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"Talking shop"

Former headteacher Gerald Haigh gets to the heart of the issues that concern you

Q I have taken on the role of maths co-ordinator at my infant school. The previous co-ordinator was given an extra salary point for the role, but I have been told I will not receive one. Is my pay at the school's discretion or should core subject co-ordinators receive a point? I am currently on spine point 4.

A Extra payments are at the discretion of the governors, and it would have been entirely proper to ask them, when first approached, whether and when you might have an extra point, especially as your predecessor had one. If they had a reason for not paying up, they should have discussed this with you. As they haven't done so, then you should raise it yourself. There are various avenues. You can talk the matter through informally with the head - that may be the best way to start, even if you then decide to probe further. Then there are the governors. They are obliged to run a pay policy that makes clear the criteria and arrangements for extra points. Ask how you fit into this. (Your teacher governor will raise it for you.) They are also duty bound to review every teacher's salary individually each year, and this too provides an opportunity for you to ask the question.

If you're in a union, you can ask them for advice. In the end, it may be that the school budget is so tight the governors have no money to increase salaries even in accordance with their own policy. In a school I know well, several teachers - including the head and deputy - are on lower salaries than the governors would like because of this. But it is in the open and everyone understands what will be done when the budget allows.

Q I'm just starting out in teaching and I'm really bothered, because I'm male, about whether or not to touch children, and whether accusations may be made against me. I'm starting to wonder if I ought to have gone into secondary, where there are more men and presumably fewer such issues.

A Don't assume that this worry doesn't exist in secondary, where the mix of hormonal adolescents and young teachers can give rise to difficulties - whether real, imagined, innocent or malevolent.

As to touching, I know some heads and teachers won't do it, and if that's school policy you have to abide by it (always be sure what the guidelines are in your school). But try as I might, I can't imagine a primary school where a child can't be given a cuddle. When my grandson, very young for his year, was in Reception, he was in the habit of climbing on the teacher's lap during story time and going to sleep. None of us thought this anything other than a sign of a caring school - and we wouldn't have changed this opinion had the teacher been a man. (This was in a full classroom, with teaching assistants around.) One or two provisos. Don't assume that every child actually wants to be touched or cuddled. Learn to read and respect the signs. Second, try not to be alone in a closed room with a child. Obviously you'll need one-to-one talks at times, but use an open plan area with people passing or a room with glass looking on to the corridor.

Finally, don't get hung up about this. You'll soon find yourself worrying about a thousand other things. If you like children, if you can challenge and inspire them, then don't let other worries put you off.

Q We're worried about our head. He's an effective leader and superb with the children, but he's involved in so many working parties and in-service initiatives that, increasingly, he's not in school. Problems are piling up - children's behaviour is deteriorating, we're behind with long-term planning, and parents are starting to notice. What can we do?

A Some local authorities make huge demands on successful heads. It's easy to see why. Advisory services are cut to the bone, and cross-fertilisation from successful practitioners is vital to across-the-board improvement. You have to accept that to some extent, and a good deputy should be able to cope. However, there are limits. If your head's as good as you say, he'll respond to a constructive professional approach based on real evidence. Ask him to make a manageable long-term out-of-school programme. You could ask whether some of the in-service work could be delegated to senior colleagues - it's excellent professional development, and in any case school success is surely a team affair.

Send your problems to Gerald

Write to him at TES Primary, 66-68 East Smithfield, London E1W 1BX, or e-mail primary@tes.co.uk. You can also leave hints about this month's problems at The TES discussion forum by visiting our website at www.tesprimary.com.

Gerald regrets that he is unable to reply personally to your letters.

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