Diary of a Primary School Mum: 'There's a law of the playground – for parents'

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The Independent Online

Mum's the word at my twins' primary school. It's like discovering a new species. "I'm not wearing any make-up today," whispered a fellow Reception-class mummy at 8.45am. "Can you tell?" "No," I shook my head vehemently, clamping a hand over my unbrushed teeth and shrinking into my pyjamas (hopefully) concealed by a baggy jumper.

It's nowhere to be found in my thesaurus, but "playground", it appears, is synonymous with "party". I know this because one morning, straight after dropping off Claire and Oliver at school, I nipped to the local shops to buy some plimsolls for their PE kits, and when I came back past the school half an hour later, gaggles of girls (grown-up ones) were still there having a good gossip. It was like a scene from The Stepford Wives.

Recipes, loft extensions, garden landscaping – all manner of innocent information was passing hands, but don't be fooled. I have it on good authority (my best friend is a primary school teacher) that this school tops the league tables not just because of the excellent teaching staff, but because of this bunch of mummy movers and shakers.

Big class sizes, and the bearing that might have on their children's progress, have encouraged these women to offer themselves up as unqualified educators. Giving their time for free, they're acting as teaching assistants' assistants, helping to advance pupils in their reading and writing skills from Reception through to Year 6.

Moreover, they keep such close tabs on everything that's happening at the school that, according to my best friend, the staff are more afraid of these mums than of the headmistress or even those dreaded league tables.

I salute them, but I do not join them, and my husband is surprised. "I'd imagine you being the pushiest of parents," he says. I am offended and give him the cold shoulder. True, I want the best for my children, but surely I couldn't be described as "pushy"?

Claire is finally settling in and enjoying "big" school as much as her twin, Oliver, but over the weekend a couple of gripes have been playing on her mind.

"Mummy," she says, as I kiss her goodnight on Sunday, "You know that picture I drew for Miss Perry?"

Miss Perry had asked, at the home visit, for the twins to draw a picture for their new classroom. Oliver hadn't bothered, but Claire had etched such an excellent portrayal of a playground complete with slides, swings, roundabouts, and the people on them, that I'd wondered if even Picasso had been this good aged four.

"Yes, darling?"

"Well," says Claire, "Miss Perry's put everyone else's picture up but not mine. Will you ask her, tomorrow, to put it up?"

"Yes," I promise. "Now, go to sleep."

Ten minutes later Claire calls out. Her brother is gently snoring.

"What is it?" I ask.

"We did this forest play-acting thing and Oliver was picked to play the prince, but Leila was his princess. Will you tell Miss Perry that next time I would like to be the princess?"

Miss Perry, I'm sure, is a very fair woman. I don't want to be the pushy parent that interferes, but when I say goodbye the next morning and Claire softly reminds me about the princess and the picture, I'm torn.

Claire is a gentle, sensitive soul who wouldn't normally speak out, so clearly these issues are bothering her. I ask which one is more important, and she tells me the picture. Miss Perry's busy, but I manage to have a word. And when I go to pick them up at 3.30pm, Claire's face is lit up with joy.

"Look, Mummy," she points at her playground, up on the wall in pride of place.

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