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In all the best staffrooms in the inner city

They're not just being good, they're not even being excellent, they're being innovative as well.

Gemma Two weeks ago I was sharing with you the experience of guiding my ever-enthusiastic colleagues through the writing of my first department development plan. I'm sorry to take up two columns writing this, I really am, but the whole experience was so traumatic that I feel I need the extra words just to share its unmitigated horror. To make matters even worse, in January we were joined by two new staff. Lovely, bright-eyed, caring, sharing new colleagues they are too, which makes me all the more determined to try to give the impression that I'm in control and know what I'm doing.

Gemma text = One of my new colleagues has loads of new ICT suggestions which I try valiantly to understand, and the other gently points out that most of my new targets look exactly like last year's unmet ones. I've always been rather proud that I know how to phrase "write up our schemes of work" in 20 different soundbites. Damn these experienced teachers. Remind me to stick to taking on NQTs, regardless of what's best for the kids.

There's my mental health to consider here, too.

So this year, we're not just making up new targets based on good practice that I've read about in those handy bullet-point boxes in Friday magazine features. That's a shame, because I was really struck by the piece last year about the SEN department which got its own dog. I was wondering if my long-suffering line manager would accept "get an adorable cuddly King Charles spaniel of my very own" as a suitable SMART target. No, this year we have a new format, and we have to list ways that our practice is innovative. Apparently, it's not good enough just to have good practice any more. Good practice is old hat and, frankly, passe darling. In all the best staffrooms in the inner city, they're not just being good, they're not even being excellent, they're being innovative as well.

So we rack our brains, trying to think of ways that our work is innovative.

I wish I'd had that bloody dog idea first. That SEN department must have scored major points on the innovation scale. I bet they even have a whole load of impressive, dog-related targets. "Train dog to chew up DfES circulars" is a perfect case in point. What I wouldn't give to be able to say, "sorry, but the dog must have ate the memo you sent me".

What's depressing about the whole innovation thing is that my department is full of professionals who honestly couldn't work any harder. They couldn't care about our kids more, they couldn't stay any later, they couldn't fill in forms any better, they couldn't liaise with parents more sensitively, and they couldn't really humour me any better than they do already. But are we innovative? Are we really doing things differently to all the other good SEN departments in the country? How many new ways are there of doing what we already do well, but differently? I've always thought that "don't reinvent the wheel" is one of the first rules of stress-free teaching. It's not that we're against trying genuinely new, good ideas. It's just that there's a limited amount of room for the new stuff among all the other hard work that it takes just to get from A to B every day.

It's nationally agreed that we reserve pyrotechnics to one designated day each November. But in teaching now, we have to produce them every lesson.

For the first time in my career, I'm starting to feel long in the tooth.

"Don't worry, Gemma," said one of my sympathetic colleagues the other day, "it's a feeling that's going to last."

Gemma Warren is head of inclusion at a London secondary school. Email:

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