Talking shop

25th May 2001 at 01:00
Former headteacher Gerald Haigh gets to the heart of the issues that concern you

Q Our chair of governors often walks round the school, dropping in on classrooms unnanounced to have a word with the teacher and see what's happening.He's perfectly friendly, and the children like him - but should he be making informal classroom visits like this?

A He's probably entirely unaware of any problem. Very likely he's an enthusiast for the school, keen to support staff, and an admirer of all that you do. It's good that he gets on well with the children, too. However, he has to remember that governors have the kind of responsibilities and potential influence over careers that must affect the way teachers see them. He may need gently reminding of this, and the person to do it is the head. Most governing bodies have a protocol for carrying out school visits and observations, and most teachers are appreciative of governors who want to know how the school works.

It would be wrong to stifle this governor's enthusiasm and friendliness, but there needs to be shared understanding and some agreed ground rules.

Q I'm fairly new to teaching and to my school, and I've been asked to organise the school's summer fair. The head called me in and I felt I had to say yes. When I got back to the staffroom, collleagues were jokingly sympathetic, saying things like, "Rather you than me!" and "So it's your turn to be lumbered!" Now that I've thought about it, I know I really don't have time to do this. I have a feeling it's going to be a lot more complicated than the head led me to believe. Should I go back and say I can't do it?

A Your feelings of foreboding are entirely justified. Welcome to the great fellowship of those who have been driven mad by the twin issues of where to put the cake stall and how much to charge for a donkey ride.

Teachers, including heads, are well known for not being able to say no. Time-management experts would say that when you were asked to do this, you should have said something like, "Fine - which of my other jobs would you like me to put aside for a while?" However, you've now agreed, and my feeling is that you have to stick to that.

You might, I suppose, go back and say you've changed your mind, perhaps having talked it over with thedeputy head, or other senior colleagues, but I reckon the die is now cast. Absorb the lesson, though. In future, try to be assertive. Learn to say no. And, as a staff, don't let the head get away with handing out whole-school commitments without discussing them first with the people who have to do the work. Given the chance, you might want to analyse the pros and cons of running beanos like this. Often, if the real costs are calculated, the amount of money raised is not worth the effort.

Teacher workload is such these days that every annual event should be made to justify its existence every time it comes round.

Q We have a PGCE student on school placement at the moment. He doesn't work very hard, which is bad enough, but what really annoys us is that he says openly - boasts almost - that he has no intention of going into teaching at the end of the course. We're a hardworking team, under lots of pressure, but we feel we have a clear duty to give our time to help all new and aspiring teachers, but what's our duty here?

A I can only tell you what a head I knew did in exactly these circumstances. As soon as the student's words and attitude came to her attention, she withdrew him from class and showed him the door. The training institution wasn't best pleased, but the issue seemed clear-cut enough to her. Now it's possible that other heads and trainers can think of reasons for not doing this, and I'd genuinely welcome any other views.

As funding support for PGCE students increases, there'll be more cases like this.

Q I've been school secretary for 20 years. I had a good working relationship with the previous head and took a lot of routine off his hands. Now we have a new head who checks everything I do and says he wants to review my duties. Is he going to sack me?

A Any new head coming into a situation which some might call "settled" and others might label "cosy" is going to want to scrutinise the school's administration. You may end up with less responsibility, you may have more. You may even find yourself with an assistant.

Keep calm, be friendly, answer questions constructively and keep an open mind. If the new head is both professionally competent and a humane person - most of them are, you know - everything will be fine.

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