Talking Shop;Problems

24th April 1998 at 01:00
Former headteacher Sue Mulvany gets to the heart of issues that concern you problems

Q We are shortly to move to the country where I will be teaching in a small village school. My daughter will be in my Year 2 class. When we planned the move the idea seemed feasible. However, the nearer we get to the event the more worried I am. How will my daughter cope?

A I think your question is "How will we cope?'' You need to rehearse the possible difficulties. Identify the things that are really worrying you, then talk them through with your new head and your colleagues. One worry might be class discipline. We all know the relative ease with which a class follows instructions and how different things are at home. You need to make your expectations clear, but understand your daughter has to adjust to what might be a confusing re-adjustment of roles.

I was taught by my mother and, for a short time, I taught my son. I remember addressing my mother as "miss" in school and "mummy'' at home and not finding it odd. My son, however, had real difficulties at first. When it was story time, he would force himself on my knee and shout, "She's my mummy". I only recount this anecdote to illustrate the fact that children are individuals and you can't predict how they will react. A lot depends on the child's age. Your daughter will be used to the routines of school, so when you explain things to her, such as her being expected to go outside at playtime while you have your break, she can relate it to what she knows already. You must be careful not to let your own anxieties unduly affect her.

Q I'm the head in an inner-city school. More than 80 per cent of our pupils take free school meals. We have worked hard over the past five years to raise standards to the national average, but we seem to have reached a plateau. A recent inspection judged teaching to be at least satisfactory and mainly good. Some was outstanding. I feel at a loss to know how to raise standards further.

A The first thing is to congratulate you and your staff. It sounds like you are doing a marvellous job. It also sounds like you are suffering from "post-Ofsted fatigue''. Give yourselves a break, enjoy teaching. Plan some theatre visits, outdoor studies, interesting visitors, and, perhaps morning coffee with music for the local community.

Just making time to talk to people can help in getting things back in proportion. When you've done all you can, then put your minds to what we all know from experience and common sense. Namely, that no school is perfect, but there are no limits to what individuals can achieve. You might think of bringing in a fresh pair of eyes to help you see things that can be improved. It is often difficult when schools have to get into a higher gear and look at things in a lot more detail. For example, are all teachers organising their lessons in the most effective ways?

Q I am a classroom assistant and part of my job involves displaying the work of four classes. Two of the rooms have large display areas where I can show all the pupils' individual pieces of work. In the other two classrooms, space is limited and choices have to be made. What is the best way of ensuring fairness for the children and keeping the teachers happy, some of whom only want the best work to be on view?

AI should think the teachers would be more than happy that someone was helping them with display as most teachers know how time-consuming the job is.

Is there a policy for displays? If there is, then ask for a copy and see if there is guidance on this matter. If not, then both you and the teachers need to share views on the purpose of display. Enhancing the environment for learning is very important, as is exhibiting examples of high standards. Illustrating the progress pupils make and processes of such things as writing, designing and making is also important.

Equally necessary is the opportunity display offers for pupils to interact practically by recording their opinions or using equipment. One way you can ensure fairness is to keep a class list for each room and note who has had work displayed. Another is to regularly change the examples of work while keeping the theme of the display constant.

* Drop Sue a line: see the panel on page 7 for our address and fax number. You can also leave any useful hints for this month's letter writers on The TES Internet website at

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