Many of us love watching documentaries that take a look behind the scenes at a hospital, airport or police station and are amazed at the scale and intricacies of the infrastructure that keeps these facilities operational.
To what extent do we appreciate that the education our children receive, at whatever school they may attend, is dependent on a huge workforce of dedicated support staff? Without them, a school simply could not function and the teachers could not fulfill their professional mandate. Here just a brief overview to give you a new perspective on the microcosm that is your child’s school.
Parents regularly come into contact with the front of house administrative staff. The admissions team and school secretaries are renowned for being the source of a wealth of information, always courteous and helpful, and never further than a phone call away. These are the people who meet just about everybody and know virtually everything there is to know about a school. However, there are many more administrators busy in the back offices, ranging from accounts to HR, keeping the school and its staff ticking over.
Working very much hands-on are the managers of such services as transport and catering. Whether the fleet of buses is school-owned or contracted-out, it has to be ensured that they are safe and well-maintained, that the drivers are appropriately qualified and that the routes are planned in such a way to efficiently transport students from A to B. The caterers, too, have to meet the students’ (and parents’) expectations, by providing high quality and nutritionally balanced options that are freshly prepared, attractively presented and reasonably priced. Often, a host of additional supervisors oversee mealtimes and the mid-day recreation periods, as well as providing out-of-hours care.
The handling of communications, both internal and external, is an extensive domain that requires several specialties. Writing clearly and concisely, sometimes for different language groups, as well as disseminating information in a timely fashion, necessitates an in depth-knowledge of the different segments of the school community, the academic curriculum, the events programme and, above all, keen attention to detail. Invariably there are members of the team who concentrate on publications, whilst others are responsible for the school’s web and social media presence. They all need editing, design and photography skills to do their job well.
Organisational talents of various kinds are also called for in a school context. Planning an event can be a huge exercise in choreography, from deciding on the programme to delegating tasks to those who will make it happen. Preparing a school hall for a show, for example, needs a whole army of helpers to set up the stage, put in place the chairs for the audience, arrange for refreshments to be served and so on. Then it takes several more hours to clear everything away, readying the premises to welcome the students back on their next regular school day.
The constant and ongoing exertions of the housekeeping team are essential in creating welcoming and well-maintained surroundings for students and staff alike. In larger schools there are hundreds of metres of corridors to sweep, several staircases to mop, and countless toilets and changing rooms to clean, in addition to the many classrooms. The multi-tasking maintenance crew is kept busy all day (and sometimes at the weekends), from changing lightbulbs to clearing the entrances of snow in winter. They put up display boards, move furniture in and out of storage, tend the garden and respond to anyone and everyone’s calls for help, cheerfully completing yet another job.
In this day and age it is essential to have a knowledgeable, and above all approachable, IT team in-house. The regular stream of students, teachers and parents seeking advice from the help-desk, on-line or in person, is testament to the importance of this department. Every school assembly, PTA event and visiting speaker is dependent on professional IT and AV back-up. The different platforms used for communication, time-tabling, reporting and data management have to be regularly updated and the teachers and administrators who use them on a daily basis trained appropriately.
The contributions of the numerous individuals working discreetly behind the scenes are difficult to quantify, but it is certain that their value is inestimable in creating the reassuring and friendly atmosphere that families encounter in a school. They make up a considerable proportion of the establishment’s employees and have their part to play in sustaining the stable framework within which students of all ages can feel happy, safe and secure, and teachers can dedicate themselves to providing the best education possible. It is the synergy between the non-academic and academic staff, each keeping the interests of the students at heart, which creates an optimally productive learning environment in preparation for the achievement of future professional and personal success.
Submitted by Christine Knight
Head of Administration
Haut-Lac International Bilingual School, 1806 St-Légier