It has been widely reported – by shrill journalists and cross parents who don’t seem to have read the letter from the head properly - that mums and dads at Kingswood Prep School in Bath have been ordered to invite the whole class to birthday parties.
Well, yes, if that had happened it would indeed be outrageous. So let’s take a look at what headteacher Mark Brearey – who seems a mild and reasonable sort of chap - actually said.
His letter asked parents not to send party invitations to school unless the whole class was being invited because it could seem divisive and unkind to children whose names are not on the guest list. Instead, stating clearly that he was NOT instructing them to ask more children, he asked parents to do the inviting less obviously and out of school via email, text or phone, pointing out that each parent is given the contact details of all other parents at the beginning of every term.
What on earth is wrong with that? Mr Brearey and his staff have obviously had problems with children bringing invitations to school and distributing them tactlessly – or perhaps even deliberately using them as a vehicle for a bit of low level bullying. Most of us have heard an angry child say in the heat of the moment “Well, I’m not inviting you to my party now” even if the birthday is six months ahead.
If there are twenty (this is a private school, after all) in a class you cannot expect most parents to invite every child in the group. Few children would want that anyway. Children make friends in their own way – just as adults do – and will be much closer to some classmates than others. Some they will want to invite and others they won’t. One just hopes that during the course of a year every child gets invited sometimes.
When my kids were the party age (thank goodness it’s quite a short stage of life) we always put a limit on numbers. So the birthday boy had to make choices if he was allowed only, say, ten guests. Surely this is how most moderate families behave?
On the other hand, Mr Brearey is absolutely right to encourage discretion to minimise that excluded feeling, although he should also be making it clear that no individual child can or should expect to be invited every time. He is teaching his pupils kindness and good manners and I hope he has talked about this to the children in assemblies and so on as well as writing home to parents. It’s an important lesson for everyone.
If I were parent of young children today with modern technology at our disposal, I would probably get the party giver himself (mine were both boys) to do the emailing or texting himself under supervision. Or maybe even to do it the old fashioned way and post the invitations home with a request that the RSVPs come back in the same way? That would be a good lesson too. After all these people all have each other’s contact details.
Meanwhile perhaps Mr Brearey should offer those parents some reading lessons. They are not setting much of an example to their own children if they can misunderstand such a straightforward and sensible request from their children’s headteacher. And where is their loyalty to the school they are choosing to pay fees to if they charge off to the press to shout about a letter from the headteacher rather than raising their concerns about its contents like rational adults?