Conran asked to improve staff habitat

The nation's grimy staffrooms may be about to get the ultimate make-over with the aid of such prominent style gurus as Sir Terence Conran, founder of Habitat and now owner of a chain of exclusive restaurants.

Lord Puttnam, the film-maker and Government education adviser, has been moved by the awfulness of orange upholstery and matching carpet to draft plans for a national competition to design the perfect staffroom.

The project is in its early stages, but Lord Puttnam has hopes that the winning design will be constructed, possibly in an education action zone. So far, he has spoken to Sir Terence about the possibilities and he intends to make further approaches to the private sector.

Lord Puttnam, the man behind the national teacher Oscars, believes teachers put up with working conditions that would not be tolerated by other professionals.

At a London governors' conference last weekend, Lord Puttnam cited an anonymous teacher who, in last Friday's TES, said her office was a chair in the staffrooom and she did not have either a phone or a computer. His scheme, he said, was still "a half-formed notion", but the potential for improving the daily lot of teachers was great.

The accuracy of the dismal picture painted by the anonymous teacher was confirmed by Rowie Shaw, director of professional services at the National Association of Head Teachers.

According to Ms Shaw, staffrooms tend to be painted cream with furniture from the educational suppliers' catalogue (substantial discounts available for bulk orders).

"Usually there are insufficient chairs for everyone. There tends to be coffee tables with old copies of The TES and other education publications and dirty cups. Curtains are extremely grotty and there is a solitary computer in the corner," she said.

"The haunting memory that stays with me from the last school that I worked in is the overcoat that hung in the staffroom for three years. Its owner was a supply teacher who lasted for one morning and who left the premises so quickly he didn't take the time to collect his coat."

The campaign for smarter staffrooms is likely to have the support of all the teacher unions. Nigel de Gruchy, general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, said that the problem had been created by the under-resourcing of schools.

"The space in schools is limited. Teachers really need their own office where they can work. The staffroom could then be used for social gatherings," he said.


Sarah Aldridge of Terence Conran Ltd suggests: "Use paint. Cheerful colours such as yellow or greenblue aqua can be used to good effect, but colours can be oppressive if too bright or too dark. Co-ordination of paint colours with fitting and fixtures (eg lockers, WC cubicles and furniture) can produce low budget staff spaces that are enjoyable to use. Any natural light should be maximised."

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