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My headteacher has asked me to run a time-consuming after-school activity, but has said it involves no pay. Will it look bad if I refuse?

Ted Wragg, emeritus professor of education at Exeter University, answers your professional problems, big or small, every week. Ask him for independent advice - or offer some of your own

Ted says

Activities out of school hours have a turbulent history. During the 1980s, many teachers withdrew their goodwill after rows with the government over pay and conditions, and time-honoured clubs and sports faded away. More recently they have come back into favour, and bodies such as ContinYou (formerly Education Extra) and the University of the First Age have made a significant contribution nationally with ideas and support.

What you do depends on what you feel about your children's and your own needs - and your job prospects. Running something for young people outside school in an area with no facilities or opportunities is not quite the same as organising a polo club for people with their own stables. Coaching a team playing a sport you love is different from running a team in a game you hate.

The importance of being paid, or not, is something you have to decide for yourself. Teachers can legitimately argue that they should be paid for especially time-consuming activities, but if it is just a case of money, you could probably earn more doing a paper round or cleaning windows.

As far as your career is concerned, many appointing bodies will welcome an enthusiast about education in its widest sense. And you will gain valuable experience meeting children in informal settings, where imagination might be at a premium; handy if your career one day involves more substantial elements of managing, counselling, organising or innovating.

But your hesitation suggests you are not keen. The very fact that you ask the question provides part of the answer. There is no point in doing something like this through clenched teeth, unless you are a seasoned masochist.

You say

Don't set a bad example

I have some sympathy. But please set an example to your pupils, your headteacher and your colleagues and refuse to do it if that is what you want.

There is no point in trying to instil in future generations the value of self-worth if we are not prepared to show the same degree of mettle. If you are not happy running the activity, pupils will pick up on it. Accordingly, they will see in you an acceptance that people are prepared to be "put upon".

The profession has always suffered from a perception that teaching is merely an extension of the childcare role. We all owe it to ourselves to be paid fairly for the tasks we perform. If the school does not wish to pay for your efforts, it clearly does not value the task.

Graham Smith, Essex

Rise to the challenge - or else

Refusal sends out a message that may not be consistent with your ambitions.

You will miss a valuable opportunity to enhance your CV and your standing in the school.

It is not so much a case of being lumbered with an onerous task, but more a chance to prove yourself and meet the challenge of the extra responsibility. It is part of the unwritten contract that teachers do this sort of thing. You won't be fired because you refuse; but it won't play well on your record.

And if you don't do it, who will? You might come across as someone who dumps on their colleagues. Refusal could be a sure-fire way of losing friends and influencing nobody.

Sue Walker, West Sussex

It will bring its own rewards

Teachers are vital to the development of the whole child, and are not merely leaders of classwork. After-school activities are important to the enrichment of children's education, and will become increasingly part of the role of extended schools.

You may not get paid extra, but rewards will come in building relationships and developing strategies for the classroom.

It is also worth noting that other professions work beyond 3.30pm, and receive only 20 days' holiday a year. Consequently, it would look bad if you refused.

Mark Rawlins, Cheshire

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