Bring back staffrooms where teachers learn 'the tricks of the trade'

New-build schools have led to the death of the staffroom and even dedicated classrooms, hears union AGM

Emma Seith

Why the death of the staffroom is bad news for pedagogy

Staffrooms, where teachers can chat and collaborate with each other informally, and where new teachers can learn “the tricks of the trade”, are fast disappearing from schools, secondary teachers have warned.

The collaboration of teachers in sharing ideas and professional dialogue is often seen as a key way to improve learning, teaching and pupil outcomes. But teachers have said that spaces to learn from each other in an informal way are gradually being eroded, thanks to “bright, shiny, new” buildings that do not include staffroom areas, or staffrooms being turned into classrooms due to rising rolls.

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In new schools, staffrooms are often replaced with smaller departmental staff bases, teachers have said, but even these “windowless boxes” are often “not fit for purpose” because they are too small.  

One teacher even said that dedicated classrooms were becoming a thing of the past.

The issue was raised at the Scottish Secondary Teachers’ Association (SSTA) annual congress in Crieff last week, where members unanimously backed a motion calling on local authorities “to ensure all schools have appropriate facilities (eg, staffrooms, staff bases, toilets etc) to support the wellbeing of teachers”.

Speaking at the SSTA congress, Andy Sinclair – a secondary teacher from Dundee – said that his own departmental staff base was not even in the same corridor.

Proposing the motion, Mr Sinclair said: “[New schools] have got staffrooms that can’t hold all the staff and that are so far away from the classrooms, you’ve not got time to get there and get back.

“There are not dedicated staff toilets in some schools – pupils are in there as well. And staff bases are often windowless boxes that can’t hold all the members of staff and are therefore not fit for purpose.

“My own staff base is not even in our corridor and until recently the phone was in there as well, so it was half a building away if you had to phone down for some sort of assistance. Teachers feel isolated enough without this lack of appropriate facilities.”

Paul Cochrane, a secondary teacher from Renfrewshire, seconded the motion, saying that he had been criticised during an inspection for not having pupils’ work on the walls of the classroom. But the classroom in which he was teaching his chemistry lesson was an English classroom, he said, adding: “We don’t even get classrooms now.”

Mr Cochrane – who said he had been teaching for more than 30 years – said it was common during the early days of his career to go to the staffroom if you did not have a class, but more recently, staffrooms had become seen by school leaders as “power bases that had to be destroyed”. However, he argued that staffrooms offered an “informal curriculum” and were “a great place to go where you learned the tricks of the trade”.

He concluded: “We need these facilities. We need that informal curriculum... If you really want to empower us, make sure we have got the facilities and the spaces in which we can do it.”

Writing for Tes Scotland earlier this year, the former education director, Isabelle Boyd, said the demise of longer lunchbreaks and proper staffrooms were among “the most significant differences” she had seen over the course of a 40-year career.

She suggested that there might be a correlation between the loss of the staffroom and the longer working day, and stress and poorer health and wellbeing among teachers. 

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