Immaculate concept, a mess in reality

31st August 2007 at 01:00
Kenny Frederick is headteacher at George Green's Community school in Tower Hamlets, east London

An article in the TES Magazine earlier this month made me smile. Titled "Changing Rooms", it described in some detail a staffroom makeover as part of National School Environments Week. The photographs showed happy teachers drinking coffee in an immaculately tidy staffroom. I smiled because I have yet to see a tidy, let alone "immaculate" staffroom in all my years of teaching.

Many years ago, I was part of a staff committee that tried to get the staffroom organised, planning social events, collecting the tea money and generally keeping things clean and tidy. Needless to say, we failed miserably. Sadly, little has changed even though, as headteacher, I want my staff to have a nice environment to relax in.

As a training school and extended school, we host lots of beginning teachers, graduate teachers, multi-agency staff and visitors, and I believe it is important that we have one central place to meet, rather than numerous separate cubbyholes where staff make their own refreshments. Ours is an inclusive school, so an inclusive staffroom is an essential part of the culture. It's crowded, noisy and messy but it's a fun place to be.

About three years ago, we had the opportunity to rebuild our staffroom after numbers had doubled in size due to an influx of support staff. The new room was carefully planned with soothing colours and comfy furniture. It's light and airy with a nice kitchen area, dishwasher, microwave oven and huge fridge. We have somebody to make tea and coffee and provide toast at breaktime. There is space for working and for computers, as well as all the usual chairs, tables and plants and it's still a mess!

What is it about school staff (we can no longer blame it all on the teachers) that makes them lose all sense of responsibility and have such a total disregard for their environment? If children in their care left cups and banana skins under their chairs along with their empty sandwich packets, what would teachers say? If the kids left piles of exercise and textbooks littering the gangways, how would teachers react? Yet staff do it all the time.

Our poor cleaners try their best, but are frightened to throw anything out. This is where I come in. Occasionally I go in at the beginning of a holiday after having given several warnings and instigate a clear-out.

I am constantly amazed at what we find. We sort out old resources and textbooks and return them to the right department. We shred all the memos and confidential items left lying about and throw out all the old clothes, shoes and other personal detritus cluttering the decks.

The fridge is the next area to tackle. There are items that have been in there for months. People don't like to move them in case they belong to somebody.

Then it's time for the annual mug hunt. Every year we buy more than 200, yet when a cup of tea is needed, there isn't a mug to be had. Staff leave them hanging around all over the school, collecting germs and growing penicillin.

I am willing to bet that the staffroom in the article mentioned will revert to its natural state in about two or three weeks. Could the TES go and take some photographs to see if I am right, please?

Of course, I'd love to tell you that my office is a model of organisation, with a place for everything and everything in its place but I'd be lying!

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