Leader magazineASCL - Association of School and College Leaders

Talkin' to me?

Man shouting through megaphone

Why do pupils manage to spread the word far more effectively than the staff? Catherine Szabo pleads for the lines of communication to be opened in the staff room and beyond.

You know how it is - there is a fight brewing in the lower playground and the whole school is mobilised. Cheesy pasta is left half eaten, chips left bereft of tomato sauce as pupils leave their lunch to see what's happening.

Kids with notes to be excused PE for the last term and a half show a turn of pace of which Ryan Giggs would have been proud in his prime. The windows in the English corridor open as if on a timer as year 7 pour out of them, performing gymnastic feats worthy of the Olympics.

And all because Freddie Sidebottom mis-timed his tackle in the fourth match of the 8PF versus 9CS autumn series. "Foul!" "No it wasn't!" "What you going to do about it, then?"

So that was the key phrase that ensured 800 pupils descended upon the pitch in a matter of seconds. The fracas was communicated to the six staff on duty by a combination of garbled walkie-talkie messages and being swept along on the tide. As they arrive, the pupils just as quickly disappear; a few key individuals are, however, identified and collared to provide witness accounts.

Of the 800 hundred pupils in the vicinity, no one saw anything that happened but all their mates, apparently, did. One reported that his mate said it was that big kid who jumped on the little one. Someone said it was the girl with blonde hair who ran off with that kid's bag. Another alleged that her mate said that the kid over there threw a sandwich at that other kid.

Detective skills

The staff mill around trying to make sense of all of this, desperately looking for a way out of the investigation that will undoubtedly take up time no one can afford to give. So it's Morse to the rescue - the most senior member of staff present.

This will require the same detective skills as deciphering some phone messages from reception. Bullying... year 10 girl and her friends picking on Mrs Smith's daughter Jodie... bus stop... sometime last week. Parent doesn't know tutor group... wants it stopped or else local paper/ local authority/governors will be informed... call back when it's sorted.

No record of Jodie Smith. Head of year knows nothing and is teaching for the rest of the day so, in the space of one afternoon, the job of assistant headteacher takes on the role of detective, translator, mediator, crowd control, judge, jury and general fixer of all things.

Note to self: must remember to look up training course where all these skills are covered.

Oh for a communication system that works as effectively as that employed by the pupils! I need to alert staff that tonight's meeting has been switched from the hall to the drama studio with a prompt 4pm start. A request from premises: ju jitsu or karate or belly dancing now starting at 4.30pm or possibly 4.45pm in the hall. Ken the caretaker mumbled something at Joan who spoke to Angie who called to tell me.

Stand-up routine

Half the staff are there. The rest are lost en route - probably. Does my 'Skills I have used today' list include a stand-up routine to keep the troops entertained until we have a full house? Positively not.

Next week's options meeting to start at 7pm. Please remind pupils. Litter is not good at the moment. Can we have a big effort to clear the site please? Remember to fill in the year 7 reports - deadline Friday.

It comes up every year - we must improve communication. Let's use email! People need to read them. Let's use a weekly bulletin! People need to read it. Let's use the emergency board in the staffroom! People need to look at it. Let's use the twice weekly staff meetings! People need to listen.

Perhaps communication will not be improved until we eradicate the weak link: get rid of the human element. But isn't that why we do what we do? We develop skills we didn't know we had and push ourselves to use skills we know we are not particularly strong at so that the humans we deal with are fulfilled, satisfied, placated and happy while appreciating what we do.

If only they could communicate it to us once in a while... Catherine Szabo is assistant headteacher at the Clarendon College in Trowbridge, Wiltshire.

Want to have the last word? The Last Word always welcomes contributions from members. If you'd like to share your humorous observations of school life, please email Sara Gadzik at leader@ascl.org.uk ASCL offers a modest honorarium.

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