange an autumn term photograph session in order to exploit the "perfect Christmas gift" angle to the full. But, with bumper packs of pictures coming home with increasing regularity, this photograph thing seems to be getting out of hand. I certainly don't recall my mother being offered such a comprehensive photographic record of my school career. It's because in those days, the "school photo" (singular) was sensibly arranged on an annual or even biennial basis.

I know we don't have to buy every photograph on offer, but it's difficult not to feel pressured by the school's selling strategy. If a photographer decides to take pictures of your children, without your consent, and then sends you unsolicited copies, on a sale or return basis, it should be quite easy to decline the offer to buy.

But school photographs are different because a) the prints arrive via the children (who have spent the journey home imagining their treasured photo, lovingly framed, in pride of place on the piano) b) buying the photos will earn commission for the school, and c) they are of your children. However awful they may be, it takes a hard-nosed mother to reject a set of photographs of her own child. Suddenly, saying "No" becomes less of an option.

When my eldest child first started school, the regular arrival of the school photo was something to look forward to. For a modest sum, I was able to buy a cute picture of my first-born, dressed in his smart uniform, plus a set of handy miniatures to foist upon friends and relatives. How could I resist the chance to build up a unique set of landmark snaps?

Quite easily, as it happens. I'm afraid that mounting costs, and the fact that the novelty of having a "school-aged child" is beginning to wear off, have together dented my enthusiasm for "the school photo".

The trouble is, at this time of year, every other child-related group to which we are currently affiliated is also engaged in an undignified pre-Christmas scramble to extract as much cash from me as possible. Books of raffle tickets to sell from cub scouts (for "sell" read "buy"), requests for tombola prizes, fundraising catalogues full of tacky gifts from playgroup... the list goes on.

Of course I wouldn't want to see the complete abolition of the school photo. After all, who can deny the sheer comic value of a classic "braces and bunches" shot, circa 1974?

It's just that there are too many, too often. And now that pre-school groups have cottoned on to the money-spinning potential of "the photo session", parents are being stung for cash even earlier than before.

A friend, who harbours a touching, Amish-like reverence for the photographic image, has recently been forced to fork out a fortune on pictures of her toddler. Although Jane had no initial objection to her daughter's photograph being taken, once the prints had been developed, she soon realised that she could not possibly allow them to be destroyed - "it would be like giving away a little bit of Molly".

If she maintains this level of sentimentality throughout her daughter's school career, she is going to have to invest in a pretty substantial display cabinet in order to accommodate her photographic collection. Alternatively, she could stuff them all at the back of a drawer like everyone else.