And never the sane shall meet

17th June 2011 at 01:00

Attending meetings is not my favourite activity, which is why I keep staff meetings relatively short. Everybody needs a chance to contribute their point of view, but it's amazing how even the simplest aspects of school life can go round and round and risk not being resolved. Like why the washing-up rota doesn't work, and how Mr Smith refuses to go on the rota anyway because he doesn't drink tea or coffee, and doesn't dirty a plate because he eats his lunch from a paper bag.

Meetings organised by the local authority can be much worse and I don't attend unless there is a life-or-death issue to be discussed, like boycotting Sats or striking about pensions. And headteachers usually have even stronger opinions than class teachers. A few - the professional meeting-attenders - can cause these gatherings to drag on for ages. They are easy to spot: they are never in their schools and are at every meeting you go to. For me, the attraction of attending a local authority session with a lot of items on the agenda is that you usually get good coffee and some decent sandwiches.

But these days, meetings where the local authority instructs you on something or other can be quite frightening. Last year, my chair of governors and I attended a day course on teacher recruitment. The rules had changed and it was apparently important for heads and governors to know how, just in case a job applicant "grieved" and we were hauled to an industrial relations tribunal. Until then, I had thought finding a new teacher for September was relatively simple. Either you offered the job to a particularly good student on final teaching practice, or if you didn't have any outstanding students, you ran your eye over the local authority pool of newly qualifieds, chose a handful, invited them to look at your school and then did a quick interview, usually knowing exactly which one you wanted.

In fact, we discovered that the correct procedure is incredibly detailed, time-consuming, and - surprise - paper-driven, with well over 20 separate stages, all of which must be carefully recorded and filed. And following this procedure rigorously still won't guarantee you get the best person for the job.

Another unnerving type of meeting is the one that makes you feel guilty because you are not keeping abreast of current educational developments, which is hard anyway, because they change at a moment's notice. Usually this is run by somebody who has long since left the reality of the classroom. There is a PowerPoint presentation, and just in case anybody falls asleep the same presentation is also handed out on a sheaf of paper. I remember the furore around the literacy hour. Schools were persuaded that it was statutory and told Ofsted would have their head in a noose if they didn't do it. In fact, it never was.

But the meeting my deputy attended recently took the biscuit, and she came back to school looking drawn. The agenda had been packed: the threatened Year 1 reading surveys and league tables; raised achievement floor targets; changes to the early-years foundation stage and phonics teaching; new special educational needs regulations; and revised Ofsted inspections, before which, apparently, heads have to spend a minimum of two hours on the phone, talking to the lead inspector.

That, in itself, is simply ludicrous. In answer to my deputy's question, "How on earth are we going to cope with it all?", I gave the usual response: "The same way we usually do. Half of it won't happen, so let's carry on doing what we are good at: teaching children. Stop worrying, go home and watch a movie."

Mike Kent's new book Tales From The Head's Room is published by Continuum, priced #163;14.95. Read a review in this week's TES Magazine, pages 30-31.

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