Ask Brenda – Front-of-house efficiency

Written by: HTU | Published:

I have just started at a new school and am concerned about how I get best practice in the office. The staff are lovely but they need advice so that they are the best possible “first point of contact” for the school. How best can I approach this?

Many years ago I had the same worry. It is really important that staff who are the immediate face and voice of the school realise that what they do gives an immediate picture of the warmth of welcome and the efficiency in the school.

I therefore created a simple list of “dos” for the office staff which then led into a list of “dos” for the teachers and was swiftly followed by a list of “dos” for the dinner supervisors. I hope this will give you a head start to create your own guidance.

The complete professional in the school office

My checklist included some of the following “musts” for front-of-house school staff. It said that efficiency means:

• Answering the phone promptly, with a smile and within three rings.
• Taking messages clearly and delivering them promptly. For staff this could mean merely ensuring that they are on the board prior to play-times and lunch-times. For children, where it is a safety issue, this may mean ensuring that the office is covered and delivering them to class before the end of the day.
• Responding promptly to prospective parents’ enquiries and requests for information and then checking to ensure that they have received the information. A phone call three days later will show that we care! You therefore need a log of requests and a follow up section to make comments showing results.
• Filing promptly and efficiently in date or alphabetical sequence.
• Never losing a document, disc, file, etc. All information must be logged and catalogued appropriately.
• Ensuring that data/documentation required by internal or external agencies is completed correctly by the required date (a last-minute rush brings mistakes as there is often no time to check for errors).
• Keeping all diaries up-to-date so that there is never a need to withdraw or apologise for non-attendance because of our inefficiency. The only exceptions to the rule should occur when a higher authority requests a presence at a meeting which necessitates a cancellation. It is therefore imperative that all meetings have a contact number registered also.
• Being a good time manager.
• Always being accessible during times when the office is officially manned. This means from 8:30am to 4:30pm. It should only be a rare occasion, after prior agreement with the head, when the office is empty before 4:30pm.
• When taking a lunch break, the cover person must be informed and should move into the front office. On the secretary’s return the cover person is released.
• Being a good role model for all who come into contact with the school.
• Being able to divorce the private and the personal from the professional.
• Ensuring that conversations are not heard by all and sundry and that strict confidentiality is maintained, thus protecting children from “hurt”.
• Showing “Excellence” as you are “Front of House” for the school.
• Being respected for the job you are doing, by colleagues, parents, pupils and all who you come into contact with from the wider professional world.

Experienced headteacher Brenda Bigland offers her advice and answers your questions in this regular column. If you have a query that you’d like Brenda to tackle, email the editor of Headteacher Update, Pete Henshaw, via

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