Former headteacher Sue Mulvany gets to the heart of issues that concern you.
Last term there was an accident in the playground. A boy's leg was badly cut and, before I had time to think, I had ripped open his trouser leg and applied pressure to stop the flow of blood.
Since then I have been wracked by the thought that I may have contracted a serious infection. There have been rumours that one of his relatives has HIV (the virus that causes AIDS). I know I should see my doctor but I'm worried about the repercussions in school. What can I do?
Don't panic. Your instinct to help the child was right - and if the injury was severe, you could even have saved his life. There is no known example of anyone becoming infected with HIV as a result of giving or receiving first aid, such as mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. Even if you had a cut or sore on your hands, the chances of you having been infected are extremely remote.
You can request an HIV test from your GP, but you would be well advised to consult your head and union first - both should have guidelines and advice for dealing with such matters. If you do have a test, let your head know in confidence but be careful whom you tell. Rumours could cause havoc for the pupil, his family and for you, and they may be unfounded.
The chances are a test will prove negative. Should it be positive, however, then the school can call for support and advice from the local authority and voluntary bodies. You may decide you want counselling before the test and this can be arranged through your hospital or doctor.
A school's health and safety policies exist to protect staff and pupils, and should include practical and realistic guidance. For example, that the first-aid box is accessible in each playground and that adults keep a pair of rubber gloves in their pocket in case of accidents involving blood, vomit, urine and so on.
Can you advise us on how to make best use of classroom assistants during the literacy hour? Some staff think they should be working with a small group away from the rest of the class during the shared work. Others want them to stay with the whole class and observe the teacher.
In the past, many teachers felt that rather than have helpers sitting through the introductory parts of lessons, they would be better employed working directly with the children they were there to support.
The role of the assistant is developing, however, and opportunities for providing assistance in teaching and managing classes are growing. Many teachers have found that it is beneficial for the assistant to observe the whole class in the shared reading and writing part of the lesson.
Assistants can observe pupils' attitudes to learning and feed back their assessments of the degrees of a child's understanding, especially useful with pupils who are shy or have speech problems. The shared work also provides staff development for assistants, particularly in key stage 2. The phonological part of the literacy lesson is, perhaps, the most difficult for pupils with learning difficulties. Some teachers are using their own judgment to set small groups working with an assistant for this part of the hour before the rest of the class divides for group work.
The national strategies have brought many benefits, but an unintended effect in the early stages has been that some teachers have lost their confidence. As a result, they are implementing structures at the expense of managing the available resources and making sure that all their pupils make progress.
I returned to school with the usual surge of optimism after the Christmas holiday but still there is the feeling that there is too much to do and not enough time in which to do it. I particularly regret not being able to converse with the pupils in the way we used to. How can I fit everything in?
You can't and never could. Nonetheless I know what you mean. There has been a change in culture in our classrooms focused on learning to improve achievements and progress. This can only benefit children. It's up to grown-ups to show that conversations about learning can be really enthralling and that talking about incidentals can wait until break.