Diary of a Primary School Mum: 'The key to a good school? It starts with "p"...'

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The Independent Online

Gordon Brown, take note! The winning formula that could take British schools not only to the top of Europe's league tables, but could even conquer the world, is this: GT + GP squared = GS. Alas, GT does not stand for gin and tonic. It stands (no surprises here) for good teachers. The "p" word, though, is as pivotal to a school's success as eggs are to an omelette. P stands for "parents" and the recent annual general meeting at the twins' local primary made me realise the true import of their input.

Whilst the free booze blurred cognitive thought to a point, what remained crystal clear was that the hall was crammed with a bunch of dedicated parents who cared enormously about their children's education. Enough to give up their time, their expertise and, yes, some their money, to make the school the very best it can be. Excellent results are proof positive that it is combined staff-parent effort that gets the job done.

Money. Bet there's not a state school in the land that doesn't need a bit of extra cash and the twins' primary is no exception. It may have a spanking new playground, but the emphasis is on "ground" rather than "play". There's not a swing, not a climbing frame, nothing. Fundraising, voluntary contributions, they're all well and good, but without one big fat beneficiary it could be a lengthy wait.

A black cloud descended this week when Claire opened her reading book Animals at the Zoo. With text more repetitive than the happy birthday song on a loop, you'd imagine that by the 10th time my daughter met the word "look" she might actually get it right. "Lock?" she asked me, hopeful. "What" kept rhyming with rat, "said" kept coming out as "sad" and "don't" became the dreaded "d" word which she wanted to bypass.

For once, Oliver interrupting proceedings (normally a punishable offence) came as a welcome relief. "Mummy, do you know what the word 'jambo' means?" "No, darling, what does it mean?" "It means 'good morning' in Swahili," he informed me proudly.

Miss Perry is big on foreign tongues, so when Claire started to sing an unintelligible "See, see, ban ah hah, yak a seen oh les dos, ban ah hah", it was not unduly worrying. "What language is that?" I asked. "It's Thai," said Claire. "No, it's not," corrected Oliver. "It's Swahili." "No, it's not..." Bickering began in earnest and instead of dousing the argument I withdrew from it.

When I was a child I penned a letter to Buckingham Palace asking the Queen to knight my general practitioner father for services to the community. "He's a saint," I wrote, "and more deserving than anyone else in the country." Sadly, HRH did not agree and the correspondence ended with a bog-standard letter from a lady-in-waiting as opposed to my dad on bended knee. Perhaps, though, the golden touch had skipped a generation.

"Children," I clapped my hands Miss Perry-like to silence them, "do you want more toys in your playground?" "Yes," they chorused. "And do you know who the Prime Minister is?" "No." I explained that he was the man (also a daddy) in charge of the country and if they wanted toys in their playground they should go straight to the top. Armed with a pen and a piece of paper each, the dictation began:

"Deer Mr PM

Mummy says u r a nice man and good with money. We do not hav eny toys in our playground. Can u help? May b we can cum and discuss sum I deer with u.

Luv, Claire + Oliver, Age 5"