We'll manage somehow

3rd October 1997 at 01:00
Primary heads in Scotland are having to juggle new duties with their teaching responsibilities. It's not always easy, as Seonag MacKinnon discovers

The headteacher, breathless after running to the phone, said she would be happy to help with an article about juggling teaching with a management position, but she was just about to start turning the classroom into the dining room, then supervising lunch, then she would be teaching again, then she would ring . . . oh no, she couldn't, because she would be supervising the children on to the transport home.

When Mairi Scott of Achaphubuil Primary, across the water from Fort William, finally found time to speak to TES Scotland, she summed up her new life: "Sometimes I'm lucky if I get to the toilet."

The volume control on the phone in Mrs Scott's office is on maximum and she can usually get to it within five rings. "The phone is very disruptive, '' she confirms. "Sometimes you're in the middle of a science experiment and it rings at the crunch time.'' The fact that many of the calls are from sales reps is particularly grating.

Although there are only eight pupils in this P1-7 school, Mrs Scott, who teaches the children French and Gaelic as well as English, says that when she is not in the classroom she is busy with admin, reading and planning.

"You belong to the job utterly and completely," she says. "I think people think this is an easy number. They don't realise the tremendous amount of juggling." In order to prevent any balls dropping on the ground, she gives a high priority to planning, particularly attainment targets, so that many activities in this multi-composite school can go on without her having constantly to intervene.

Each morning Faye McNaughton, headteacher at Quarter Primary school, Hamilton, South Lanarkshire, circulates a daily plan to her staff in a Day Book, so that all share in and know what is happening.

She is heavily reliant, however, on the willingness of teaching and ancillary staff to rally round, and also on goodwill from children and parents. "The fostering of good relationships is of paramount importance,'' she confirms.

Readiness to help out teachers who are also managers was evident in the wide variety of people who talked to TESS - including a janitor, a dinner lady and a music teacher. At a school in the Dumfries area, we even got a reply to a phone call that indicated well-developed social skills in the classroom: "Caerlaverock Primary. Pupil speaking".

The school's headteacher, Anne Minto, says her biggest burden is being "swamped with paper about things like the state of the roof, finances, energy savings. You don't have the back-up you would have in a big institution, so everything falls on your shoulder. It's quite a lonely job."

Mrs Minto, who is secretary of the Dumfries area headteachers' association, strongly recommends getting together with peers and investing in a fax machine, which allows people to communicate quickly without interrupting each other.

The biggest challenge, she says, is to avoid getting bogged down in admin. "We mustn't lose sight of the fact that we are judged first and foremost as a teacher."

Irene Murray at the nearby 190-pupil St Andrew's RC school, teaches just two afternoons a week, but is very glad to do it. "I find other areas such as chasing decorators for quotes to present to the school board far more tedious, " she says.

Fay Black, at Achaleven Primary, Connel, Argyll, says she keeps her ship afloat thanks to an e-mail link to the education authority, a phone in her room, planning, and good back-up from staff and especially from computer, clerical and financial wizard Marian Fisher. "She releases me from a lot of things. Basically all I do is sign."

Miss Black does not complain about her double role. "It makes life so much easier, because you know what your staff have to put up with. Their problems are your problems. A head can be construed as just sitting in the office while they do all the work."

Jennifer Cattanach, of Fort William Primary, is not quite so laid-back. "It is terrifyingly daunting," she says. "Because of budget cuts you are doing more and more with less and less support. The children's education is paramount, but it is spinning the plates to deal with everything else."

Interruptions dog Julia Davies at Dunvegan Primary School, Skye. "If a visitor stays for two hours, you can be tearing your hair out. And when I return from a phone call, the children have lost the thread of what we're doing."

The shortage of supply teachers in rural areas means that Frances Disbury, at 114-pupil Halkirk Primary, Caithness, is unable to get full cover for her management time. Her phone is 100 yards from her classroom, and because of cuts, lunchtime supervision is now part of her duties: "I just have to get on with it,'' she says. ``But there isn't the same job satisfaction."


* Invest in an answering machine and fax machine. The message on the former should instruct callers to ring back repeatedly if it is an emergency * Check the answering machine during breaks, so that people feel they can rely on it to get through to you promptly * Ask parents and other potential callers to avoid phoning during school hours unless urgent. Just before or just after the school day is better * Never forget your class and their education are your priority * Prioritise, in order, everything else after the above * Train the children to be quiet if you have to be out of the room for a visitor or a phone call * To ensure continuity, plan a teaching day for when you are present and follow-up activities for when someone replaces you * Any clerical assistant you may have should be trained to be a good front-line person, blocking any demands on you that can wait * Consider having a phone put in your classroom * Have formal or informal meetings with other headteachers in the area to give each other support and ideas * Planning - daily forward and individual - has to be spot on * Communicate well with parents through an easy-to-read newsletter or letter, to cut down unnecessary calls to you

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