Shoot The Messenger

July 6, 2008

Almost the last week of term. Almost the end. Year 11 have left. Year 10 are on work experience. The only cloud on the horizon is the redesign of the behaviour database. It’s new and improved but:

  • It doesn’t yet print out detention letters.
  • All the detentions in the old database have been cancelled.

Not surprisingly the kids have reacted by going a bit mad. Several year 7s I was teaching (in a class that is normally taken by another teacher) seemed determined to be removed from the classroom by refusing to stay in their seats or stop talking. According to the school rules I am obliged to give them several warnings and then email the Call-Out Staff (the people who patrol the corridors at the school) to have the students removed from the class. I did so and the Call-Out Staff didn’t respond (very unusual). After half an hour of waiting, and having had several subsequent emails also ignored, I sent an “all-staff” email:

Can somebody please check the Call-Out Staff, they don’t seem to be responding to emails.

There was no reply. I muddled through. At the end of the lesson a member of Call-Out Staff emailed apologising for having been unable to answer. I recalled my email so that anybody who hadn’t already read it wouldn’t receive it. Five minutes later, Duncan Brown, the Assistant Head in charge of inclusion emailed a reply to my email, carbon copied to SMT:

Mr Old

Why please have you sent this to “All staff”?

Additionally the “Call-Out team” do respond to emails but at present they are three members of staff down out of five. In future if you have a serious issue about a poor reaction time will you please contact me. If you are then unhappy about my response then please contact the Deputy Head in the first instance.

A little shocked, a little stressed, I replied:

I was not complaining about the reaction time, I was asking for help with a pressing problem.
I am used to Call-Out being too busy to collect. I am not used to having no response from Call-Out, no warning that there would be no response, and no response to emails to Call-Out asking about the problem. Therefore I hoped to contact any member of staff for immediate help with removing the students.

I have, of course, recalled the message now that I’ve had a response (although that did indeed take until the end of the lesson), but at the time I was being utterly prevented from teaching my lesson and the support that is normally provided and was urgently needed was not only unavailable, but nobody had even acknowledged to me the fact that it was unavailable. Moreover the complete lack of response to my all staff email would indicate that it was not widely known that Call-Out was unavailable either.

I am sorry if you interpret a member of staff calling for urgent help as a criticism. I suggest that any future incident can be avoided by informing staff in advance that they will not be able to use Call-Out, not 44 minutes after they request assistance.

The following day there was more from Duncan:

Mr Old

I take note of your comments but still insist that you contact me in the first instance if you perceive that there is a problem.

For your information the difficulty was that Paul Michelle was put onto the team at the last minute to man the “Call-out” room but having logged onto the computer, obviously as himself, was not part of the “Call-Out” distribution list and therefore was not receiving any “Call-Out” emails, either from you or any other members of staff.

As for “avoiding” this situation occurring again, it might still occur, because we are all affected by human error.

Can I again emphasize my earlier comments that you contact me if you have a problem in future. Can I suggest as an immediate solution that if you are faced with a similar difficult you might speak to a colleague in an adjoining room who might be able to support you immediately or send a messenger to student services or please contact me by on my mobile.

I replied:

I do not have a phone in my room. There are no adjoining classrooms and the only teacher on this floor of the building would have been a supply teacher.

I could, of course, contact reception or you, which I did by sending an All-Staff email. Given that neither you nor reception responded to my email (except in your case to criticise me for sending it) I fail to see what good this would have done. Given that contacting all logged-on members of staff yesterday resulted in no help at all I’m a little mystified how contacting less people would have made the situation any better. It wouldn’t have even lessened the amount of emails collecting in people’s inboxes because, of course, I recalled my email at the end of the lesson.

The only downside I can see to my email is that more members of staff found out that Call-out wasn’t functioning yesterday than was strictly necessary. Personally I find it useful to be informed when this is the case and am surprised that you consider it a priority to keep this from staff.

