Gossip can be good for you

Penny Ward

I just lurve to gossip. Don't tell me a secret - it's not safe with me. Why else do I have so many friends? Oh, and some enemies - maybe sometimes I say just a tad too much. But I actually believe it's a vital part of our community. It's how news gets around, it bonds friendships - and, OK, it does seem to be women who do it best.

If the chemistry is there, within an hour we'll know everything about someone we have just met. Blokes can meet up with their best pal from school and spend two hours in the pub and still not know he has left his wife or got the sack. He will know he has got Sky telly.

So knowing what goes on in the school community is a tricky one. How do you distinguish between "want to know" and "need to know"? And how do you make sure confidential information gets to those who do need to know, and who decides who needs to know?

Daily bulletins which incorporate information on absentees are good and it saves having a heap of individual notices fall out of my pigeon-hole every time I walk by. While the individual notices which shower down are more discreet, they are often lost in among all the other bits and pieces and usually get forgotten about.

Which leaves us gossip. Nothing faster, nothing more entertaining than the latest scandal. There is one slight snag. For this to be really efficient, it has to be started by those in the know. Someone who knows the whole story has to tell it properly as it is. Then it can be passed on.

Not Chinese whispers. Not patchworking together clues and picking up veiled hints. And not being told by the kids - who generally know first anyway.

I know sometimes there are issues which can't be spoken about, and understand totally that in child protection issues we need to respect the rights of the individual. But sometimes there is a groundswell of rumour, a tidal wave of hissing whispers, a sprinkling of hints - and then, my friends, I want to know what's going on. I want to know clearly what the threat is, and from where. I want to know who is involved because how else can I protect myself and the pupils I work with.

The school is a community and, to work well, we need to feel included and valued. Secrets are exclusive. It's bad for staff morale to hear half-stories, to have to rely on gossip to know what is going on, and to feel intimidated because, actually, unless we know the whole story, we can't get on with our jobs.

So, just tell us?

And this is not gossip, just telling you of the very great affection and respect I had for my colleague Alice McCartney, who has just died. She was the kind of teacher who brought the world alive for her pupils, and the world is a lesser place without her.

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Penny Ward

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