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Talking shop;Problems

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

Q I have been teaching in an infant school since qualifying last year and have come to realise the level of internal politics that pervades the school. The staff bitch and gossip all the time and are ruthless in pursuing their own agendas. I come to school to teach and I believe I'm good at it, but I don't see any of the staff as my friends - I have plenty of those outside teaching. I'm civil, but don't want to know too much about them and vice versa. Is this typical of all schools? If it is, then I'm afraid the profession will lose a good teacher.

ADon't jump out of the frying pan yet. Get your newly-qualified teaching year over with and then apply for new posts. That way you will find out for yourself if teaching elsewhere has been reduced simply to the level of bleak self-interest.

No one else can give you a definitive answer to your query. Most of the schools I have worked in are not as you describe. Schools are fascinating living organisations; but they depend on clear leadership and teams, all pulling in the same direction. What seems to be happening in your place is that the communal eye has been deflected from the ball and the resulting conflicts are not being dealt with openly but have gone underground.

Common signs that things are not healthy are that individual supplies of tea and coffee start appearing in cupboards, milk cartons have names written on them. When things get really bad, lines will appear on cartons to indicate if thefts of milk have occurred. You are a member of the staff, too, and you could be really subversive on the side of righteousness if you wanted to change things. You could begin by countering unjust comments with humour. It would be like secretly pouring more milk into the cartons to raise the level above the line!

Q I am training to be a teacher and I am gay. Can you enlighten me on the situation regarding gay teachers in primary schools? My worry is that I will have to live my life secretly, in fear of being found out, and may be sacked from my job. Should I stay in the closet?

A There are as many gay teachers around as there are gays in any other walk of life - some are in the closet and some are out, just as in the rest of society.

According to Lesbian and Gay Employment Rights (LAGER), being lesbian, gay or bisexual is not a legitimate reason for dismissal under the Employment Rights Act 1996.

However, in order to claim unfair dismissal under the Act you need to have one year's continuous service.

Public authorities, such as local education authorities, are bound by the European Convention of Human Rights and to dismiss you for being gay would be to breach your rights under the Convention. The Government has recently been found in breach of Article 8 (right to privacy) in the Armed Forces cases, which concerned service personnel dismissed solely for being lesbian and gay.

Section 28 of the Local Government Act 1995 prevents homosexuality being portrayed as a normal way of life but it has never been tested in the courts and does not specifically refer to schools. The Government has promised to rescind this legislation but as yet has not done so.

One of the issues surrounding gay people in the education system which may be preying on your mind is the incorrect and distorted view that children are more at risk from them than from heterosexual teachers. Paedophilia is not part of the straightgay continuum; rather, it's about the gross misuse of power by adults.

As to whether you should come out, only you can decide. Look at prospective employers' equal opportunities policies - although they are not usually contractually binding, they give a good indication of an authority's attitude.

If you have any problems, consult your trade union or telephone LAGER on: 020 7704 8066(lesbians) and 020 7704 6606 (gay men).

In the meantime, put all your energy into becoming a wonderful teacher.

Q It's happening again. Our school is going Christmas mad! We are all expected to decorate classrooms, make hundreds of dangly things that glitter and plan week after week of festive activities that dominate the curriculum from now until we break up. I can't stand it. What can I do?

A I'm surprised your school has the time to go the whole hog. I thought the national curriculum and the literacy and numeracy strategies had put paid to the excesses you describe. You could plan low key, relevant activities in most subjects for the last week or two of term or you could "just say no" to anything that wasn't directly concerned with the Christian festival.

Sue Mulvany

Send your problems to sue. write to her at the tES 66-68 east smithfield london e1W 1BX, or e-mail us at You can also leave hints about this month's problems at the Staffroom on the tES website at

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