Scandal of the latchkey heads

13th June 1997 at 01:00
In these columns keys usually open only metaphoric doors. People are described as having a key role. To the solution of educational problems there may be a key. But in Edinburgh the problem is the key itself. In schools who should be its custodian?

It is odd that no one wants the responsibility, for keys denote power. Hence the nightly dialogue at the Tower of London when the chief warder is challenged by the sentry as to his identity and replies: "The Keys." "Whose keys?" he is asked to specify, to which the correct reply is: "The Queen's keys." In Edinburgh schools a similar question would be answered: "Not mine."

Neither the city's headteachers nor their janitors want to be the key-holders and therefore possessors of all power. More precisely, the janitors to whom keys are entrusted will not turn the locks if there is a dispute. To whom should jannies then surrender them so that those not in dispute, such as pupils and teachers, can get access to the chalkface? To the headteachers, says the education authority. To the authority itself, say the heads. There is the jarring noise of self-interests being bolted in and common sense locked out.

We have one of those difficulties to which there appears no, er, Yale. "And I will give unto thee the keys to the kingdom of heaven," promises the Bible. But what if the reality on a frosty morning is only the keys to the boiler-room? Does the possessor of the keys get stoking? In the kind of rural primary where the head used to do everything including shovelling coke, cleaning the lavatories and writing profitable books about shooing sheep out of class, the answer was yes. But the modern head has not included locksmith in the school development plan. As a performance indicator it does not appear in the curriculum council's recent handy guide.

With consultative, consensus-building school management, there should be no problem. The keys would pass from hand to hand, with everyone getting a turn, so to speak. But that would upset the police and fire brigade. So why not give the job to the school secretary? After all, she does everything else.

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