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Spaghetti western

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Nothing starts the day, finds Keith Diffey, like an enraged parent looking for a showdown. Except, possibly, four of them.

I normally try not to complain about life - except today. I'd like to complain about parents who complain.

Take this morning. In the space of one hour four parents turned up - without appointments. They preferred to sit in reception and wait their turn.

First in was Mrs W. "Her Trace" got involved in an incident outside school a few days ago and ended up being threatened with a knife by a youth and an older woman - neither of these persons have any connection with the school.

Mum went to the scene and had a fight herself with one of the 'assailants'. A few of our girls did witness this and the whole affair must have been quite exciting.

This has nothing to do with the school of course except that some of the girls who inhabit this part of the estate are now slating each other in school.

Mum informs me that she intends to visit the infamous Mrs X tonight, the mother of one of the girls who, it seems, has taken sides with the 'assailant'. This is extremely ill-advised, in my view. Mrs X is a formidable woman and there is certain to be more fisticuffs.

Mum explained her moral stance thus: If someone gives you a dirty look then a physical response is perfectly justified. I am struggling to see the relevance of my skills as an educator in this but I do my best to calm matters.

The girls concerned, and indeed their mothers, engage in this kind of activity as a 'lifestyle choice'. They love it - until it goes wrong. Some time soon, I predict that I will be called upon to sort out the brooding volcano which will erupt on the local estate tonight.

I end the meeting with the certain knowledge that the tirade I have been subjected to is somehow all my fault.

Next please...

Mrs Y enters my office with a complaint about her daughter's food technology teacher. Apparently they were cooking spaghetti Bolognese and the teacher gave some of her daughter's mince to a couple of others who had no ingredients.

The spag bol was supposed to be for tea and mum was not at all pleased that so little had come home. To make matters worse her daughter had not cooked it properly so the remains were inedible.

Mrs Y presented me with the offending food in a plastic container (evidence, milord) and opened the lid. The smell was revolting and lingers in my office even now.

I gave Mrs Y 1.20 and she went away happy. I suspect that this is inappropriate use of school funds but I'm hoping that Ofsted, LA auditors and the countless other folk to whom I'm accountable will overlook it.

Next please...

Mrs Z does not really have a complaint...yet. The father of her son is a schedule 1 offender (ie, a risk to children) and she is terrified that he will snatch the boy from school or get to know where he lives. She leaves me in no doubt that if this were to happen I would surely be culpable.

I am actually aware of this fellow and he is certainly devious. She has good reason to be paranoid and I have much sympathy for her. She has the haunted look of a truly desperate woman so I do my best to reassure her.

Next please...

Parent number 4 is the aforesaid Mrs X - a ferocious woman who at least had the forethought to telephone the office to tell us that she was on her way.

I have had to write to Mrs X in the past, admonishing her for abusiveness to staff. Apparently she had already telephoned the local authority and some nitwit had told her that she could insist on seeing me.

I do not relish the prospect of an audience with Mrs X. I suspect that she has picked up from the local grapevine that Mrs W has already been in.

In addition to the substantive complaint that I am responsible for violence on the estate and the breakdown of civilisation generally, she will accuse me of discrimination against her and a bias in favour of Mrs W.

I confess, I bottled it. My secretary (bless her) contrived a very important meeting that would keep me tied up all day.

At home the same evening my wife asked me what my day had been like. "Oh it was fine dear - I've got no complaints."

Keith Diffey is a headteacher in Somerset.


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