The Staffroom: Another one of Modernity’s crumbling structures? A sign of the times.

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A guest post from @ShuaibKhan26

There’s has been a large body of literature about the staffroom in schools. Many schools have designed or phased them out, others still value them. But why are they in decline?

Is your staffroom looking a little unloved?
Picture Credit Scott Thomson on Flickr

During my first PGCE placement, the staffroom really was the place to be. There was a real sense of belong, camaraderie, banter, collaboration & togetherness. This ‘RI’ rated school had the most incredible staff culture. In my 9 weeks at the school, I fell in love with teaching more & more because of the staffroom. Four years on from that incredible experience, staffrooms up & down the country are being replaced. My experience on supply, sadly makes that inital experience of a staffroom feel so obsolete.

What is a staffroom?

A dictionary definition translates to, a staffroom is: a room in a school is for the use of the teachers & staff when they are not undertaking their main duties. Staffrooms usually have small kitchens, a seating area & a handful of computers & teaching union displays. A simple design but their significance & what they say about a culture of a school, that’s what got Educationalists & unions talking.

Staffrooms are now no longer a legal obligation for schools. The 2012 Education Premises regulations meant that schools do not need to provide teachers a place for work or social time.

So, amidst my holistic & somewhat romantic view of a staffroom, why are they in decline or losing value in school? Why are staffrooms becoming abandoned & feeling like post-apocalyptic entities? I want to bring some Sociological & pedagogical analysis into this discussion. Suppose I’m feeling a bit bewildered. We’re always to work with others, collaborate & moderate with teachers, get our students working in groups. Yet the epicentre of collaboration is losing its value? Time to discover why. This isn’t an exclusive list behind the decline of the staffroom in schools, more of a different angle to the debate. As Sociology teaches us, all angles must be covered to understand the full picture.

Why are staffrooms in decline?

•Staffrooms are not valued by SLT – SLTs up & down the country tend to see staffrooms as a place of procrastination rather than productivity. When we value something, we give it time & care. Staffrooms that are valued by SLTs are ones that are occupied, used & promoted by SLTs. Yet, given the pressures on teachers & workload, having numbers of staff together, usually unregulated creates the fear, and wrongly so, that teachers aren’t productive thus slacking. The staffroom is thus seen as a burden rather than a benefit.

•Negative perceptions by staff – there’s an aura that the staffroom is inhabited by disgruntled teachers, agitated TAs & the atmosphere is both pessimistic & toxic. As an NQT, I was repeatedly told that the staffroom was overly political & I should approach with caution. This perception perhaps is true as many teachers collaborate, can have their daily moan & groan. This pushes staff away from using the staffroom, gives the impression that those who do use it are ‘negative’ or ‘mood hoovers’. A knock-on effect is that staffrooms looking abandoned thus Senior Leaders begin to question its very existence.

•Workload – this is a national crisis. Teachers are working as hard as ever, their workload is as big as ever, & scrutiny is as intense as ever. The number of times I’ve heard “I haven’t seen you in a while” in a staffroom exchange between two colleagues, is countless. The interpersonal nature of work often means we say ‘hi’ & ‘bye’ doing our daily duties such as using a photocopier. My timetable was 23/25 teaching hours. This included duties on two separate days, lunchtime interventions twice a week & revision sessions on Fridays. I simply didn’t have time to use the staffroom, mingle with others & collaborate with colleagues. To me, the staffroom was not an option & for many others too, it’s just another room that we use haphazardly, not a safe haven or place to extend our professional outlook.

•A lack of space – with spending cuts, many schools simply cannot afford to dedicated space for staff. I’ve seen school staffrooms being converted to internal PRUs, SEND basis, storage units and even laundry rooms! When a space begins to lose its social significance or usage, it becomes nigh on impossible to justify its existence. When a staffroom is needed by a department, it’s usually surrendered without question. With student numbers increasing nationally also, staffrooms are needed to help make ends meet.

•Staffroom Socialism – there is a real irrational fear amongst many people that staffrooms are enclaves for revolution. That union-endorsed rebel’s are in cahoot to overthrow the status quo whilst singing Bob Marley – Get Up Stand Up, with a cold of the Communist Manifesto in one hand & a Che Guevara portrait in the other! “They don’t want us talking” is a comment I’ve heard so many times. There’s a deep-lying suspicion that staffrooms are cesspools of radical ideas. Yes, someone might teach you how to reheat your soup or help you fix the photocopier! Damn!

•A sign of the times? – As promised, some Sociological analysis. If you’re aware of the work of Zygmunt Bauman, Anthony Giddens or Richard Sennett, you’ll see a pattern in their theories. These Sociologists argue that we have moved away from heavily industrialised, Union-centred, class-centric & monolithic social structures that dictate our lives. Societies, particularly in the Western world are becoming more individualised. Maybe the decline of staffrooms says more about our individualistic culture & the growing interpersonal nature of work & employment in society. Sennett wrote heavily about how colleagues & workplaces are becoming circumstantial thus collaboration isn’t something we either need or require to fulfill the requirements of my job. I once heard someone say “why do I need to use the staffroom when I’ve got everything I need in my classroom. Going there will make me talk to people who’ll never help me do my job”. I didn’t reply.

What does the future hold?

Has the school staffroom & culture become a dinosaur? Will staffrooms begin to look like post-apocalyptic ruins? A structure that late/post-modernity has left behind?

The staffroom isn’t obsolete. Its valourisation is firmly in the hands of decision-making personnel. Without a staff room, where do Supply staff have lunch? Is there a place for teachers to complete PPA?

It’s a scary thought that some teachers have never experienced a thriving, bubbling & prospering staffroom. A space for downtime, relaxation, reflection & sometimes even cake! Closing the doors to a staffroom can close the doors to collaboration between classroom practitioners & personnel in their given specialism. At a time where conversations are emails & friendship are finely coded through the archives of algorithms, there’s no harm in collaborating with others.

We work best when we collaborate. We preach it, we teach it & our staff culture should reflect it.

Thank you for reading.

Shuaib Khan

Twitter: @ShuaibKhan26

This post originally appeared on the author’s blog and is reproduced here with their kind permission.