"Talking shop"

21st September 2001 at 01:00
Former headteacher Gerald Haigh gets to the heart of the issues that concern you

Q I hear that some heads don't like taking assemblies. Our problem is the opposite - ours seems to revel in them. He tells lovely stories, brings children out to the front to praise them and hear about their new baby brothers and sisters, makes corny jokes (that delight the children) about members of staff.

And all the time we're surreptitiously looking at our watches, because a literacy hour that's supposed to start at 9.30am never gets under way before 9.40. He's a kind man and a good boss, but we feel we ought to tackle him about this. What do you think?

A There are some competing pressures here. Firstly, in his assemblies your head is demonstrating to you that children are to be treated with respect, that jokes and good humour are important and that there's still a place in school for good storytelling. Challenge this and you risk exposing your own short-sightedness. However, it's true that some heads do let themselves be carried away in their enjoyment of assembly.

Then, there's a school of thought that questions the traditional placing of assembly. First thing in the morning is prime learning time for young children, and it seems a pity to bring the classes in, settle them down and then immediately embark on the lining up and movement that assembly demands.

So, you need a two-pronged approach. Raise the possibility of having assembly at a different time of the day. There are valid pros and cons for all the alternatives - after break, just before lunch, at the end of the day. At the same time, do tackle the head - through the deputy, perhaps. Make it clear that you don't want him to change his assemblies in substance or style, but that it would help you if he kept them within the allocated slot. Presumably he played a large part in fixing the timetable, so he can't really object.

Q What do I do about morning traffic at the school gate? As a head, I'm constantly worried by the selfish behaviour of adults who insist on dropping their children as close to school as possible. I have a steady stream of complaints - from our neighbours, from staff trying to drive into school and from those parents who are trying to walk with their children.

A If I had a quick answer to this I would patent it and make a fortune. The problem is potentially dangerous, and the sheer thoughtlessness involved cuts across the values you are trying to uphold.

Presumably you've tried the standard approaches - letters home and appeals to the children. Most heads have tried the police, who typically put in an appearance for a couple of days and then don't come back - to be fair, it's not a major issue for them.

The conclusion is that in the short term you can expend a lot of time and energy to little effect. Better, perhaps, to look at a strategic, whole-school approach that encourages more families to walk, perhaps using the "Walking Bus" idea that's growing in popularity (groups of children walk with supervising adults). The best source of information is the publication A Safer Journey to School, which you can obtain free of charge by writing to: DTLR Free Literature, PO Box 236, Wetherby LS23 7NB, (call 0870 1226 236 or fax 0870 1226 237). Any other ideas will be welcome.

Q I'm a long serving, successful classroom teacher. Like all colleagues, I have to go to meetings and courses about basic curriculum areas. That's fine, but what I don't appreciate is that all too often I'm expected to listen to young teachers, still wet behind the ears, who've been picked out by the advisory service to tell me what to do. Frankly, I sit there seething sometimes. Does experience count for nothing these days?

A So you're the one who sits there stony-faced, muttering to your neighbour? Of course experience counts, but the very wisdom you've achieved should tell you that you don't have all the answers. One of the best things that's happening to in-service training now is that there's more sharing of good practice than there used to be and there are lots of bright, energetic young colleagues who are doing things in their classrooms that are worthy of wider attention. Obviously, the combination of enthusiasm and inexperience will sometimes cause a young teacher to hit the wrong note, but, frankly, you probably have to live with that. As the old saying goes, your dignity is not enhanced when you stand on it.

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