Why your head aches;Opinion

26th November 1999 at 00:00
If you're in charge of a school, you're a Jack- of-all-trades, says Kevin James.

As I stood at the checkout of Bamp;Q with a toilet seat and two nine-volt batteries in my hands, I could not help thinking what a funny job it was being a primary headteacher.

The problem was, the toilet seat in the nursery staff loo was broken and the caretaker does not have a car, and as I am the only one not teaching, I had to go and get it or risk a mutiny by my nursery staff. And while I was there I needed that nine-volt battery for the radio microphone I would be using in the community assembly the next day. And another one for the answer machine that was on the blinkI Then today, when the class of 35 Year 4 children were going to the local education authority computer centre for the morning there were not enough adults - too many working parents in that class - so, again, as I am the only one not teaching, I had to join them.

And the bunged-up toilet that was overflowing last week, well it could not be left until the caretaker came on at 3.30pm, could it? Someone had to unbung it quick, and as I was the only one not teaching, that someone was me.

Yes, you are getting the idea now, aren't you? When the powers that be think that we high-flying heads are in classrooms monitoring the quality of teaching and learning, it is more likely that we are in the boiler room turning the heating off because everyone is fainting. (Why do thermostats in schools never work? Classrooms are always boiling or freezing and never somewhere in-between.) Someone somewhere has got to sort out this ridiculous state of affairs. Because of chronic underfunding in primary schools, heads are constantly being forced to do jobs which are nothing to do with their key roles.

Despite being headteacher of a school with 350 pupils I only have 21 hours of caretaking time, so I spend a lot of time on caretaking duties. What little secretarial time I have is gobbled up with finance work related to the budget and administration of dinner money, so now I type most of my own letters.

The only non class-based teacher is our part-time special needs support teacher, who I am very reluctant to take off timetable when the children so desperately need her help, so I often have to be the extra-qualified body required to accompany the swimmers or go on the school trip.

Would my secondary colleagues be found undertaking these tasks? I think not. So why is it thought acceptable for primary heads to be mopping toilet floors?

At a recent conference on the Green Paper, Peter Makeham, the senior civil servant at the Department for Education and Employment in charge of making the proposals happen, told heads that performance management should be a natural extension of the "regular classroom monitoring and evaluation" that they all undertook.

My colleagues and I talked later about how we all aspired to this heady ideal of spending regular time with our teachers in classrooms but somehow never quite managed it on anything other than a spasmodic basis. One exasperated colleague commented: "I've been on courses on prioritising, time management, you name it and I still can't do it. There's always another form to fill, a stroppy parent at the door or the phone ringing. How do you do it?" If this Government is serious about wanting heads to prioritise the monitoring and evaluation of classroom practice in order to raise standards it has to put enough money into primary schools to allow heads not to have to do other people's jobs, and furthermore... ah, sorry, got to go. Apparently that boys' toilet is playing up again...

Kevin James is headteacher of Hadrian Park first school, Newcastle

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