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Talking shop

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

Q I made a complete fool of myself at the staff and parents' Christmas party, which was held in the community centre near school and was billed as extra special because of the millennium. There was a good turnout, which meant that all and sundry saw me rather the worse for wear - I even had to be helped home. I know I was too familiar and amorous with one of the parent governors, whose wife works in the school kitchen.

I've heard my behaviour was "frowned upon". I've only been at the school for a short while as the deputy but I think I've probably blown it all now. Is there any way of recouping my losses?

A I wouldn't have wanted to be in your shoes at the beginning of term. I hope you didn't have to do a dinner duty before you had time to apologise to the governor's wife, the chair of governors and the head.

You'll probably escape with a good telling off but the world will now know where the millennium bug ended up - in your brain.

What were you thinking of? Couldn't you wait for the relative safety of putting a few miles between you and the school before letting your hair down? You need to learn one basic lesson about working in the public eye and that is that you are always on show and "on the job". Like it or not, parents and communities look up to teachers, and they want to have confidence that the people they entrust their children to act with due probity. Have good times by all means and enter the spirit of things but don't get drunk at semi-official gatherings and don't be a flirt.

As to recovering your standing, nothing works better than a good set of national test results and, less cynically, some clear evidence that your pupils are progressing well in their behaviour and their learning.

QI work in an area of high social deprivation where parental support for their children's education has never been strong. Our school has tried everything it can to encourage parents but the last straw for me was when a boy in my Year 2 class showed his mum a really moving poem he had written and she dismissed it by telling him she thought it was "soppy". I feel like giving up; he had tried so hard to do his best. Can I ever hope to change such insensitive attitudes?

AI've seen it done may times, so please don't give up. I wouldn't say that it is always easy, and you don't always see results straight away, but there are many little things you and colleagues can do so that bit by bit the culture changes for the better.

A simple but effective idea I've seen in schools is to grab the child and the parent first thing in the morning armed with a Polaroid camera and the piece of work you wish to acclaim. Get them to pose holding the work. As soon as you can, and definitely before the next morning, have it mounted with a really positive caption and on display in a prominent position. Make this a fun focus and part of the morning routine. Aim to snap every child within two weeks. Catch them succeeding.

The more parents, grandparents and carers you have in this hall of fame the better. This idea works with attendance issues, too.

QOver the past term I have organised a couple of school visits for my class. Our policy is to collect money from children and pass it to the school secretary who then does the accounting to show how much is needed from school funds to supplement the cost. It was only a passing conversation that raised my suspicions that the amount taken from school funds was excessive. I know I should speak to the head about this but I'm worried because she and the secretary are good friends and have been at the school for a long time. The secretary is well liked by the parents and pupils. How should I handle this?

ASituations like this are always difficult, especially if you have no hard evidence, but if you have the slightest suspicion of wrongdoing you must speak to the head sooner rather than later. This is essentially a clerical matter and should not be taking you away from your prime task of teaching, but if you have concerns you must let them be known.

You could go about this by asking for clarity about the accounting arrangements for collected monies. It sounds as if your school needs to tighten up on its internal procedures so that they will stand up to external scrutiny.

Perhaps it would be possible for pupils to take money straight to the secretary each morning, or for someone to collect monies from classrooms. In each case receipts should be given or at least names ticked off lists so that another person can check for accuracy.

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