No more rooms of their own?
The legal requirement to have a staffroom has now been dropped, and with space - and time - at a premium, it may soon be a distant memory. But would teachers really miss it?
There’s no way it would have been right for us to have dismantled the staffroom and not had one at all,” says Allan Foulds. “Not yet.”
Foulds, head of Cheltenham Bournside School, is not a fan of the staffroom. In the past year he has moved the one at his Gloucestershire school and reduced it significantly in size.
And he, unlike many teachers, did not bridle at education secretary Michael Gove’s recent announcement that schools would no longer be legally obliged to have a room “for use by the teachers, for the purpose of work and for social purposes”.
The removal of the regulation paves the way for the removal of the rooms themselves.
At the other end of the spectrum is Bernadette Hunter. The head of William Shrewsbury Primary in Staffordshire believes that a staffroom - however small - is a vital part of any school.
“Some of my staff do have lunch with the children,” she says. “And I do think it’s good for children to see adults eating and working alongside them. But there needs to be a space for people to have some time during the working day. It helps people to be more resilient, when they are managing difficult situations, if they know that they have a space to go and have a few minutes to recharge.”
TES spent the busiest part of the day - lunchtime - sitting in both schools’ staffrooms, in a bid to compare and contrast the role that the room plays in the life of each school.
11.30am, PE staffroom
The PE departmental staffroom is what might be politely described as “lived in”. Two parallel rows of desks are cluttered with laptops, folders and loose sheets of paper. Above them, the walls are lined with timetables and notices. By the door, pictures of babies are pinned to a noticeboard. Four teachers are sitting in the small space; fleeces hang on the backs of their chairs. One works on his laptop, while holding an open book on his knees.
“We don’t have a lot of time between lessons,” says PE teacher Victoria Clasper. “We’re either setting up equipment or we’re in the changing rooms. Lunchtimes, you’re either on duty or running a club. Then we’re in here when you’ve got non-contact time - when you’re planning and organising.”
The PE staff are, essentially, proving Foulds’ point for him. His school has almost 1,800 pupils, 125 teachers and 75 members of non-teaching staff. “In terms of space, the main staffroom would not support that,” he says. But it does not need to: most people simply do not use it. There is an all-staff briefing once a week, but that is the only time all colleagues will be in there at the same time. Many barely visit at other times.
“You have to ask yourself: what purpose does it serve?” says Foulds. “What’s it for? Are there other priorities for the space? There’s always a question over the efficiency of having a staffroom at all. But that has to be consistent with the ability for staff to have work areas.”
12.20pm, main staffroom
“Predictably empty,” says Foulds, as he opens the door to the main staffroom. Then he looks around properly. “No, not empty. I’m being disrespectful to the two people who are in here.”
A woman with orange hair is reading TES. At the opposite end of the room, a man is sitting, staring blankly into space. Around them, a series of laminated education-themed aphorisms have been pinned to the walls. “Praise, like gold and diamonds, owes its value only to its scarcity.” “Challenge of the day: find something good in everyone.”
Everything here is royal blue: the carpet, the chairs. The entire length of one wall is covered with blue plastic cubbyholes. The space on top has become a de facto storage area. There is a box of Christmas baubles there, and a pair of sandals.
A man rushes in, slamming the door outwards. It closes with a second bang. He runs over to the cubbyholes, grabs something, then rushes out again.
The current staffroom was converted to its new purpose last summer. Before that, staff used what is now the school library. “I didn’t have it burning in my mind: we need a smaller staffroom because it’s too big,” says Foulds. “But what was in my mind was: we need a business centre. We have to judge priorities. If young people are missing out so that you can build a big staffroom, then we can’t support that.”
Another woman enters. Across the room, the man wrenches his focus away from the middle distance. “Quiet in here, isn’t it?” he says.
“Mmm,” she says. “Are you just coming in or are you between exams?”
“Just coming in. Thought I’d have a cup of tea first. You well?”
“Yes, I’m well.”
“I found out this morning - my husband’s got redundancy,” says a woman in a green top.
“Oh, no,” says her colleague.
“No, no. He wanted it. Scary, though.”
Another woman comes in, sits down next to them and takes out her lunch bag.
“He got redundancy,” the first woman says.
“No way! Scary.” Pause. “Oh. I’ve just spilled couscous across the room. Sorry about that.” She walks over to the sink.
Peter Beckett joins them. Like many of the people eating lunch here, he is a member of the school’s support staff. “I’d be on my own if I didn’t come in here,” he says. (“Billy no-mates,” the woman in green interjects.) “We always sit together here.”
