The personnel is political;Career development;Features and arts

3rd December 1999 at 00:00
Take care of staff -- they're the best teaching resource money can buy, says Colin Butler.

If you are wondering what else you could do for a living besides teaching, why not consider re-training as a stress counsellor? Because one thing's sure: many teachers are going to need you. Why? Well, in addition to chronic under-staffing, constant change, endless bureaucracy, troublesome pupils, OFSTED and heads who treat staff like consumables, we now also have to contend with target setting, intensified in-line management and the Government's new Green Paper proposals for professional assessment.

Plus, love of subject has replaced homosexuality as the love that dare not speak its name. As INSET co-ordinator, I regularly see how many courses are dedicated to complying with one directive after another, and how few have anything to do with subject development.

These days, only statistics matter: a school that is good on paper is the only kind of good school. Teachers who put teaching first are subversives.

A colleague from another school told me recently that she felt "very strange" when she was on holiday and then realised why: she wasn't being measured all the time. Make the most of your holidays, folks. They are shrinking as it is.

But teachers have to accept that they will be constantly watched by their line managers. Line managers will be watched by heads and senior management who, in turn, will be watched by governors and local education authorities. And since someone has to do the admin jobs the whizz kids are too good for, you soon see why a profession that already has to lock in experienced teachers by making early retirement difficult is going to get more and more stressful.

So where do we go from here? The unions can take up the worst cases of staff exploitation and failures in duty of care, but these are a tiny minority. They can't and won't set precedents for the vast majority of teachers who just want carry on teaching without being harassed all the time.

Some enlightened LEAs are making an effort. They are not motivated by altruism, but self-interest seems to be teaching some, at least, that compensation claims are best avoided and that personnel is the biggest single asset in education. It is also an expensive one. The staffing outlay of the average school can routinely amount to 80 per cent or more of its total budget. A piece of equipment costing as much would be looked after with manic zeal.

Not all LEAs and schools are so wise, but for once the issue can be solved at grassroots level with staff welfare at the forefront of any school development plan. Governors can ask their heads to initiate this now - and heads can deliver, as no new legislation is needed.

Some schools have personnel plans already. I know of one head of a large comprehensive who is running an in-school audit of all the things teachers do that can be simplified or dispensed with. That is a fine starting point: staff energies should be subject to the same "save, save, save" mentality as money.

A confidential personnel audit is also a good idea. Some heads have poor relations with their staff, so a senior teacher who enjoys the confidence of staff should be put in charge of day-to-day affairs.

A school that successfully implements a good personnel plan will raise morale, and reduce absenteeism and staff turnover. You know it makes sense. Personnel plans should already be national policy - and OFSTED's first line of inspection.

Dr Colin Butler is senior Englishmaster and INSET co-ordinator atBorden grammar school, Sittingbourne, Kent

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