Why maths is numero uno

25th June 2004 at 01:00
Maths teachers mark out their territory in piles of graph paper, science teachers keep to themselves and PE teachers are the noisiest in the staffroom, according to a new study.

Analysing behaviour by subject, Carrie Pachter, reader in education at Goldsmiths College, London, suggests that staffroom seating arrangements reflect the power politics of a school.

In the educational journal, Forum, she writes: "Mathematicians spread their books around them. Their ability to do this reflects their official importance as teachers of core subjects and to the success in employment of the subject."

But Alan McKenzie, principal teacher of history at Greenock Academy, disputes the findings. "It's women who dominate in our staffroom and the guys are excluded to the periphery. We're pushed out to the very edge, the real colonies. No subject dominates the staffroom," he said.

Mr McKenzie, president of the Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association, said staff tended to spend time at breaks in their bases although the school has two staffrooms, one very busy.

"Everyone has a laugh there. It's normal in our place that we do not talk shop. It keeps you sane and that's why staffrooms are important. You need a place to have a laugh," he said.

Dr Paechter's research discovered that science teachers often skip the staffroom, but once there can act as a power bloc in discussions.

"Ensconced in their cosy prep rooms, with technicians to make break-time coffee, they keep themselves to themselves," she said.

Design and technology staff also lurk in their prep rooms south of the border and home economics teachers stay in their kitchens, which have better facilities than the staffroom, and make themselves lunch.

"Further down the pecking order, but very much in the staffroom, are the supply teachers," said Dr Paechter. "They sit where they can, usually in the darkest and least hospitable corner of the room."

The rebels are found in the smoking room, the place to be seen where the cool people hang out.

Young male PE teachers dominate breaktime discussions. She said: "This group uses sporting talk to show to themselves and others what fantastic men they are."

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