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We never shout or get angry, on paper

I have been given the role of revising school policies and injecting a little freshness for 2004. This, I'm sure, is leading me towards writing the dreaded school improvement plan.

It has been fascinating to look through existing policies that we, as teachers, should obviously have read, digested and understood. In truth, of course, few of us have bothered to do more than wonder idly what the ancient document folder contains.

Leafing through ageing documents - smartly bound in coloured plastic strips and embossed with a grainy school logo - I am reminded of the times I have made children's work look older with a lighter (no, I don't smoke kids!) and cold tea bags. It is this ancient parchment, copied by one of those really old manual photocopiers, that I stare at now.

I find it fascinating to see in writing just where the school stands on important issues . But just how much of the paper is put into practice? Interesting though the policies may be, some have little relevance to the day-to-day running of the school - about as much use as a chocolate fireguard.

Policies should be about believing in a vision, putting it into words and making sure it is communicated, accepted and demonstrated by the staff. Yet some policies still make references to ancient educational words such as Baker days and the cane.

Policy-writing, I discover, involves a great deal of "school- speak" which, once translated, does not sound that impressive. What is important is that policies should be based on common sense and a recognition that best practice cannot be followed all of the time. My school's teaching and learning policy, for example, simply states what we do and some other general common sense. No problem there. But the behaviour policy that focuses on positive management of children, while remaining calm and cheerful "at all times", makes me a tad sceptical. At Christmas, for instance, when trying to organise a concert with 300 fractious children chattering through a procession of child actors in tea towels and dressing gowns on papier mache donkeys - don't we forget the positive and resort to good old-fashioned red-faced-and-shaking bellowing? Do we adhere to the policy religiously? Are we supposed to? If not, what is the point?

The simple answer is that policies are there to remind us of the vision, but we should also be realistic: policies are fine in principle, but in practice don't always work.

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