Keeping it tidy

12th November 2004 at 00:00
The role of data manager may sound unglamorous, but Joan Morgan is an essential lynchpin at Seven Kings high. Fran Abrams continues our monthly behind-the-scenes look at what makes a modern school tick.

It's 8.35am, and in a dark cubby-hole next to the hall at Seven Kings high school a small daily drama is racing to a nail-biting finish. Someone has phoned in sick. The staffroom has already emptied for registration, and some of the people listed on the third edition of today's cover schedule, which has just been pinned to the noticeboard, haven't seen it. In five minutes' time pupils could turn up for lessons to find no teacher there.

Tony Lord, assistant head and drama teacher at the school, in the east London borough of Redbridge, abandons the laptop over which he's been hunched since 7.30am and sets off at a fast trot down the corridor with Joan Morgan in his wake. She's shadowing this daily routine because when Mr Lord retires at Christmas the job will fall to her. By 8.40am all the relevant staff have been located and, as usual, lessons start without a hitch.

The role of the school admin officer is changing fast. In the past, Mrs Morgan spent the first hour of her working day in the front office, taking calls from parents about sick pupils. But her role is expanding as senior teachers relinquish many of their traditional non-teaching tasks. Fifteen years ago, the admin team at Seven Kings consisted of two women: one dealt with visitors and parents' queries at reception while the other did typing for the head. Now there are six, including a full-time finance officer.

Mrs Morgan was appointed 18 months ago as data manager and PA to the head.

A new member of the school's senior management team, she is responsible for, among other things, timetabling, exam entries and results, and collating pupils' reports. Her agenda today ranges from meeting the school's outside caterers to ordering wallflowers for the beds at the front entrance.

By break time, she's dealt with a minor crisis in which a class turn up at a different room to their teacher, discussed timetable changes with the deputy head, responded to a letter from an 83-year-old former pupil and helped out a Year 13 student who needs to know his examination number.

At 11am her phone rings. The local authority buildings officer is in reception. The head, Sir Alan Steer, has asked her to recommend a new security system for the school. There have been a couple of incidents this term: a handbag stolen from the art room the day before the pupils returned, and then, last week, an alert about a possible intruder.

Mrs Morgan is fixing a meeting with the local constabulary's strangely named "crime prevention design advisers", but she also needs to know if new security gates will require planning permission. Yes, the LEA man confirms, leaning comfortably against the glass-fronted reception desk. He wants to know the name of the school's security co-ordinator. Is the school's security strategy fully implemented? And the school will, of course, have ensured that the aforementioned strategy is reviewed annually. She nods sagely. The LEA man smiles quizzically.

She heads back to her office which, with the head's office and lobby where pupils wait to see him, forms the heart of the school. Almost everyone - pupils, staff, visitors - end up here at some point during their time at Seven Kings. Just now a pupil has popped in with a cheque. The biscuit tin into which the finance officer slips it is incongruous yet strangely comforting amid the welter of new technology.

She brews a coffee but hasn't time to touch it before the phone rings again. The caterers have arrived to discuss teething problems with the new "cashless" system and she has to chair the meeting. Coffee abandoned, she sets off down the corridor once more.

Mrs Morgan loves her routine data-management jobs. She says there's something neat and comforting about them. Where to place a pupil who left last year but hasn't yet "cashed in" her marks to complete a modular course; how to cope with three pupils entered for an exam but not listed as taking that subject. "Sometimes data gets messy, and I like tidying it up.

Once you've got into the system it gives you confidence."

She started out as a lab technician at a nearby secondary school when her youngest child started school - almost 30 years ago, she whispers - but then took classes in computer studies and gradually moved into managing pupil databases at her school, then the local authority. She ran training sessions for admin staff and got to know most of the schools in the borough.

Admin staff are often ignored, she believes. "Everybody knows a school can't function without them, but that isn't always recognised." She used to build in an extra half an hour at her training sessions, so these forgotten mainstays of the system could get together and let off steam.

When Seven Kings approached her a couple of years ago about the new data manager post, she was surprised but delighted. "I have to admit I thought I was too old; that they'd want someone young and keen. But they said they wanted someone who commanded respect; who had a presence. I've loved it from the minute I came here."

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