In the Middle - Play by the right rules

Linda Barclay

One of the toughest parts of starting a new school year is the laying down of ground rules for new classes. Dog and bone come to mind - the relentless pursuit of the seemingly trivial, the tracking down of minor misdemeanours, and the endless repetition of the main message. It can wear down the most resilient teacher. The experienced ones know this is the time when clear and consistent rules of engagement are established, and positive pupilteacher relationships take root.

For the newly qualified teacher, it's so easy to get the start wrong - too soft, too hard, too much, too little, too inconsistent. If you find your new teachers have inadvertently got off on the wrong foot, then it is your job as a middle leader to pull them back before their descent into muddle, and possible mayhem, becomes irreversible.

In my experience, the key to successful rule-making, and rule-keeping, is that there has to be some sense to them. Whether the subject is school uniform, chewing gum, mobile phones or how children should speak to teachers, middle managers in particular need to be able to defend their rules. After all, they are often at the sharp end of enforcing them. The worst position to find yourself in is being unable to answer the challenge from a bright spark who protests: "That doesn't make any sense," and knowing they are right.

It helps greatly if the pupils have been part of the rule-making process, and many schools now look to their school councils for input, and even approval. Ownership works wonders.

A common gripe among staff is the lack of consistency in applying rules, and even more importantly, carrying out the agreed sanctions for breaking them. Learning to abide by rules is part of the wider preparation for life.

Lindy Barclay, Deputy head, Redbridge Community High School, Southampton.

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Linda Barclay

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