Take it as Red: we fly the flag for teamwork

22nd February 2008 at 00:00
Red: the colour of blood, danger, passion. Red Adair: the troubleshooter who tackled the most risky oil-well blowouts and fires. Red: the staff's nickname for our first cover supervisor appointed to take classes when teachers are absent. Such is timeless staffroom wit - his surname is Herring. Work it out for yourselves.

The appointment of someone who had never worked in a school before was indeed risky when we made it three years ago. A TES reporter was soon on the phone asking tricky questions about the attitude of the unions, what we were paying him and what the parents thought about it.

We were more worried about how this cultured, avuncular gent (he showed us his pension book as evidence of identity) would tackle 10 pupils from Set 9 on Friday afternoon. But we sensed that here was someone with something to offer. Red Adair? It felt more like sending the Bishop of Bath and Wells in to quench the fires.

Yet students soon learned that this was a man who liked them, showed them respect, and had standards. Red is the under-15s rugby team's most loyal supporter; he must be the first Cambridge graduate to run the Warhammer club; he is a staff governor; he is a brilliant appointment - the embodiment of successful workforce reform.

Three years ago, we had 81 teachers and 47 other staff; now those figures are 87 and 94; the three teaching assistants on the staff 10 years ago have become 25; the single information technology technician is now four. Jobs which some thought could be done only by teachers - organising exams and cover, pastoral support, even teaching itself - are being done by an army of new staff who bring widespread skills and potential into schools.

It is hard to measure the impact of this transformation. Would it not have been better to spend the money on employing more teachers to reduce class sizes?

I think the greatest benefit has been for the academically weak, the vulnerable and the troubled, who now have far more of the attention and support they so desperately need. Behaviour and attendance have improved as more staff track what students are doing, then spend time working with them to make a difference.

It has been great for teachers too. Their time has been freed up so they can now paint their nails in their free lessons, build Airfix kits in the evenings and write novels on Sunday mornings ... Like hell they do. A teacher's time is like a sponge. Dry out a bit in the middle by employing a department administrator and other tasks soak in to fill the gap.

That's because we see infinite potential in children. What can be achieved is not limited by desire or imagination, only by resources. The Government may talk fondly of efficiency savings on school budgets, but it will never happen. Schools can work more efficiently, but they will always find some other way of benefiting children with the money or time they have saved.

I once worked in an old government school in Hong Kong. If you wanted a pile of exercise books carried to a lesson, you summoned one of a group of local Chinese workers to do it for you. With a wonderful concession to post-colonial sensitivity, they were known as the "minor staff".

Quite recently, schools were divided into "teaching" and "non-teaching" staff, who then graduated to being "support staff", suggesting their relationship with teachers was still on the level of surgical stockings. Now the value of everyone in the school is truly recognised, each playing their part and each as important as another. At last we can talk proudly and simply of "the staff".

Roger Pope, Principal of Kingsbridge Community College in Devon.

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