Diary of a Primary School Mum: 'Thumbs up for men – but down for school meals'

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The Independent Online

Claire's eyes are bloodshot, her cheeks are pale – she is visibly distressed. "She's been a little bit flustered," Miss Perry informs me at pick-up time, "but I think she's better now."

Was Claire shouted at, put on the naughty step, haunted by the bogey man? No, the school's annual pancake race spooked her out. My daughter plugs a thumb into each ear. "It was too noisy with everyone screaming 'lemon, lemon'. And I wanted to hold the saucepan to run with the pancake but I didn't get picked."

Ah, there's the rub! Not being picked is Claire's current bugbear and the phrase "it's not fair" gets more repeats than E4. Furthermore, Claire wanted to eat the pancake, and wasn't allowed: the perfect opportunity to rev the whole food debacle up a gear. As the twins get ready for proper school dinners after half term, the menu gets the thumbs down.

"On Monday it's lamb lasagne or cheesy pasta with leeks and green beans," I read out, "and on Tuesday it's chicken and special fried rice with broccoli." I thought the main courses sounded delicious, as did the apple pie and custard-type desserts, but the twins didn't see it this way. "I HATE lamb lasagne," said Claire. "And I don't like broccoli," Oliver added. "Well then," I said, making less effort than usual preparing their tuna sandwiches, "you're going to get very hungry."

Change gets to Claire. First the new school, then the new classroom and now the new lunches. "Will Miss Perry be there while we're eating at least?" she asked. "Maybe," I replied, "or perhaps it will be one of the other teachers." "Might Mr Pilkington be there?" asked Oliver.

I recognise very few staff members, but the reason Mr Pilkington rings a bell is that there are only two male teachers in the twins' school, a surprising statistic considering Reception has many more Josephs than Josephines.

"Is it normal for men to be such prized possessions in primary schools?" I ask my best friend who teaches in one. Despite my friend's exhaustion (her not-so-newborn is up with the larks), her tone speeds from comatose to caffeinated at the mention of the "m" word.

"Ooh," she squeals. This topic is clearly more appealing than even sleep. "Primary schools are crying out for men, but for some reason they just don't seem to want to work there. Whether it's because salaries and promotion are more restricted or simply that blokes feel out of their comfort zone working with the under-11s, you'll find that most heads are trying to redress this imbalance."

"But would kids even notice the difference?" She gawps at such ignorance. "Well, of course they would. Young boys sorely need good male role models and girls need role models of both genders."

I'm not so convinced. Oliver is a mummy's boy. Wouldn't he, given the choice, pick the fairer sex? When I ask if he'd like Mr Pilkington as his form teacher in Year One, his affirmative response is unexpected. "But you love Miss Perry," I say. "I know," he says, "but I'm a boy and he's a boy and it would be nice."

Claire loves Miss Perry even more than her brother does – surely she would always want a woman at the helm? "Would you like Mr Pilkington to be your teacher in September?" I ask. "Ooh yes," she says. "It would be wonderful." Another surprise answer! "Why do you want him so much?" She casts her five-year-old gaze upwards and sighs, "because he's sooooo handsome."