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Why not let them eat cake?

It's the little things that help to keep smiles on faces around your school, writes Jill Parkin.

Corporate happiness is a dodgy concept. Whether it's a Smiley on the office doorhandle, womb-pink walls or "I am emotionally intelligent" badges, it's all a bit Billy Graham, a bit have-a-nice-day. In short, we can't really believe it.

But does it have to be like that? Most of us who've experienced a happy workplace know that you don't have to wear the T-shirt. A happy place may simply be the most efficient and fulfilling place to work.

Perhaps making a happy school starts at the top, with the head. School management structures are flatter these days, and the authoritarian style is being challenged by the people-centred approach.

Kate Griffin, head of Greenford High School in west London, believes schools cope better with change if emotions are not neglected, and that relationships are important, as is mentoring for new staff.

She says: "A preparedness to trust the younger teachers, with the appropriate provision of support, can ensure that their energy and enthusiasm is cultivated and valued.

"Successful headteachers know how important the efforts of such staff are in the running of summer schools, activity days, outings and the other things that do so much to provide a fuller educational experience. The support they need will clearly take up time, but it is one of the best investments of a school leader's time that I have found.

"For more than a decade, teachers have been told that they are mostly pretty useless, don't expect enough of students and are ostrich-like about change. So your staff may need to be reminded of how good they are.

"Staff after-school teas, a good lunch on in-service days, and the provision of cakes and coffee in the staffroom cost but a small proportion of the school's annual budget, yet bring untold benefits.

"A few years ago, I employed somebody to serve coffee in the staffroom before school and at break time. This encouraged a much higher proportion of staff to gather there. The opportunities for conversation, the development of ideas and the exchange of information that this has created have been invaluable.

"The structure of the school must support its culture. It is no use paying lip-service to collegiality if there are no opportunities for staff to talk and work together. It's no use denying the responsibilities of leadership, but it has become increasingly clear that a team approach is essential.

"Some of the recent DFEE programmes have helped. For example, the New Opportunities Fund (NOF) ICT training programmes have, in many cases, encouraged teachers to work together - not only on the training itself but also in the writing of programmes of study for use in their classrooms."

Kate Griffin, who wrote a chapter for the booklet "The Creativity of School Leadership" (published by the Secondary Heads Association) believes that heads and staff alike ought to be lifelong learners and that a norm of self-development ought to be established.

"Teachers are professionals, and at the heart of their teaching should be their own desire to learn," she says.

'The Creativity of School Leadership', edited by David Bennett, is available from Secondary Heads Association, price pound;10. Tel: 0116 2991122


1. Are your shared goals obvious to all those connected to your school?

2. Does everyone feel that they have a responsibility to ensure its success?

3. In your school, is collegiality a) anathema?

b) unusual?

c) part of the culture?

4. What percentage of the adults in your school is involved in lifelong learning: a) less than 50 per cent?

b) between 50 per cent and 75 per cent?

c) more than 75 per cent?

5. Are all support staff lifelong learners?

6. Are you and your staff prepared to take risks?

7. If anyone feels the need for support, is he or she confident that it will be forthcoming?

8. Do you respect your students and colleagues and is this a reciprocal relationship?

9. Do visitors recognise an open and honest environment?

10. Is success celebrated in a meaningful way?

11. Do you often hear laughter in your school?

This checklist was devised by Kate Griffin of Greenford high school, west London. Yes is the right answer to the closed questions. Where you have a choice, A is poor, and C is very good. Kate Griffin says: 'If these traits can become more everyday in your school, then it will become more successful.'

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