A few years ago a new member of senior teaching staff mentioned to me that we seemed to have “rather a lot” of administrative staff. Now I was minded to instantly disagree as we had pared back to what I considered to be the absolute minimum, we’d lost a few staff that hadn’t been replaced and I was, at the time, hearing grumbles of “too much to do”.
In my experience, support staff in schools are a loyal, good natured and flexible bunch. They enjoy their jobs. They appreciate how well it fits in with family life and most of them realise that there would be a considerable number of candidates wanting to take their place if they did decide to leave. They value the friendships in the team and, quite frankly, it is good to hear the laughter when I have my head in the monthly management report.
However, the query was out of the bag and I needed to check, even though I knew what the situation was (not least of all because I know the exact numbers and ratios!) So I asked a few local similar size schools to tell me what their team looked like and even I was surprised at the result.
Leaving aside the roles that our individual situation requires, it was clear from the benchmarking exercise that we were, in fact, well understaffed in comparison to other schools. Our actual FTE in admin was lower than any of the other schools and, as some of our roles had been amalgamated into one person, the actual number of bodies was also lower. I had expected a small difference, perhaps slightly below the average, but this was a revelation.
So I then wondered what would give a newcomer the perception of too many staff? Was it the way in which we squeezed everyone into small rooms in a grade two listed 1880s building? Was it because we have those extra needs who were also based with the other admin staff? Was it because some of the roles you might expect to be external or outsourced were also in the mix? Or was it because there was so much laughter and harmonious singing of ‘happy birthday’ on every occasion?
I’m still not sure of the answers, and I’m not sure it matters. Our admin team is just that, a team. They work hard (and probably over and above what they should). They play hard (and I mean that in an entirely professional way). They have the respect (for the most part – there are always a couple of fools who think schools should be populated solely by teachers – though I’m never sure who they think might empty their bin or print their copying) of the teaching body and leaders; and, contrary to what they claim when they are having a tough day, they are highly valued members of the team who impact t&l more than they realise.
So I say, let’s make a point of showing them how much they mean to us. Let’s take time to say ‘Good Morning’ (I’m terribly guilty of rushing by in the corridor I know). Let’s listen when they grumble. Let’s join in with the singing and let’s communicate their value to the whole staff.
Oh, and let’s use the benchmarking and work on that budget so that we can get a couple more hours a day in!