The modern school janitor should be a friend to the children and also know how to use a computer, according to lauded role model Derek Simpson. Paula Cowan reports
The Jewish primary school in Scotland, Calderwood Lodge Primary, East Renfrewshire, was recently the subject of its local authority's Taking a Closer Look initiative. As well as acknowledging the educational opportunities provided by the school, the report unusually includes praise for the school janitor, Derek Simpson. It commends his "work and commitment" and views his contribution as a strength of the school.
Mr Simpson has been the janitor for three years. His cheerful face greets teachers, parents and pupils every morning, and his commitment to the school is shown in many ways.
Part of Mr Simpson's commendation in East Renfrewshire's report is due to his school book on janitorial information. This 20-page book includes sections on the school's fire alarm systems, plumbing, lighting, heating and lets and is word-processed with clear headings and instructions. Also included is information concerning keys, the security system, school bells and school buses.
"My experience as a relief janitor showed me that you can get thrown into any school at any time," he explains. "It's very hard going into an unfamiliar school. This, together with the additional security requirements at this particular school, led to me producing this book.
"This morning, the electrician who has just arrived needs to know where the circuit boards are situated to turn off the electricity. If I was on holiday, the relief janitor would be doubling the electrician's time by having to find out as he goes along. An information book saves time and money by indicating this information.
"If I get hit by a bus tomorrow, any janitor in East Renfrewshire can come in and everything they need to know is in this book."
The book sets out the janitor's daily duties. This is designed for a relief janitor in much the same way as a class teacher's daily forward plan is designed for a supply teacher. As well as ensuring work continuity, it has the added advantage of helping the head teacher to ascertain where the janitor is at any time of the day. It is also used like a teacher's forward plan to ensure that all tasks are carried out.
With most pupils being bussed to and from school, Mr Simpson's daily duties include ensuring that this runs smoothly. He checks the details of new drivers, and also helps with those parents who provide an additional security presence at Calderwood Lodge at busy times of the day.
While his book has been warmly received in the school, others are less convinced.
"Like all janitors, I have two bosses, my head teacher and my site service manager. When I forwarded my book to my manager, I suggested it should be standard in schools. Although my manager thought it a great idea, it was felt that other janitors would not be keen to do this.
"There are too many old dinosaurs out there who are afraid of a book like this. They think it is a time and motion study, but it's not. We all have holidays and can be ill at sometime. Give the book to the relief janitor when he comes to the school. It is a great help in getting my job done well."
Like the class teacher changing plans of work to suit pupils' abilities and needs, Mr Simpson updates his information on the computer when necessary. He learned word-processing skills through an initiative run by Scottish Power.
"I have been on customer care, first aid and health and safety training courses," he says, "but there is not the money to send me on an IT course because it is not seen as releant. Basically my union, Unison, says that I'm not meant to touch a computer at work. I think that by learning about computers and using them effectively, janitors would be giving the best value to the school.
"The headteacher, Mrs Levey, and I have also put the inventory of school fixtures and fittings onto disc. We think that if every school were sent a disc with the appropriate format to insert their school information, schools would have a clear note of all their furniture. This saves a lot of hassle as inventories can get lost."
The introduction of closed circuit TV (CCTV) security systems has changed the janitor's role. Where previously they went around every classroom on the hour to check fire exits, they are now based at the front door and use new technology to do the same task. Although some janitors may be unhappy at operating these systems Mr Simpson views it as an integral part of the job.
"We have to broaden the contract clause concerning 'any other duty relating to the janitorial service'," he says. "Janitors have different skills. Some are joiners, bricklayers or electricians. There is a whole load of resources out there that schools could tap into.
"If I do a good job painting the snakes and ladders game in the playground, I wouldn't mind if a janitor from another school approached me to do the same for his school. Maybe he has a skill that this school could use. There are many janitors who expand their job description but keep it very quiet."
Headteacher Mrs Levey says: "We were fortunate that the school board gave us money to upgrade our playground. Part of this was to buy equipment like chessmen and draughtsmen, and Derek volunteered to paint the boards. Then he offered to design and paint snakes and ladders boards."
Noughts and crosses now also provide children with play choices, and Mr Simpson's next plans are to paint Connect 4 boards on the wall and fix hooks for the counters.
"Being a janitor is not about being crabbit to kids. It's about getting along with them. At playtimes, together with the day cleaner and special needs auxiliary, I watch about 200 pupils in the playground. If a child is being left out, I'll try and make them feel special by maybe finding something that heshe can help me with and talking to them.
He adds: "I hate shouting at children, but when you walk down the street at certain times of the school day you can hear me yelling at them, "There's the first bell, move!'"
A DETAILED DAY'S DIARY
Children start arriving. I provide an adult presence in the playground School buses arrive. I check that children get off in an orderly manner.
School starts. I open the doors, and make sure the children are all in safely.
Duties vary from helping in the office to explaining the fire alarm system to workmen. Spare time is spent watching the CCTV.
Supervise children in the playground and ensure it is tidy and safe.
Check litter and change bin bags. Check toilets for cleanliness, hand towels and toilet rolls. Assist teachers, eg put backing paper on walls if high up. Once a week go on the roof and check the water tanks.
Check toilets and playground.
Check toilets. Twice a week take football.
Check school buses. Make sure drivers know where they are going.
Help one of our special needs pupils into his taxi.
Monitor children going on school buses. Close building. Change bins.
If there's no let, I lock the building and go home at 7pm. 6.30 If there is a let, tasks vary. During the meeting I'll watch CCTV.