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I'm out with the inn crowd;Talkback

Jenny Owl debunks the idea of thewhole-staff residential.

A new head in possession of a good in-service training budget must be in want of a whole-staff residential. This universally acknowledged truth is unfortunate, since heads often fail to address their staff's first question on the subject: what can really be achieved on a Saturday morning in a sterile business hotel near a godforsaken motorway junction, which cannot be achieved equally well on an INSET day in school?

I do believe those senior management teams who say their residentials are a success. Two days without ringing telephones, disruptive pupils, irate parents, upset staff or dreaded dinner duties are bound to help key staff focus on key issues. The reason their residentials work, however, is the principal reason ours don't: the numbers involved.

The question of how to reach consensus among a whole staff may be fundamental to a school's success, but the whole-staff residential is not the answer. Uninterrupted time together in civilised surroundings is intended to unite staff. In fact, it does the opposite. The prospect of losing most of their weekend makes colleagues feel put upon before they have even arrived at the residential venue.

Those of us with young children feel bad enough leaving them during the week to go to work, for goodness sake. Being told that there is no obligation to attend is hollow reassurance, since we believe we would forever wear an invisible badge of shame which reads: "Did not attend whole-staff residential".

And then there's the extra work that residentials generate. The luxury of uninterrupted time in which to exchange ideas creates artificial expectations about how much can be achieved. Away from bustle of the school day, and filled with a determination to serve our pupils even better, we agree to complete all sorts of unrealistic tasks.

There is still a huge amount of staff goodwill in schools - think of lunch duties, clubs, games, after-school classes and trips. The way to repay this is not to demand more goodwill during our most important unwinding time: Friday night and Saturday.

To add insult to injury, a whole-staff residential removes a huge slice of the school's INSET budget, making it even harder for individual staff to attend essential courses run by outside agencies.

It is pleasant to be treated as a civilised human being in comfortable surroundings. And to watch Frasier from a double bed with ironed sheets - not to mention free soap, shampoo and stationery to take home. But let me swap my place on our next residential for my own sofa and I promise I'll work even harder.

Jenny Owl is a pseudonym. The author is a head of department in a Manchester secondary

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