Resigned to the need for continuity

30th April 2004 at 01:00
I had one of those frantic phone calls last term that nearly makes you say "yes". It was the head of the unit where one of my staff, Dawn, is moving.

"Is there any chance she could come and spend some time with the teacher she's replacing? It would be so useful."

Of course it would, but, sadly, we haven't been able to replace her, so this term my deputy has to cover as much of her timetable as is reasonable.

During the final few days of last term, the two of them looked at coursework and exam assignments to make sure things flowed as smoothly as possible. Release her for a visit? Nice idea, but...

The phone call reminded me of the problems I had when I moved to this post.

A similar circumstance. My interview was within the deadline for notice but (like footy players across the country) I had to sort out personal terms. I was moving from one end of the country to the other. I had to make sure all the allowances were in place and that all I was entitled to would be available to me.

In the world of pupil referral units, normal "headships" and leadership scales are ignored. Heads of unit are paid management points. Often we are not even called "headteacher", but unit manager or teacher in charge. So sorting out scales and points is important - but this meant I missed the deadline for notice, and had to work another six months before I could be released. That's a term and a half. Instead of appearing at the start of the new school year, I came in the wake of the Christmas hangover.

Especially at long distance, as I was, the opportunity to have some overlap seems eminently sensible. Dawn's gone to the next town. Although I couldn't release her for a visit, she did find a way of nipping off early one day and meeting her new colleagues in that late-afternoon euphoria PRUs experience. And with a small team, that meeting was important. Let's face it, one of the training strategies people talk about for middle and senior managers is to do a spot of shadowing. When better than when you're about to take over that person's mantle at a new establishment?

One of the concerns I have is that we're all paid monthly but our contracts demand we put in two or three months' notice. It's the convention, tradition in our circles, and surely must be one of the longest periods of notice possible for monthly paid workers. Now we're about to shift into the new world of five or six terms a year. When will we have to put in our notice? If nothing changes in teachers' conditions of service, we'll all be placing resignation letters on our head's desk about two or three terms in advance.

I remember when I used to work in the support service for an authority. Our timetables were negotiated monthly - new kids to include, others no longer needing our help. That said, we could arrive on any morning to find a note telling us everything had changed. Sometimes we'd have three or four substantially different timetables in a week.

One of the arguments for extended length of notice is that it makes things tidier for schools; all change at the end of term, not at any moment in any week. It's apparently about continuity. Surely, if we really want continuity and effective teaching, we need to make sure new teachers are introduced in as helpful a way as possible. They need to know what's going on, just as Dawn did, ready for next term. If we really mean that, isn't it time we looked at the resignation issue and found a better way for staff to move house?

The writer manages a pupil referral unit in the south east. He wants to remain anonymous

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