The village school my children attend lies just a few minutes walk up the road from our house and is responsible for the education of about fifty children. There are two classrooms; one for the reception class and pupils in years one and two, and the other for the pupils in years three, four, five and six. At the moment I have Eldest Son in one class, Middle Son in the other and The Youngest attending one day a week, although that will all change come September when Eldest Son goes off to secondary school and The Youngest moves up to full time reception. The team of staff is made up in its entirety of a head-teacher, two classroom teachers, one classroom assistant, one cook, and a taxi driver whose main job it is to ferry some of the children to and from school, but who also doubles up as a dinner lady. She's a 'twofer' as my mother would say - twofer the price of one.
The school is very much the hub of the local community and always has a large part to play in the organisation of village activities such as the annual fete, the fun run, and the summer grass-cuts of the village church grounds in which all the parents get together to strim, rake, and then finally wheelbarrow great heaps of grass up steeply angled wooden boards and on to flat bed trucks while the children all run around shrieking and chucking the grass at each other. The P.T.A. is extremely well attended with the majority of mothers going regularly to meetings; indeed if you do not choose to get involved with the P.T.A. and by the same token do not then contribute towards the planning and running of community activities, it tends to be rather frowned upon. The more active mothers huff and sigh and whisper amongst themselves that if so and so can't be bothered to help the school raise a bit of bloody money then why should so and so's children be entitled to free school trips along with their children. What can I say... there's not much to do around here.
Now. There is a small but powerful clique at the centre of the school that has the classroom assistant at its head, her best friend the cook as her trusty sidekick, one of the fathers who is on the board of governors and who has fairly recently split with his partner (he now rents the house directly opposite her) as the third in command, and a few of the other parents as their loyal sniveling minions. They are all on extremely friendly terms with the teaching staff, including the head; in fact the father who is on the board of governors is actually having a relationship with one of the teachers whose class includes his youngest daughter. It's supposed to be a secret but it's a fairly open one really - subtle gestures of intimacy can often be seen passing between them when they think no-one's looking - and so in a nutshell I think it would probably be fair to say that the whole group is rather...um ....cosy.
Funny isn't it how one small group of people can have such a big effect on the wider community around them. One of the ripples cast in the village pond by this particular groups social brick is that of a real change in the dynamics between the children at the school. The offspring of the cliques chosen few all socialise together regularly with their parents and so have very much picked up on the overblown sense of power and influence that their parents have. They shun the children whose parents are shunned by their parents and as a result, something of a two-tier social system has begun to emerge in the village. The strange thing is that all the other parents are only too aware of what is going on. The classroom assistant (who it is quietly felt has far too much clout when it comes to the running of the school) is not well liked despite her position at the top of the tree. She is seen to be something of a bully and a gossip, the sort of person who paints themselves with a superficial coating of sugary friendliness but who is actually rather mean spirited and judgemental, very much focused on their own agenda and concerned mainly with the retention of power at all costs - a bit like David Cameron.
I used to be very much involved with the P.T.A. when Mr S was still living with us and The Youngest had not yet been born. I did the lucky dip every year at the school fete and we would always go as a family to the grass cuts. But these days not so much. The Youngest is too small to be left to roam and play unsupervised at community events while I am busy, and I do not have a partner or any extended family living nearby to help supervise her. Besides I find the group dynamics these days deeply unpleasant - any comments or suggestions made in meetings by anyone outside of the inner circle tend only to be dismissed out of hand anyway - so I've backed off from it all a bit with a view to perhaps becoming more involved again once my daughter is a little older.
Now I know full well that the clique despise me (they barely acknowledge my existence most of the time, often to the point of downright rudeness) firstly for what they probably see as my lack of contribution to the school but also because I just don't fit in with them - never have and never will. They are uber parents and uber villagers, and I'm a bit messy and a bit disorganised and a bit, well.... slummy. I'm not overly concerned by their chilly shoulders, I don't think much of them either and there are plenty of people around that I do like. My main social circle is outside of the village anyway and I find that I much prefer it that way - that it prevents village life from becoming too claustrophobic - however I do know that their superior attitude and air of exclusivity, not to mention their disproportionate degree of influence as to how the school is run, does upset some of the other mums very much and so I was wondering...
Does this happen at every school? Is it inevitable that there will always be some sort of a hierarchy amongst parents? Or is it simply that the community here is small and a little incestuous? I would love to hear about other peoples experiences of school gate politics - what say you?