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Talking shop;Problems

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


In preparation for the literacy hour, it was recommended that a colleague and I should visit a school to see a session in action. We felt quite disturbed. We saw very young pupils spending their time circling "oo" on worksheets and another group colouring in outlines of characters from reading books. Is this really the type of task expected in this national initiative?


Some people do fear the literacy hour will deteriorate into a mechanistic ritual in the hands of untrained teachers whose enthusiasm is low: much depends on the expertise of the newly appointed literacy consultants and the training they provide. There remain concerns about the place of speaking and listening, drama and such things as sustained writing for older pupils. We need to be clear about the relationship between organisation and development.

What you describe sounds boring and could turn children off language learning for life. Effective teachers, however, have learned the skills of designing activities that consolidate or extend prior teaching and learning that are not teacher-dependant. I've seen some superb literacy and numeracy hours, in which pupils have reached impressive levels of understanding and skill because of direct teaching that enthused and engaged them. The tasks provided after the whole-class input all had a clear purpose that supported the session's learning objectives. I saw five-year-olds fluently reading familiar books to each other. Another group sang alphabet songs and yet another painted comic strips with dialogue. Their improving knowledge of text was fundamental to their search for meaning and enjoyment. Don't despair, it's not the literacy hour that is the problem, it's the lack of ideas. Speak to colleagues who make it work.


I have a child in my class who has Asperger syndrome. Sometimes his behaviour is so bad that he is a danger to himself and others. I don't want to be seen to reject the child, yet I don't think I should have to deal with the situation alone. Can I refuse to have him in my class until I get help?


This difficult situation affects many people, including parents and the rest of your class. You want to teach the child as best you can, but you have the interests of your class to consider. There should be a whole-school approach to special needs that does not leave teachers feeling as you do.

I'm assuming the Special Educational Needs code of practice is being followed, that the child is being assessed and that evidence has been gathered at each stage. Everyone would agree the system can take too long, and this looks like a case in point. Get the SEN co-ordinator to request that the educational psychologist reassesses the child, with the aim of short-circuiting the process. Ask the head to reallocate classroom support or design a flexible, responsive way of getting assistance when you detect warning signs in the child's behaviour.

These are short-term strategies until the statutory assessments have been made. Include the parents in what you do.

There are cases where teachers, with union aid, refused to teach individuals. In such cases, the head and governors have sometimes provided alternative arrangements for the child's education. I'm sure actions such as these would be the final resort.


I began teaching a year ago, the only man on a staff of six. At first it was great, but now it's all become too much. The staffroom entertainment consists of getting me to squirm with embarrassment. I want to talk about teaching, my class and my social life, but they only want to talk about "men". At times it gets really explicit. I can hardly face going into the staffroom.


You're being bullied. The advice is the same for you as for pupils - tell someone. There should be procedures for reporting bullying and following up incidents, but if there are not, talk to your head, the school's adviser, the educational psychologist or your mentor.

Resolving such situations can be painful. You need support so that you and the staff can consider the consequences of their actions, raise self-esteem and build new relationships. It can be done and your feelings of freedom and security will be great.

Teamwork, assertiveness and values education ought to be at the very top of the school's training and development plans.The link to how these affect standards in teaching needs to be clearly understood.

* Drop Sue a line: see the panel on page 7 for our address and fax number. You can also leave any questions or hints for letter writers on The TES Internet website at

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