Assaulted in the library - by a lunch box

Roger Pope

Fear is stalking the Kingsbridge corridors. Normally open and friendly staff are watching their backs. Tension is erupting in the most unlikely places and at the most embarrassing times. Last week, a PE teacher assaulted my secretary in full view of prospective parents during our open day. It was in the library, with a lunch box.

It's all the fault of Kelly, an innocent-looking young teacher who has introduced the game of "assassins". We each secretly picked out the name of a colleague whom we have to assassinate in a specified place using a specified weapon. You then inherit that person's intended victim, and so on, until there is only one person left.

I killed off Paul, my much-loved deputy, with a test-tube, in the boiler room, within minutes of the game starting. Staff are now luring victims to rooms by bribing the administrator to issue a false cover rota. Any day soon, I'm expecting the whole school to seize up because people will refuse to meet anyone anywhere.

Of course, we are all loving it. Ofsted would not be amused to see a section headed "Assassination" in the school improvement plan, but high morale feeds the motivation you need for a high-performing school. Whether it's Indian head massage, the bookworm club or bacon butties on a Friday, we're always looking for ways to make work fun.

But there is the danger that free bacon butties become the opiate of the staffroom. The staff are all having a jolly good time, so I can stop worrying about cutting their workload and get back to vital jobs, such as writing the school self-evaluation form.

But then Derek knocked on my door. He's a newly qualified teacher who's been with us since September, and bravely wanted advice on how to cut down the 80 hours a week he is working before he self-destructs. Telling him to pull himself together and eat another bacon butty did not seem adequate.

Workforce remodelling might just as well mean free Botox and liposuction for all the effect it's had on cutting workload. We now employ more teaching assistants, invigilators, administrators, technicians and staff coffee-cup washers than we do teachers. The effect has not been to cut workload, because teaching is an infinite job - there is always more potential in a student, so there is always more to be done.

Teachers generate some of this work themselves, knowing that learning can always be made more exciting, that there is always a better resource on the web. Some of the work is driven by pressure for ever better results shouted by the Government, screeched by the school improvement partner, whispered by the head. "Don't you think an Easter revision class would be ever such a good idea?"

Workforce reform in our school means that teachers are doing better, more creative, more professional work; they are certainly not doing less. The impact has not been on teachers but on individual students, particularly the weak and dispossessed, who now rightly get far more support and attention than ever before.

So what is to be done for Derek and all the other teachers who crawl towards half-term after barely eight weeks' work? - 1,265 hours is helpful in limiting time in school, but useless when the time spent on preparation and marking is limitless. Some subjects need more marking than others, so contact time should vary. Some staff work much harder than others, so need greater rewards. These are sacred cows that need to be slaughtered by greater guns than mine. I'll stick to playing assassins.

Roger Pope, Principal, Kingsbridge Community College, Devon.

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