In future, however, when Call-Out fail to acknowledge my emails for 29 minutes I will send my requests for help to you, my faculty and the Deputy Head in the first instance. If this results in no resolution to the problem then I will assume that you would prefer it if I send an all staff email rather than leave the room myself, unless you wish to tell me differently.

I hope this has resolved the matter.

He hasn’t replied yet.

I don’t think my replies have done me any favours, but I do not want to stay at a school where you get blamed when you ask for help.

Another observation: For most of my time here Call-Out has been run by non-teaching staff and has worked really well. It is noticeable that its ineffectiveness, and attempts to conceal this ineffectiveness, began this month, when a member of SMT took over responsibility for running it.



  1. Your Mr Old isn’t upset that you asked for help. He just wants you to keep it private. I can understand why you sent the email to everyone because you needed help and you figured if you tell everyone, someone will come. But he isn’t thinking about this. All staff emails are generally discouraged in schools because it can upset people. We are banned from doing it – sending all staff emails I mean. I would say this battle is one of those battles that isn’t worth fighting. Just agree with the policy and move on. I KNOW you have bigger battles to fight, even if the year 11s are gone…

  2. I’m Mr Old, not him. My name’s Andrew Old (or Oldandrew, geddit?)

    Well it’s not really my name, it’ s actually just my pen-name.

    (My real name is Poindexter Farquahson. But don’t tell anybody)

    Anyway, don’t worry, I won’t be taking my time up with a battle to get SMT to admit their cock-ups without blaming the messenger. But I did think the “don’t ask for help too publicly, it lets people know that we aren’t doing our jobs” attitude was worth mentioning. Not exactly a new experience, but it was the first time I’d had it in writing.

  3. I am with you my dear Mr Old, even if we disagree over some things. You are a teacher in an inner-city school in London. You are my comrade, whatever you may think about striking. So this means you know my blog?

    The next time I cross the picket line, I will think of you xx

  4. I’m glad to hear that there is another school that has constant problems with their ‘behaviour database’; leading to an unmanaged or unmanagable amount of detentions that ultimately lead to them all being removed. I thought I worked at one of a small handful of schools that do this, a concept that I am now going to re-evaluate.

  5. Our detention list fills up because kids don’t turn up for detentions. Why giving them another, longer, detention is perceived to be the solution baffles me. However, the facilities just can’t cope with the volume of kids by the third week of term, so every half term the kids have all their detentions wiped “so they can start again with a clean sheet”. The result of this is that the nice kids who only get one detention a term turn up and do it, and the persistent assholes walk away laughing.

    Re Duncan: it is of course blindingly obvious that Duncan has taken your all-staff email as a smack in the mouth to himself. I can see why he’s narked. We sometimes have a similar problem at Hell High, and we too have a senior member of staff to whom concerns should be addressed. Have you ever tried getting hold of Duncan? If he’s anything like ours, he will be in a Very Important meeting, on a Very Important Course or doing Very Important Work so his phone goes straight to message.

  6. During my second placement of my PGCE year I was sent to a school with the same problem. Unfortunately there was no database but instead a system in which you fill in a note (in lesson) give it to the child and put a copy in the SMT tray, most of the time it would be sent back with some excuse that it is not severe enough for a detention or if they were pulled for detention they didn’t turn up and would be given another detention and like everyone else these were just wiped clean after a while.
    However the biggest problem was that there was only 1 ‘detention session’ a week so all they need do is earn their one detention and then they do what ever they like for the week – because school policy does not allow two detentions in a week.
    Finally it may also be worth noting that a weeks notice had to be given for a detention, allowing plenty of time for parents to complain.
    Swift and effective justice? I think not!!

  7. During my PGCE placement, I was sent to a school with NO behaviour management system. Sure, there was somewhere you could boot misbehaving kids to, but they had to take themselves there (how many do you think arrived?) and even the ones that DID follow that instruction actually WANTED to go as they were allowed to sit and listen to their iPod! There were no detentions for minor offenses, such as failure to complete homework, so no one followed the very basic rules of turning up with equipment, wearing anything even vaguely resembling uniform and homework completion rate was frequently below 20%.

    Yes: it can get worse.

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