Talking shop

Former headteacher Sue Mulvany gets to the heart of issues that concern you

Q Our school has a small staff and we try hard to keep the relationships friendly and professional. About 18 months ago we were joined by a young teacher who, although nice enough, has not really settled into become one of the team. The awkward thing is that she has asked me to be her bridesmaid.

She obviously thinks of me as a closer friend than I imagined. I don't want to hurt her feelings but I don't really want to be her witness. How can I handle this?

A By being a little less selfish and a lot more thoughtful. Have you considered how difficult it is for new people to break into an established group? Especially one that is tightly knit and only has a few members.

You say she is "nice enough". That's all anyone needs to be. Did you expect her to be a replica of the member of the team she replaced? Did you change any of what you previously did or thought to accommodate her when she first came to you?

I suppose she ought to sense the signals that say "keep your distance" but some people, understandably, get confused if all they hear are pleasantries.

Why not try and make her happy? Forget the preciousness of the group's history and open up the future. You never know, it might be the start of a real friendship.

Q I am the teacher-representative on our governing body. Our last Office for Standards in Education inspection report mentioned the need for governors to take a more active part in the life of the school and to develop their role in monitoring the quality of teaching and learning. As a result, some of the governors have drawn up a schedule of classroom visits to observe teaching. I objected to this plan but was overruled. Do you think this should happen?

A No I don't. It looks like there is a fundamental misunderstanding of roles and boundaries.

Even though some may be teachers themselves, governors in role are not qualified to observe and judge teaching.

Yes, it's true that they should monitor the quality of education in the school and the achievements of pupils. So should heads, subject leaders and class teachers. The point for all to remember is that each group has a crucial part to play in monitoring and evaluating, but there are differences of scale and purpose.

The headteacher should be collating monitoring evidence from a range of sources, presenting the evidence to governors and advising them in their strategic role. This is usually done through a written report but can be supported in many creative and informative ways that will help governors understand what is going on in the classrooms.

Q We have arranged a residential visit to an outdoor education centre for Years 5 and 6. A colleague let it be known that a boy's parents had confided in her that the child could not get to sleep without his teddy. This teacher wants to ban all comforters so that the pupils learn to do without them. The rest of the team think this is a bit stern but don't want to make a big issue out of it. What is the best course of action?

A Your colleague's attitude seems a bit worrying. I suppose she wants to make a man out of the boy whether he's ready for it or not.

Why pick on the obvious anxiety of one child to make a point? Adults can't control everything about the rate at which individual children develop. I suspect even your colleague adopts the comfort of the foetal position before she goes to sleep!

Opportunities for children to experience a co-operative, active curriculum out of doors are too precious to let a little thing like a teddy bear spoil it. The children will learn lots of things about independence and growing up while they are at the centre, some of which you - the staff - might not know about.

Why not try doing what a friend of mine did when faced with a similar issue. He gave the usual pre-trip talk about behaviour and rules but added one final rule - which was that everyone, including the staff, had to take a soft toy to keep their beds warm during the day.

I thought this was a brilliant way of lightening the situation, and allowing anxious children to relax and enjoy the new experience of life away from home.

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