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Talking shop

Q Who, as it were, "owns" our staffroom? Can the head sit in it all through break and lunch, inhibiting our conversation? Can she bring visitors in? And can we stop children constantly knocking at the door during breaks and lunchtimes?

A I have to be careful here. There are many small schools where the staffroom is also the office, the head's study and a corridor. I understand that, but what I have in mind is the kind of room you'd find in a medium to large primary.

When I became a primary head, more years ago now than I'm prepared to admit, I formally asked the staff, via the deputy, for permission to use the staffroom. That's because I'd spent a long time in a big secondary where the head only came into the staffroom on special occasions, by invitation. In my view the head should use the staffroom sparingly. Colleagues need to be able to talk without worrying about management hearing them. And, although it's a good idea for the head to bring visitors briefly to the staffroom, it should be clear that the visit is to your territory, with your permission: "This is the Archbishop of Canterbury. Do you mind if we come in for a moment?"

Then it's up to you, the staff, to offer a seat, or coffee.

Children knocking on the door is a difficult one. The liberal view is that staff should never be inaccessible. The opposing attitude is that the staffroom is a sanctuary. The middle way is for everyone, staff and children, to know and be regularly reminded of the alternatives to knocking on the door (such as calling on the duty teacher or supervisory staff). What's clearly wrong is for children to experience what I've heard in some schools - an angry chorus of "Go away!"

So, by one means or another, try to take control of your staffroom, which may mean setting up a small working party and establishing some ground rules. Ask the head first, be diplomatic, and you stand a chance of claiming your territory. It'll help if you propose ways of keeping the room tidy.

Q I'm head of a small primary school. Recently we had a decorator in, whose work on one of the classrooms was so good that I asked him to do a job at my house. Although I didn't ask for an estimate, I know him to be fair, and assumed he would charge the going rate, but when I asked for the bill, he told me to forget it. Try as I might, I cannot get him to accept payment. What can I do?

A This area is a minefield, and you can get blown up. To the outside observer this could look like simple corruption - the contractor did you a favour in the hope of getting further business from your school. By not asking for an estimate, you've only made it look even more as if you never expected to pay.

Maybe you could have avoided the problem by getting things clear with him in the first place, but frankly you'd have been better just not employing him at home. So what do you do now? You must make him take the money - work out what it should be, add a bit, and send it by recorded delivery. I'd tell somebody, too - the governors, someone in finance at the local authority. If you sit on the problem and it comes out later, it'll look worse.

Review all your school's financial procedures. Heads and teachers can be remarkably naive about money, ordering, petty cash handling and so on. Every authority has a financial procedures manual and they employ people to help you keep out of trouble.

Q I'm looking for another job for the next school year, but I'm unsure of what to do about telling people. The head and governors know, and are being supportive, but what about the parents, children and my colleagues?

A What you tell your colleagues is up to you. If you have a good relationship, it'll be helpful to talk to them about your job seeking, because they'll have lots of advice. The downside of openness is that you may have to keep telling them about failed applications and unsuccessful interviews. Can you cope with that?

The alternative is to spring the surprise that you are now a maths adviser or whatever - it can be one of those smug moments to cherish.

It's up to the head when to tell parents and pupils. An announcement will probably go out in a newsletter at a time of the head's choosing. It's a good idea to tell your class the same day as the newsletter goes out, so they have the privilege of knowing an hour or two ahead of the public announcement.

* Write to him at TES Primary, 66-68 East Smithfield, London E1W 1BX, or e-mail You can also leave hints about this month's problems at The TES discussion forum by visiting our website at

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

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