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Fast-food skills to go for the staffroom

Can a burger chain really help to train headteachers in management techniques? Michael Shaw reports

KNOWING how to ask "Do you want fries with that?" while smiling blankly might not seem a necessary skill for a headteacher.

But McDonald's is training school leaders in techniques it believes can be transferred from the burger chain to the staffroom, including leadership, team-building and stress management.

The multinational fast-food giant has also persuaded dozens of teachers in the North-east to spend an afternoon behind the counter in its drive-through restaurants.

Last week, 100 heads and deputies from Yorkshire attended a day-long training session at a hotel in Wakefield. The tone for the day was set by Mark Clapham, director of operations for the company's restaurants in the North-east, who announced that he had "ketchup in the veins".

He explained that McDonald's managers faced many of the problems faced by heads with targets and difficulties retaining staff.

"Of course the cynics might say that we want to catch the kids young and hook them on our food," he said. "But have we ever seen an upward surge in sales as a result of working with education?"

Well, yes, actually. Sales surged two months ago when teachers from 103 schools in the region spent their lunchtime working in McDonald's drive-through restaurants to raise funds for teaching equipment. The schools received pound;1 for each customer served in two hours and shared more than pound;30,000 after attracting thousands of parents.

Harry Goodliffe, head of Wilthorpe junior, Barnsley, said it had been worth wearing a McDonald's jacket and handing out takeaways because it had raised pound;250 for his school . He said he had initially been concerned about working closely with the fast-food company but was impressed when its staff helped the school with a litter collection day.

"I'm trying to promote healthy eating and I'm also trying to make children aware about the problems created by packaging," he said. "But I feel OK about McDonald's because they recycle."

The company plans to hold further leadership training for heads in Lincoln and London later this year. It is also running a McDonald's education month for schools in the North-east in November, when its staff will help out with subjects including primary science, secondary food technology and A-level business and economics.

John Bangs, head of education for the National Union of Teachers, said he was alarmed by McDonald's latest projects. "This is a prime example of the creeping commercialisation of schools," he said.

A National College for School Leadership spokesman said that businesses like McDonald's provided heads with "important development opportunities".

The company was one of the original sponsors of the Institute of Education's London Leadership Centre, which trains school leaders.

TIPS FOR MCHEADTEACHERS

* Remember the saying of McDonald's founder Ray Kroc: "People are our most important ingredient."

* Recognise that teams tend to be made up of four types of people: the dominant, the influencer, the balancer and the loyalist.

* A letter of thanks from a manager can often be a more effective way to motivate staff than a prize voucher (and is cheaper too).

* When preparing for a crisis it is important to recall that Noah started building the Ark before it began to rain.

* Organise a crisis committee to pre-empt problems.

* Never underestimate the power of enthusiasm.

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