What do the researchers at The Key do all day? The answer to that really depends on two things. If legislation or guidance changes, then we’ll spend our days reviewing and updating all our relevant content to make sure that everything you read is bang up-to-date and packed with the most recent best practice out there. It depends also on what school leaders ask us. Sometimes serious, sometimes witty, we never know what questions members will send in, or who we’ll be calling to help us with our answer.
When a search for relevant online information reveals nothing useful, we might call one of our associate education experts. Nina Siddall-Ward has already blogged about researchers calling her at all times of the day. But if none of our contacts have experience in the area, we’ll get on the phone to an organisation we think might be able to help. Here are some examples of the variety of people we’ve contacted.
Animals causing a nuisance on your school site? You’re not alone. Dogs, foxes, rabbits… whichever creature, great or small, is causing chaos in your playground or classroom, our researchers will find an organisation that can advise on how to deal with it.
For example, one of our researchers, Frances had a lengthy discussion with the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) over how to deal with seagulls, a protected species that can be extremely annoying to some of our members. Marianne, meanwhile, tracked down the National Apiary Manager, head of the National Bee Unit (a branch of Defra), about moving a bees’ nest that was near to classroom windows.
Even inanimate nature can cause all kinds of problems for school leaders and parents. We’ve fielded several questions related to poisonous plants, and tree roots emerging from the school field. And compost, harmless to the ignorant eye, had Jenny on the phone to the Soil Association.
While researching a question about taking pupils on a train following a terrorist attack, Sara found herself unable to reach any helpful contacts by phone. Undeterred, she left our central London office to visit Blackfriars and City Thameslink stations in person, and managed to catch senior train staff for an answer.
A church might not be a likely venue for a scuffle between a governor and a parent. Yet Rachael reminded me that this was one of the more violent situations that our research team have been asked about in the past. Tempers can fray between adults who care deeply about education, so we do get a number of questions about physical confrontations between different members of the school community. When answering these questions, our researchers will usually seek advice from the police and our contacts at the teaching unions.
At the time of writing, a search for “toilets” on our school leaders site brings up 104 articles*. These cover almost every single item you might find in a toilet, from air fresheners and soap, to CCTV cameras – which are advised against by the Department for Education and Institute of Education, unless strict safeguards are in place.
The range of people our researchers have contacted about toilets over the years show that we will go right to the top to make sure your school’s loos are properly designed, equipped and risk assessed. As a former schools minister once said, “if you get the toilets right, you get the teaching right.”
Of course, it’s not always easy to reach the right person, but our researchers’ persistence tends to pay off. As Kaley told me:
I was once working on a question where a member had asked for a case study from a maintained school that had developed an all-through curriculum.
There are relatively few maintained schools that fit this category, and for the first couple of days, I tried everything. I rang teaching schools, I called experts to see if they had any experience of this, I sent emails to several all-through schools.
I was starting to get anxious about whether I’d get the answer to the member on time, when I came across Simon Balle School’s website, which mentioned that the school had just converted to be an all-through.
I rang the school to see if anyone at all would be able to speak to me. As luck would have it, the woman who answered the phone was the person who led on the school’s expansion. She was only on phone duty because it was school sports day and everyone else was busy!
So, school leaders, please continue to ask us anything! We’re an enthusiastic, hardworking team, and we certainly enjoy a challenge…
* includes articles that we have retired because they weren’t very popular. They are waiting in the wings, in case any of you need to know just how much toilet paper schools should provide for pupils. We’ll make sure it’s up-to-date and bring it back online!