I am head of a primary school and we feel the need for some fresh input. What do you suggest?

28th October 2005 at 01:00
Ted Wragg, emeritus professor of education at Exeter University, answers your professional problems, big or small, every week. Ask him for independent advice - or offer some of your own

I am head of a primary school with a teaching staff of four. After 15 years working happily together we now feel the need for some fresh input. What do you suggest?

Ted says

There's a new song: "We've been together now for 40 years, and it don't seem a day too short." Many parts of the country have more than 100 schools with four teachers or fewer. Small schools often develop enviable friendliness and pooled expertise when they run well, but can become hell-holes if relationships disintegrate, or complacency and indolence set in.

There are lots of possibilities, without having to slip something noxious into anyone's cup of cocoa. Teachers can try a part or full-time job swap for a term with another small school; very refreshing. Take a radical look at one particular aspect of the curriculum, or at one age range, and think of a few special ideas to pep it up dramatically. Then move on to another area next year.

Plan a big event that is out of the ordinary, maybe for the summer term; something ambitious, involving another school if necessary. How about a couple of days on Africa, Japan or China, a rapidly developing country? Use the TES Make the Link facilities (www.tes.co.ukmake_the_link) to establish a link with a school in a different part of the world. One school did a wonderful comparative project, where British and African pupils photographed "a day in the life of a six-year-old", looked at how each disposed of their rubbish, where their water came from, what food they ate.

See how many interesting outsiders you can lure into your school: celebrities, even modest ones; people with fascinating jobs or experiences; older locals with memories of the war and other monumental events. Make videos to show parents, and festoon the walls with photographs of what you do. Tell the press, who might even let the children write for the newspaper, or appear on local radio. Small is beautiful, though it is hard work!

You say

Consider awards and visitor talks

Our small rural school also has a stable staff and, like you, I have been head here for 15 years. We have found that new non-teaching staff always bring fresh ideas and interesting personalities. And, like most schools, we encourage visitors, paid or voluntary, to give the children a change. Their input has included sign language, basketball and football coaching, police talks, and so on. Also, we are not unique in pursuing various nationally recognised awards, such as Artsmark, Green Flag, Basic Skills and the NCSL's Leading from the Middle programme. These have prompted us to reflect upon the teaching and learning in school.

Simon Jones, Gipsey Bridge primary school, Lincolnshire

Form a change team with support staff

In life, people seek, among other things, two key states: stability, as opposed to anxiety; and stimulation, as opposed to boredom. But if you have too much stability, you are bored, and vice versa. Clearly, the stability you have had has led to a modicum of boredom. Given that you and your teaching colleagues are tied to one another's professional hips, you could take other measures.

First, have you considered establishing a change team that includes members of the administrative and support staff? With a bit of brainstorming, such a team could soon be drowned in a sea of new ideas. And what about enlisting enthusiastic members of the parent and governing bodies?

You could also comb through the DfES and National College for School Leadership websites for ideas and encourage your colleagues to study further. Masters courses open up new worlds.

David Sassoon, London

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