There's no need to ask twice

23rd October 1998 at 01:00
SHORTLY after I started teaching a girlfriend told me that I had acquired the major skill necessary for a successful career. "It's easy to tell you're a teacher." she said. "You say everything three times."

"That's nonsense, it's ridiculous and it's untrue!" I replied . . . and then lapsed into a reflective silence. Undoubtedly the classroom habit of explaining all we say as clearly as possible can seep its way through the walls. Indeed, it is even caught in the ethereal world of party manifestos:

"Education, education, education."

Clarity of ideas and expectations, feedback and debriefing, and quality assurance are growth areas in education. A colleague claims his autobiography will be entitled "Pie-eyed at the weekend and PI'd through the week", but even he agrees that the greater accountability under which we now operate heightens the professionalism of the service we give to our school communities.

In common with many other establishments, we spent last session issuing a fairly wide-ranging questionnaire to parents, seeking their views of the school and its provision for their children. I've spent the early weeks of this session collating the returns, and noting how anxious folk are to hear the results.

When we issued the questionnaires at parents' evenings we invited those who had filled them in to return them to a box on their way out. Those who did so were greeted by a line of senior management hiding behind the kind of fixed smiles much beloved of Basil Fawlty, or normally worn by polling agents scanning voters' faces as they leave the polling station, desperately seeking a sign of where their X has been placed.

We needn't have worried. The overwhelming majority gave us their vote, and some were embarrassingly effusive in their praise for the school and its staff. It was good to have their confidence, but then human nature took over.

We started trawling through the results with a toothcomb: why was that a "most of the time" instead of an "always"? How could we change those "agrees" to "strongly agrees"? It was, we all agreed, a good result. Confidence had been boosted, we had an accurate idea of how we were doing, and we also could identify areas where we would like to do even better.

The big moment, however, was hidden on page three, with a question we sneaked in about the helpfulness and approachability of the headteacher. He kidded on he wasn't worried, but he was spotted with the results and a calculator. Coming out with a positive vote of around 90 per cent, he'd obviously hit the mark somehow.

That may explain the sign in his office which now reads: "The customer is always right."

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