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Who's lurking in the staffroom corner?

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 Paechter, reader in education at Goldsmiths college, London, suggests that staffroom seating arrangements reflect the power politics of a school. In the education journal, Forum, she writes: "Mathematicians spread their books all round 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 maths teachers deny they colonise the staffroom. Vic Martin, head of maths at Carter community school, in Poole, said: "We mix with everyone else and we don't think we're more important than them."

Dr Paechter's research discovered 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.

Richard Bolam, science teacher at Honywood comprehensive, in Colchester, Essex, admits that there is truth in this description. "We have to make a conscious effort to get out of the prep room," he said. "In the staffroom, you're forced to discuss issues outside your own subject. But I do occasionally make my own cup of coffee."

Design and technology staff also lurk in their prep rooms 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 seen to be where the cool people hang out.

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

But few PE teachers are eager to equate staffroom sports talk with macho posturing. Pietro Carinchi, at Philips high, in Bury, said: "A lot of my colleagues are interested in sport. PE teachers are specialists, so who better to talk to about a match?"

Power Relations and Staffroom Spaces, Forum, Volume 46, No 1, 2004

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