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Director who went back to chalkface

After a 16-year break, Knowsley's top education administrator made a classroom comeback. Esther Leach watched

STEVE Munby slipped into his fluorescent yellow jacket, hung a black whistle on to a chain around his neck and took a deep breath as he stepped out into the playground at Eastcroft primary in Kirkby, on Merseyside.

"I haven't done this for 16 years," said Knowsley's director of education. "I'm nervous, really nervous," he added as he joined Karen Fulton, one of the school's welfare assistants who was supervising dinner-time play.

Mr Munby, 44, had volunteered to return to teaching for a day as part of Knowsley Council's contribution to Learning at Work, a nationwide job-swap campaign.

He had left his director's office in nearby Huyton to spend an afternoon at the school, which was built in the Seventies and has 311 pupils, 90 per cent of them on free meals.

The children were quick to make friends with "Sir" in the playground saying hello and asking his name. Mr Munby enjoyed their questions but soon had them lining up, ready to walk into school for their meals. He flipped open a dinner register ready to tick off the names of the pupils in front of him. "Am I doing this right?" he asked turning to Mrs Fulton. She nodded and smiled broadly.

Mr Munby was given at least one thumbs up from a child as they filed into the dining room. He followed them to see for himself what the dining room was like and what the children were eating. The day's menu included pizza, potato waffles, baked beans and salad followed by pineapple sponge and custard.

Then it was back into the playground where he was soon roped into a skipping game but not before he had sorted out a brief scuffle between boys and made sure another separate playground casualty was on his way to have a grazed hand seen to. The smile never left the director's face as he made desperate attempts to get a massskipping game going which always collapsed when too many children wanted to join in the fun.

But the hard work was yet to come when Mr Munby took a class of nine and 10-year-olds for literacy and religious education. He taught English and history before becoming an administrator, but not at this level. "I've never taught in a primary school," he confessed.

He was fortunate, too, because teacher Debbie Speight had prepared the lessons for him that afternoon. "I just personalised them," said Mr Munby who said he was very grateful for her support. She made sure he also knew who was who by giving the children name labels to stick on their green and grey uniforms.

Two rules governed his class. "Don't shout out but put up your hand" and "ask if you need help". It wasn't long before Mr Munby was back in the swing of teaching again. By the end of the afternoon he said he was exhausted. "When I decided to become an education administrator I said that I would never forget how hard teaching was.

"But I had forgotten how physically and emotionally demanding it is, how intensive it is. And I will teach again to remind myself just what goes on and yes it will have an effect on the decisions I make because I know what our teachers today have to do."

The tables will be turned when Debbie Speight and Karen Fulton step into his shoes on June 6.

LEARNING AT WORK

* Learning at Work Day (May 17) is part of National Adult Learners Week organised by the education charity Campaign for Learning and it has become an annual event. This is its fourth year.

* The Campaign for Learning is funded by public and private organisations including the Department for Education and Employment, learndirect, the Department of Trade and Cable and Wireless, Sainsbury's, EMI and the Post Office.

* For more information about Learning at Work Day, visit www.campaign-for-learning.org.uk.


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