Talking shop

20th April 2001 at 01:00
Former headteacher Gerald Haigh gets to the heart of the issues that concern you.

One of our teachers has a 12-year-old daughter in an independent school. When school holidays don't match, if her child-care arrangements fail, she brings her daughter to school with her. She says that the girl can help around the class. In our view, a teacher shouldn't be mixing child care with her job. What do you think?

AI agree, but I can see how it happens. Most heads try hard to accommodate colleagues' family crises. In the life of a school, slightly irregular things are sometimes tolerated in the cause of common sense. The problem here, though, is that it's clearly happened often enough to become the subject of discussion.

Quite aside from any formal regulations, concerns about issues like insurance cover, and the mutual safety of all the children concerned (suppose she got bullied, or upset one of your pupils?), it's very much a matter of perceptions and precedents. I've known parents make formal complaints about teachers bringing their own children into class because of child-care breakdowns.

I'd probably allow it once as an unofficial supportive action for a teacher with a problem. After that, I'd suggest that the teacher stayed home. That wouldn't be popular, but it might just result in her making redoubled efforts to solve the problem another way.

I think you should make your views known to the head - point out out how it looks to parents, some of whom may have huge child-care problems of their own and can't solve them in this way.

Finally, are you entirely, hand on heart, sure that your feelings have nothing to do with the fact that your colleague, working in a state school, has a child in private education? There's a whole other issue there, which may perhaps be raised again by another reader.

I'm a primary head. I have an excellent chair of governors, but she does take up my time. She usually appears at about 2.30 on Friday afternoons, settles down in my room, accepts a cup of tea, and then starts to discuss school and community matters, at length, with many digressions, until four o'clock.

Meanwhile, the secretary and the deputy between them are chasing away children who want to see me and fielding calls and visits from parents. How can I put her offwithout being rude?

AThis is very common. And it is usually on Friday afternoons! In much of the big bad world outside, you see, there's something special about Fridays - phones go quiet, people come to work in informal clothes, eat doughnuts and sometimes go home early.

Maybe your chair thinks it's like that in a primary school. Tell her that you appreciate your chats, but that she probably hasn't realised it's not easy for you to be free for that length of time. You could, if you like, lay the groundwork by allowing yourself to be interrupted a few times during one of her visits to let her see that there are pressing things waiting for your attention.

Then get out your diary and agree slots with her, on various days and times covering the next few weeks. She'll realise that she's been thoughtless, and the diary strategy will impress her as a businesslike approach.

I have a sick elderly mother, and I usually have to leave school promptly to care for her. I'm not in very early either, although I'm never actually late. I run the choir and often have to cancel rehearsals. I've been a successful classroom teacher for 30 years. I love my classes, the parents respect me, and this kind of working to the clock is just not me. I can't afford to retire yet, and I'm desperately worried that I'm falling down on the job. What can I do?

A You're not alone. Every staffroom in the land, I guess, has someone in your position. You deserve compassion, understanding and positive help, and I hope that it's forthcoming. You've served generations of children, and now that you have a problem of your own, your colleagues, your head and governors should do all that they can to support you.

Talk to the head and agree what you can and cannot do. You may have to give up the choir - a wrench for you, perhaps, but possibly an opportunity for a young colleague. Maybe you can even come in late for a while if someone else can register your class. Make sure that your mother is getting all the available social care - take a compassionate day to work on this.

It's certain that the profession can't afford to lose people such as you at present. The head surely knows you'll continue to give of your best in class - what matters is what's in your heart for the children. Good luck.

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