Next to him, Jules Gray, the school librarian, nods. “Until about 10 years ago, it was absolutely crammed full,” he says. “But now the school is just too big for everyone to use the one place. So support staff use it more. We come up every lunchtime because we haven’t got departmental staffrooms. Also, I can’t eat at my desk. Not since I banned food from the library.”
“Are you an invigilator?” Helen Wilson asks.
“No, I’m supply,” says Clarissa Lloyd. “Are you supply as well?”
“Yes,” says Wilson. “Music.”
“Oh, it’s great, music,” says Lloyd. Then: “It’s always pretty empty here. Very few full-time staff.”
Lloyd has been working as a supply teacher at Cheltenham Bournside for around 10 years. Although her own subject is art, she has worked across most of the school’s departments. For supply staff, she says, the staffroom provides a sense of context to a school: “Most people come in for a purpose. They often say ‘Hi,’ then they shoot off again.
“The other staff always seem very, very busy. Nice, but very busy. So I come here to have a bit of quiet. Keep out of their way a bit, let them get on with their subject.”
Because of the school’s size, teachers who have lunchtime activities or meetings rarely have enough time to cross the campus to the staffroom before afternoon lessons. Form tutors also tend to eat together in year groups: the Year 10 tutors all in a single area, for example.
“It’s like this in other secondary schools, too,” says Wilson. “If I was full-time, I’d never be in here. You haven’t got time. I always think it would be nice to do more things together. But practically, it’s not very easy.”
1.33pm, languages staffroom
Down the hall from the main staffroom is the modern foreign languages staff area. The room is narrow and long, with desks running down both walls. “We find out how important these staff work areas are when we have to disrupt them,” says Foulds. During recent roofing work, the languages staffroom was closed off to department members. “People responded really well,” he says. “But they felt the pressure.”
Such areas also provide a quiet space for teachers to pursue whatever working hours suit them best. A large number will arrive at school at 7am; others choose to stay on at the end of the day. Without such departmental areas, Foulds says, most teachers would have no option but to take most of their work home. There is no designated work area in the main staffroom.
“Staff here often eat with students. The innovative approach would be to have shared staff and student work areas as well. Where staff and students would feel more relaxed about being together during more formal times.”
But, he acknowledges, this would mean compromises. “Privacy for staff is important as well. For staff to be able to spend a shared time relaxing, away from young people, isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I understand the need for that.
“But for young people there are advantages to seeing staff continuing to act as role models. It’s about developing and enhancing the relationship that you have with young people. It’s about blurring the divide. A sense of togetherness. All right, so we have different responsibilities, different pressures. But the more you understand what these are, the better.
“The more effective the relationship you have with young people, on all levels, the better job you do for them. But that’s very visionary stuff. That’s not where we are now.”
A woman comes in, sighs loudly and makes herself a cup of tea. The kitchen is at the far end of the staffroom, opposite a wall lined with wooden pigeonholes. There is a fridge, a sink and a tap providing instant boiling water. Just beyond the pigeonholes, underneath the noticeboard, is an open packet of biscuits and a golden syrup cake.
The woman takes her tea and carries it over to the other side of the staffroom, where windows overlook two rows of blue fabric chairs. “We had the staffroom refurbished three years ago,” says Hunter. “We had a committee choose colours, kitchen equipment (to) make the best possible use of the space. They said they definitely needed a comfortable space to relax in, facilities for making hot drinks and food. Essentially, it’s about having somewhere to relax.
“Teaching is a really stressful job. It’s an emotionally demanding job. Staff are dealing with sometimes quite difficult situations. And to be able to go and relax is very important. Recharge your batteries, really.”
William Shrewsbury is a large primary: it has 670 pupils and 80 members of staff, including 32 teachers. The staffroom, however, is only big enough to accommodate 60, assuming they held their breath and had a relatively limited sense of personal space.
“We had a quote for extending the staffroom,” says Hunter. “But the quote was so high that we didn’t feel we could justify it. We needed to spend the money on classrooms and ICT. We’ve got to spend the money on the things that pupils can benefit from. I think even staff would rather we spent the money on the pupils.”
A second woman comes in, carrying a backpack with a picture of Eeyore on it. “Hi,” she says. “Hello,” the first woman responds. The second woman takes a sandwich out of her backpack and eats it while standing at the noticeboard. Three minutes later, she leaves. “See you later,” she says. “Bye,” the other woman says.
Teaching assistant (TA) Karen Heathcote has exactly 25 minutes in which to eat her lunch, before reporting for duty in her second role as lunchtime supervisor. “The TAs do try to come down here,” she says. “Make yourself a drink, meet up with colleagues and have a bit of a chat. It’s a nice social opportunity.
