A recent article in The Guardian highlighted the possibility of the end of the school staff room. However, one aspect of the current regulation was noticeable by its absence, staff accommodation, specifically schools no longer being obligated to provide "accommodation for use by the teachers at school, for the purpose of work and for social purposes".
The idea of the staffroom as a mystical place where teachers smoke, drink coffee and do all sorts of exciting and interesting things has persisted over the years, but the actual space is one that is fast disappearing. This disappearance is an on-going process, and is a part of the continuing attacks on teachers’ conditions and their ability to resist them.
Although the image of the lefty teacher indoctrinating the children dies hard; you are much more likely to hear reactionary crap in there than anything radical. However the fact that teachers can talk and meet up outside of their immediate colleagues is important. Otherwise interaction with colleagues ends up much more limited to work discussion and the job takes that bit more of your life away from you.
In many schools there has been a move to team bases (smaller and only usually for one department’s teachers) rather than staff rooms. As lunch breaks have become shorter (in my first school it was 35 minutes, in my current school it’s 45 minutes; compared to an hour when I was a pupil at school myself) teachers don’t have time to get to a staff room and back. So while we may have a union notice board in the staffroom most of the teachers only ever go in there to check their pigeonhole. In many cases teachers have welcomed the team bases as giving them time back. Except that they don’t. Team bases aren’t staffrooms with chairs, kettles and a copy of the TES, although they usually have the first two. They have desks, often one each. This means that the team base is a work space, not a social one. Lunch at your desk becomes a working lunch.
Again in some ways this is welcome, if you share classrooms, having a proper place to do all your preparation, store your materials and equipment is something that you need. Also the convenience of having a team base right next to the class rooms means that your breaks take even more of a hit as students come to ask questions. I am happy to help students and an end to the intimidating staff room is no bad thing1 but this is more time that is taken from us with no reimbursement as we lose breaks we are legally entitled to.
The need to use ICT in lessons, to record progress and to send and receive necessary information means that many teachers in older schools find more and more of their staffroom devoted to computers that they need to do their work. Again this is the intrusion of work into our free time. While this to a limited extent can free us from the tyranny of the school laptop and unlimited overtime, it is at the expense of our social and organising space.
Many modern schools are built with team bases rather than staff rooms, such as the school where I currently work. The only places large enough for a meeting are in almost constant use, such as the canteen and the hall. So instead of being able to discuss events in this space, teachers have to take control of a space before they can easily begin talking to each other. Whether this is by asking (officially booking a room) or simply by starting to use it without permission, the end result is that before we can start to make the contacts that lead to being organised, we have to be organised enough to make a space for it. Taking away our communal spaces is a direct attack on our solidarity and, worst of all, on our ability to even know what that is.
- 1. While I was training a group of sixth form students came into the staffroom on their last day, knowing they were fairly safe from punishment, and were nervous, excited and finally rather disappointed.