Oldies fight smokers in battle for staffroom turf

14th September 2001 at 01:00
TAKE a look around your staffroom. Does it ring to the sound of laughter, or of grumbles? Is it a place of refuge or conflict?

The internal politics are fascinating and have often been the subject of academic research. The latest from Ailish O'Boyle, part of a doctoral research project with the Open University, is riveting.

Seven factions exist in the staffroom at the co-educational Catholic school she put under a microscope. Each has its own sense of identity, territory, behaviour and attitudes. And their composition and the space that they occupy mirror the power and influence they have in the 894-pupil school.

The "Oldies", an eight-strong group of senior staff who have been at the school since the 1970s, have laid claim to the upper end of the staffroom, opposite the door.

Younger men, mainly technology teachers, sit at the furthest end of the room, called the "Lower Corner". Women who were originally attached to that corner now sit along the side of the staffroom and have become the "Middle Group".

Then there are the "Smokers", a group of nine to 14 teachers depending on the time of year, who congregate next to the photocopier and mail-collection area.

And finally there are the "Singles", the "Newcomers" and ... the "Music teachers". The music staff adopt a neutral stance - an image they are anxious to foster.

Fraternisation is common between the singles, smokers and the young male groups. The oldies and middle groups are more isolated.

The oldies - in their forties and fifties - think of themselves as the politicised wing of the staffroom, able to recount critical incidents and defend school traditions, even in the face of disapproval from the head.

But, said Dr O'Boyle, who presents her findings at the BERA conference tomorrow, while they appear to have power and status they actually lack real influence.

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