Bill Hicks searches for the spirit of new year optimism in the TES forums

Although it's nearly the first week of term for you, I'm writing this before Christmas, but I'm going to pretend it's New Year's Eve and we're all trembling on the threshold of 2006.

Impolite as it might be, I have to mention that hope and optimism were rare commodities in the TES forums towards the butt-end of the year.

Fights in the Personal forum flared with such ferocity that we were forced to close our most popular online recreation area, Bauble's bar. I should add that this was at the request of its proprietor, who felt the place had lost its charm once its deep carpet of sawdust was soaked with the blood of feuding regulars. All 57,000-plus messages are now safely stowed in our long-term thread bunker, securely sealed until December 31, 2049.

So it was with a sense of relief that we turned our backs on the indulgences of another festive season and looked ahead. But to what? Greater things, of course - and where better to find these than in the School Managers' forum?

Here, even in darkest December, the talk was of leadership and preferment.

One poster, for example, was preparing for an interview for a deputy headship, and needed to know what the "in-tray exercise" involved.

A full definition arrived, courtesy of fairport: "Written exercise where you have to imagine that you arrive at school to find HT absent and a number of 'pressing' tasks to deal with - allegation against teacher, cleaners on strike, Ofsted phoning up, that sort of thing.

"Each has to be dealt with and all have to be prioritised ... You have to outline your strategy for each, writing letters, outlining phonecalls, etc.

And you only have about half an hour to do it!"

There followed several gasps and sharp intakes of breath: Wurzel97 felt it was unreasonable, having acquired hisher own deputy headship after 30 minutes' observed teaching and a "cosy interview" with the head.

Partist reckoned it was good preparation for the job: "The in-tray exercise as described could easily happen on day 1 of being in post... I would see it as a very useful, albeit daunting, exercise!"

A few threads away, others were discussing the differences between deputy and assistant headteachers. Thedangermouse was confused: "My old school employed an AH for the first time and the deputy was all put out! When we asked what the differences in role were, we were told 'only a deputy can deputise' by said deputy!"

Enter one cynical dinosaur: "Assistant head: on way up greasy pole, happy to do the work for lower status, longer hours, less respect than deputy head, who is either also on way up greasy pole and happy to make enemies, sacrifice family life, or has decided 'That'll do for me' and is happy not being a head."

LearKing had a more concise definition: "Difference between an assistant head and a deputy. About pound;10,000."

So, I was still searching for the spirit of 2006. I stumble across this one: "Arson and securing large refuse bins." I see the future - and it's burning. Well, at least the school management zone is as well anchored in reality as any other area of the forums.

So it's back to Personal, back to the last days of 2005, and back to one thread which cheered us all up no end: the TES web staff appreciation thread, started by Fairynuff and enough to make one blub. And bless lilyofthefield for her barbed contribution: "God, the lengths some people will go to to get their thread into Hot Topics!"

Bill Hicks is editor of the TES website. www.tes.co.ukstaffroom

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