student receptionists in school: what’s the point

I have been very patient. I have played games, scored them out of 10, compared them with last time. I have ranted inwardly while presenting to the world a slightly bemused but always tolerant smile. But now I have had enough. Student receptionists: what are they all about?

Go into many secondary schools in London, (I cannot speak for elsewhere) and you will be met somewhere near the door by two students sitting behind a desk. They may wear badges, proclaiming their role for the day. They may have work to do, a book to read, a worksheet to complete – or they may not. Sometimes they are engaged in stuffing envelopes or sorting papers. In some schools they are used as gofers. In others they are the official welcoming committee.

I am standing in a queue at the welcome desk. One student has her head down, fiddling with a pen the other is standing a little way away with her back to us – avoiding having to speak as hard as they can.

A glance at the desk tells me that they have run out of ID badges but I wonder if the person in front of me knows this. So far no one has offered an explanation for the wait. I am next to a welcome banner, which proclaims: “Ofsted 2008 rated us outstanding – a warm and welcoming school!”

“No,” I want to shout, to nudge the person in front of me and point it out, to take a fat black marker pen and scrawl “NOT” in big teenager letters across it.

Why is this allowed to happen? If we believe first impressions to be so important, if we wish to show respect to parents, to visitors, how can we let this continue? Where is the training, the monitoring and supervision? How does this practice fit into the life of the school. If it’s part of the citizenship curriculum then heaven help us.

This is not about every school of course. It is not just about the students. Hard though it is to credit, I have had far worse experiences with adult members of staff and, although I can count them on one hand, I have met some truly outstanding students who made me feel I was the most important person in the school for two minutes.

But now I am going out on another visit, score sheet at the ready. They’d better be good.

Helen Bonnick is a supervisor of school-home support workers and a social worker

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