Staff rooms: a place to organise

Staff rooms: a place to organise

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.

Posted By

jef costello
Feb 26 2012 12:57


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Feb 26 2012 13:35

Good entry. This staffroom stuff has been creeping for a while.

I met a Teach First coach a year and a half ago. It was a bizarre conversation. It was for an ex-workmate's birthday, who was now off doing 'future leaders' programme which is for people who think they can be headteachers after two years of teaching or some shit. I only went cos my ex dragged me along.

Now, I didn't know my ex-colleague's friend was a Teach First coach. She didn't know I was FULL COMMUNIST.

So ensued a bizarre conversation in a loud bar, shouted, with lots of stuff repeated, me thinking I was mis-hearing her saying 'staffroom's shouldn't exist, people just complain and start to make trouble when they gather'. I just thought, 'maybe she's just a wanker'.

Of course I was all 'i fuckin hate when managers come in the staffroom, they should stay in their offices. I hate every manager I've ever had'. She probably thought she'd mis-heard me, I thought I'd misheard her.

After this going on for 15minutes she revealved she was a coach on the Teach First programme. Suddenly the past 15 minutes made sense. Absolute piece of shit.

Lots of schools, esp new academies deliberately don't have staffrooms, for the very reasons you put forward, and I've heard it from the horses mouth. This woman was from a brand new academy.

Feb 26 2012 16:59

Good blog, thanks for posting, we'll put that out on the libcom Facebook/twitter shortly. Yeah, I'm not surprised about them being removed, and breaking up solidarity as being a reason for this. This is something happening in a lot of large workplaces, slowly removing communal staff areas…

(A short sub editing note, I removed the < br> as line breaks go in automatically, and adding them like that ends up putting in too many line breaks)

Feb 26 2012 17:59

Capitalism develops technology and organises physical space in it's own image and in response to class struggle.

This is just one small example.

How about a look at how the rest of the school environment is organised in terms of heirachy and control of both staff and students and how this has changed over time from your experience?

jef costello
Feb 26 2012 18:15

Thanks for the comments.
Choccy, thanks for commenting, I've been enjoying your blogs on education. I've never met any of the teachfirst coaches or trainees myself, I'm pretty glad, think I'd have hated them too. I got enough funny looks at work for saying 'your boss isn't on your side' and then explaining why. I might have a word and see if any studies etc have been printed on this. That's why I also put in a few details about why they might seem like a good idea. I actually didn't finish the article in the guardian until I'd read this, I got the idea after a paragraph or two and started writing. Anything is better than marking and lesson planning smile
Steven. I only put the <br> in because when I went to copy footnotes from JK he had them. I'll leave them out next time though.
spikymike, in terms of students my school is atomised as they are encouraged to spend lunchtimes in their classrooms, although many don't. The progressively shorter lunchtimes are part of that. The first school I taught in had two 35 min breaks instead of a break and a lunchbreak because the canteen was small and also to prevent the kids'having enough time to get into trouble' The idea was that they barely manage to wolf down their lunch and know that they will have to bunk off if they try and go off site. Fewer schools than ever let you off site for food now as well. When I was at secondary we could, and I think most schools did, now a lot of schools have closed sites.

Chilli Sauce
Feb 26 2012 19:45

Jef, I would like to "up" your blog, but I don't think I can, so I'll give you this red n black star


Feb 26 2012 19:59

My last school had 40min lunch which was barely enough time to pop down the canteen and grab a bite to eat, especially if you were teaching before and after.
My current one is 30mins which is a joke, I still make sure I go and sit in the staff room otherwise I'd go fucking mad!

Kids aren't allowed off-site for lunch, though liek you say, I was when I was at school. Another thing with short lunches is, it means less work for senior management, as they are on duty then and it seems can't be arsed doing their jobs, I get the impression they'd rather spend as little time round the pupils as possible.

Ours used to send kids up from lunch far too early so they could go and hide in their office.
I remember clocking kids lined up at my door 7-8 mins before the end of lunch. 'Go downstairs, it's still lunchtime'. "Oh we were sent up by so and so". 'Go somewhere else, this is my lunch, come back in 7 minutes'.

Feb 27 2012 16:29

Situation in my 6th form college corresponds quite closely. Back in the 80s, when I first worked at the place (and it was still in transition from a secondary school) the staff room was a focus for social activity as well as political discussion - much more of a centre than it is today. Today it's much less frequently visited, a situation exacerbated by the last two years of rebuilding in which it shifted to a brand new area (and was always almost empty) and is only just returning to its traditional spot.

The basic problem as people have pointed out is the increasing workload which reduces lunch hours - we have gone down from an hour to 50 minutes in the last couple of years - and the increasing fragmentation into separate departments.

That said the workroom at our particular department (ESOL/learning support) is more than just people sitting at computers (although it is that a lot of the time). There's a table in the middle and people usually have their lunch together. There is a fair amount of discussion about college, union and more general issues. There are both teachers and teaching assistants there, which crosses the union divide, and a number of the colleagues have often attended the open discussion forum which Miles and I initiated in order to create a space where general discussions can take place.

Apr 13 2012 22:02

Surprisingly decent comment in The Guardian this week on this topic, particularly the last paragraph:

Then I saw the sense of this plan. It's all teachers meeting that's the problem, because where you get meetings, you get grievances aired, unions and trouble. Much better to have the teachers divided up into harmless little groups, with their stingy department offices as their only escape hatch and hidey-hole. Now that we've got rid of loads of playing fields and school kitchens – ensuring that future generations will be unhealthy – why not cut out staff rooms as well? That will add stressed and exhausted teachers to the mix, which means poorly educated children, who won't have the strength or knowledge to work out what's happening, and they'll all die obese, ignorant and young, and that will solve the pension problem. Who says this government doesn't have a long-term over-arching strategy?