Call meetings to order

20th March 2015 at 00:00

Does your school still hold staff meetings? I haven't worked anywhere that does for years.

When I began teaching, in the days of black-and-white television and T-rexes, the brave, seemingly adamantine headteacher would hold whole-staff meetings. They were bawdy, anxious events, reminiscent of pressure cookers or cracks in the Earth's mantle. Venerable veterans would roar like the last dinosaurs at every assault on their thrones. "What, grading lessons? Revolting!" said one stalwart as he punctuated his distress with a walk-out. Walk-outs were the best bit of staff meetings. No one would know where to look, until a quavering deputy headteacher finally said, "Well, moving on to item 2." as if someone had just farted.

I don't know many headteachers who still have those kind of staff gatherings, which doubled up as cage fights and tripled up as impromptu union meetings. Most staff meetings these days are as stage-managed as a North Korean surprise party for the Dear Leader. Agenda items must be submitted in advance - which of course no one ever does - and a checklist of nutritious, if flavourless, points to cover drawn up. PowerPoint, not religion, is the opiate of these masses, although it's rare that an anaesthetic produces such torpor without actually relieving any pain.

This is all perfectly understandable. What school leader wants to run the gauntlet of discontent? One meeting I attended lasted 90 minutes because a grandee refused to concede the floor, sacrificing a good hour of our lives to the proposition that the lunch bell should be rung one, not two, minutes before the end of break. If you're a headteacher and you want to try dancing on the head of a pin, attend a governor sub-committee on school policy documents (an eternal version of which will be my deserved fate if hell has any sense of irony).

But I miss the forum of staff meetings. These days, the only time the rank and file are consulted tends to be two weeks before a visit from the inspectors, when staff views are canvassed as precisely as if they were on a dating website. As is so often the case with consultations, these are frequently an exercise in pretending to listen, or "not listening" as I like to call it. The staff body exists in a permanently atomised state. Which makes it easier to manage, of course, but thwarts attempts to turn it into a community or, as it might quaintly be termed, "a school".

There needs to be room for staff voices to be heard in every school. If a pupil consultation is conducted, one should be run for the staff as well. If your interview panel has pupils on it (and, oh God, why?), then it should have teachers, too. If a staff meeting has become nothing more than an info dump, then have a question-and-answer session at the end. Because otherwise, you're not running a school, you're herding sheep. Which is fine if all you need is sheep. But don't be surprised if they jump the fence the first chance they get.

Tom Bennett teaches at the Jo Richardson Community School in Essex and is director of the ResearchED conference

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