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Talking Shop;Problems

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

Q I am a qualified nursery nurse. I work in close partnership with a teacher who respects and appreciates my professional contribution.

Although I have repeatedly expressed an interest in attending the administration meetings at my school, which means giving up free time, the headteacher refuses to let me attend. She says that, because I'm a member of the support staff, there is no place for me at the teachers' admin meetings.

Do you think this is an appropriate stance for her to take?

A Not really, but then who wants to attend admin meetings anyway? Much administrative information can be circulated in a day book, weekly bulletin or on a white board in the staffroom.

These systems can be supplemented by five-minute morning briefings in which everyone has the opportunity to keep each other up-to-date. Many schools now operate like this. Everyone is expected to attend and meetings finish promptly to allow all staff to be at their classrooms in time to greet the children. If school communications are organised like this, staff will have time for the juicy bits, like the development of curriculum and teaching areas. To reduce the need for interminable meetings, some schools organise themselves into smaller teams with specific tasks. Membership includes all staff relevant to getting the jobs done. Whole-staff meetings are held at regular intervals (not always weekly) to share ideas, take soundings and check progress. Try speaking to senior management with a view to establishing a programme of meetings and short-life working parties, which efficiently further the work of the school.

A sign of a healthy organisation is allowing good ideas to flow freely in from all directions.

Q I am a 46-year-old man and have been teaching for 23 years. I am highly qualified, having a masters degree in art and education. I am experienced in the secondary phase and hold an enhanced post for the co-ordination of the arts in a large primary school. In the past, I have been short-listed for deputy headships and the feedback has been positive.

During the last year or so I have not been getting interviews and I'm beginning to wonder if my age, the fact that I have not led a core subject and that I have no senior management experience might be against me. I feel my career is at a standstill but that I still have a lot to offer. What should I do?

A You sound just the kind of chap the Government's new arrangements are aimed at. The trick is letting it show in your application and choosing the job that matches your profile.

Here's some advice from a head I once worked for: don't just rewrite a chronological list of jobs, say what you have learned from each one and how it equips you for the post you're after; let your values and educational philosophy show; tick off the items on the job description as you address them in your application; if appropriate, use the headings in the job description to start different sections of your letter; use your neatest hand-writing to complete the form and your best information technology skills to set out your supporting statement. Don't use a small font size and don't write more than two sides.

Some people fall into the trap of using the same application for a number of posts. This is understandable but quickly becomes out of date. Make sure yours is fresh.

As to your age, this cannot be allowed to influence recruitment - indeed the profession can yet benefit from another 20 years from you. Present yourself as sagacious, not past it! Your lack of senior management experience could be a drawback in applying to larger schools but can be offset by how you manage your curriculum responsibilities and how teaching and pupils' progress are improved as a result. The fact that you are an arts specialist should be seen as a strength in resisting pressure to narrow the curriculum.

A good deputy has to be an accomplished teacher who can lead and support others in developing high standards. They need a clear understanding of school improvement, good personal and public relations, and a love of children and how they learn. They need to be able to finish what they start and survive on very little sleep.

Q We have a new school secretary who has declined to join the staff coffee fund. She is using our coffee but no one is willing to challenge her. Should I tackle her, as I organise the collection?

A Ask why she doesn't contribute and see if you can reach a compromise. It might be that she doesn't drink much and the contributions are too high. If you can't get an agreement put a rate on individual drinks so she can pay as she drinks.

Whatever the reason, make the system accommodate individuals, not the other way round, then you can spend time on more important things.

Send your problems to sue. write to her at the TES 66-68 east smithfield london e1 9xy, or e-mail us at You can also leave hints about this months problems at the Staffroom on the TES website at uk

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