“It’s rather sad, but you can be working alongside colleagues and not actually speak to them or see much of them during the day. So it’s nice to catch up with them. Otherwise, what would you do? Go to the photocopier and catch up with them there?”
As she collects her belongings together and prepares to leave, other staff members drift in, singly or in pairs. “You’re looking very smart,” one teacher says to another in the corner.
“Well, we’ve got that concert, haven’t we?” the other says. “You’ve got to make an effort. We brought extra recorders, just in case the parents wanted to play.”
“They never do, do they?” the first teacher says.
“No” - with a hint of ruefulness - “but we can always try.”
Reception teacher Celia Maddock is sitting with her two TAs, Shelley Cartwright and Sarah Martin. “Even if it’s only 20 minutes, it’s nice to have 20 minutes thinking about something else other than the children you’re teaching,” she says, unwrapping her sandwiches. “You need a break to come back refreshed.”
Cartwright nods in agreement. “In reception, children come back from lunch and want to chat. Or their coats need sorting out. Everything needs sorting out. Things they could do themselves. But as long as you’re there, they expect you to do it for them.”
“Yes,” says Maddock. “Also, it’s very difficult eating your lunch in early years classrooms. Little tables.”
Caroline Smith walks in and sits down with them. Also an early years TA, she is carrying a small pink bag with “my little lunchbag” written on its side.
“John’s got a new job,” says Maddock.
“Oh, has he?” says Smith.
“Working in a prison. With drug abuse and solvent abuse. It’s what he wants to do - he’s really excited.”
“Gordon Ramsay’s been working in prisons, hasn’t he?” says Martin.
“And David Dickinson,” says Smith.
“Is he the orange one?”
“I think that’s his natural colour,” says Maddock.
“You see?” says Smith. “You learn so much in the staffroom.”
A piece of pink A3 cardboard is stuck to the wall by the photocopier. At the top are written the words “on a positive note… ” Underneath, staff have pasted Post-it notes bearing their good news. “I’m going to be a nanna,” is written on one. A series of notes telling passers-by “lovely news here” and “read this to make you smile” surround one announcing “Lucy and Luke are going to hear the patter of tiny feet”.
“We do try to be a community, rather than just individual people working in a school,” says Maddock. “If you’re caring about each other, and looking after each other, you’re better able to look after the children. It works both ways.”
When staff members take part in sponsored events, they will often use the staffroom to solicit for cash. And whenever there is a staff birthday, it will be accompanied by cakes and biscuits.
“If it’s someone’s birthday, I’ll hear people say ‘Yes!’ through my wall,” says Hunter. Her office is separated from the staffroom by only a plasterboard wall, and the sound regularly carries through from the other side. “Even if you only go in for five or 10 minutes, it’s a chance to talk to colleagues and share news. I always like hearing them laughing. If they’re happy in their work, that attitude will translate into happy children.”
The staff have a designated well-being committee, led by Smith. She organises regular staff outings: now, she strolls over to the noticeboard and pins up a notice about a dinner in July. The committee also oversees “goodwill week”, during which each member of staff is allocated a colleague for whom they must do nice things.
“It might be making a cup of tea, but there are also bottles of wine left on chairs or tubes of handcream left for people,” says Smith. “I thought you might like this… “
“It would be a bit more difficult to do that without a staffroom,” says Maddock. “Because, if you’re in your classroom, you’re isolated. You could stay in there and not see anyone.”
“If I hadn’t come in here, I wouldn’t have seen you today,” Smith says to her.
“Do you feel better for it?”
“I like seeing you. You look lovely in purple.”
“I didn’t think I was in purple. I thought I was in pink.”
“You see? If we didn’t have a staffroom, we wouldn’t know what’s pink and what’s purple.”
The well-being committee also organises staffroom Tupperware party-style events. For example, a bookseller will bring in paperbacks for staff to look at and choose from.
“It’s not always books - there are gadgets and things like that,” says Smith. She giggles. “It’s really good if you haven’t got time to go out. We have household gadgets.” She laughs again and, around her, one or two colleagues join in. “Head massagers.” Her cheeks turn the colour of her lunchbag. “It’s not the gadgets - it’s what you can do with them. We’re very sad. We look forward to these little things.”
By now most staff members have dispersed to their classrooms. In the corner a single teacher sits by the photocopier, typing on her laptop. She leans over and picks up a mug of tea from the floor. “I have to sit here - it’s where the plug is,” she says. Opposite her the assistant head is working at a small coffee table, his papers spread across the limited space.
“I think an ideal staffroom does have work space,” says Hunter. “A separate area, where staff could work with wi-fiand laptops. But we haven’t got room for that. We just don’t have as much space as we’d like. It’s quite a humble staffroom.” She pauses. “But it’s the only one we have.”