Playground Politics

I read a piece in the Guardian today relating to a book centering on 5 mums and the politics of the school playground. The article  centered on the reality of the school playground during the school run, and what a treacherous it can be. That’s certainly my experience.

For starters, the school playground at school run time is a female dominated place. When I started taking Matthew to nursery, men in the playground were as rare as rain in the Atacama. It made for an intimidating place, and with so many cliques already formed, it didn’t take much to make me feel like a complete outsider. The mums in the playground were all in their little huddles, and I wondered if they were thinking, “what is a man doing here?” – despite changing times where many dads take a much more active role than may have  been the case in generations gone by. But I can count the number of people that spoke to  me in the playground during Matthew’s time on the fingers of, well, neither of my hands!

Parental playground cliques are powerful little things. Playground politics are a minefield to navigate. Anything out of the ordinary is viewed with almost suspicion. Its easy to imagine yourself being talked about. Jane has found it slightly easier – being a mum helps! – but even then, its a small circle of other mums that took more than two years to get into. There are a few mums that talk to Jane daily, and some of them even talk to me. Actually, when I think about it, I’m probably not that bothered. I’ve never found it particularly easy for form new casual friendships. As soon as the boys are dropped  off, I’m away from there as soon as possible.

But that’s not it entirely – not just the social interaction in the playground. The PSA (Parent/Staff Association) is a powerful body that admittedly does a huge amount of fundraising for the school. Still, too me its the biggest parent clique at the school. There are (surprise, surprise) mums involved that have been associated with the PSA for a number of years. I’ve no doubt they’ve got influence. Try being an outsider in a situation like that. I went along to a PSA meeting that was also a plea for Parent Council members. There were three men (me included) in a room full of women. Intimidating? You bet. Certainly intimidating enough to put you off having an opinion – or at least vocalising it. To be honest though, I don’t envy those on the PSA. They seem to have so much free time taken up with doing what they can for the school. But still, its easy to understand why in environments like that a small group of children will always seem to land major roles in school plays etc. Jane and I aren’t part if the big cliques at the school – we’ve got no time for playground politics – but I think that fact, and Matthew’s ASD will leave me unsurprised if he never is in a position to contribute to the school in a social sphere.

I did try getting involved in the Parent Council, but a couple of meetings convinced me I really was on the outside looking in. They who shout loudest are heard of course. I ultimately concluded that with Matthew and Daniel being our sole focus, it was time to ignore the politics, the cliques and concentrate on fighting their corner. But the article I read today certainly rung a bell!

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4 thoughts on “Playground Politics

  1. Great read Neil. As you know from our twitter chat this morning, I hate playground politics. I particularly hated how some parents at my childrens old school used the PTA as a way of getting privileges for their children (ie parts in school plays). The worst experience for me though was when my autistic son stopped attending school (he developed agoraphobia) and I suddenly found ourselves the subject of school gate gossip. It was pretty horrendous being confronted by nosy parents asking me what was wrong with my son. I ignored them of course but I hated this idle gossip; did they not have anything better to do? Deb

    • Matthew has been the victim of some regular bullying. When he snapped and finally belted his bully, guess who the finger was pointed at? I have no doubt we’re on the outside looking in.

      • J Wilson says:

        that is really annoying. and some children are also very clever as well at getting others into trouble.

  2. J Wilson says:

    Snap for our school !! Always better to steer clear ! The PTA can be a formidable force and those who have been in it for years put others off by not accepting new ideas. And if you are not in it then they can talk about you for not being in it ! Some schools have a three year maximum term for serving on the PTA which is a very good idea I would say – stop some particularly unfriendly people having power ! Ah well – just focus on your boys and hopefully they will enjoy school. We do have a good number of men at our school gate though – lots of people with shift work etc. And grandparents too. But we also have the “crufts dog pedigree variety clique !” – every shape and size of dog ! they are outside the gate but form a formidable group for any dog fearing child !!

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