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Bombarded by reams of inanity

A thick envelope from the Department for Education has been arriving in several hundred schools recently. It is addressed to the headteacher and it comes from something called the "Efficiency Scrutiny Team". It contains an enormous 30-page pack consisting of a covering letter and 52 items to complete. It is a questionnaire about - wait for it - the paperwork received by schools.

If there is one group experiencing the "feel-crap-factor" nowadays it is people in schools. To mail them yet more paperwork, this time about paperwork itself, is the ultimate sick joke. It is like sending somebody in the intensive care unit an entry form for the London marathon, or buying members of Alcoholics Anonymous a gallon of lager.

The questionnaire itself is unbelievably piddling. My reaction to most of the questions was "So what?" Meaningless items abound, such as "How frequently is there a duplication of information in circulars and other 'for information advice' paperwork sent by central government?" Come again, Efficiency Scrutiny Unit?

There are belting ambiguities, like "As far as your school is concerned, does paperwork arrive from central government at appropriate times?" with boxes to tick under the headings "always", "usually", "rarely", "never". It all depends what they mean by "appropriate". Take this questionnaire masterpiece itself. It arrived in most schools by second-class post in mid-March. It had to be returned within a week. This was "appropriate", as they wanted the replies quickly, but so far as schools were concerned it was yet another chore.

Other questions are hilarious. "Do you like our redesigned circulars?" Er yes, actually, changed my life they have. "What have you done with the wall chart the DFE sent to all schools, entitled 'Education Act 1993 - Timetable of Publications'?" Do they really want to know? All right, we took down the Rembrandt and gave it pride of place in the hall.

I would love to see the replies to the section on information technology.

All the questions about laser printers and IBMs may not quite capture the reality of sellotape and ballpoints. So I have set up a rival outfit to the DFE Efficiency Scrutiny Unit. We at the Navel Scrutiny Unit will find out what really happens to paperwork with our own questionnaire.

1 When you see yet another wad of A4 papers in your morning post, do you:

a) say to yourself, "Oh good. I really like paperwork" b) go to the school office and give it to Doris so she can shred it c) vomit

2 How much time do you spend each evening on paperwork?

a) under 3 hours b) over 3 hours c) what is an evening?

3 What kind of information technology does your school possess?

a) new computers, with at least a 300MB hard disc b) an old coffee-stained BBC machine c) a cracked Bic pen

4 What do you use for handling external paperwork?

a) the latest Microsoft office software with E-mail b) Doris's shoe box c) we put it in the filing cabinet and pull the flush

5 What printers do you use?

a) 16-page-per-minute laser printers b) an old Remington typewriter c) John Bull Junior 2b printing set (with tweezers)

6 From which bodies do you receive paperwork?

a) SCAA b) DFE c) (North only) EYUPCHUCK d) Age Concern

7 Do you like our new-look circulars?

a) yes b) no Be fair, we spend a fortune on them, so write what you think of us...

8 Do Government communications render explicit the quintessential atomic elements of interactive mediation, and are the contextual features sufficiently transparent to facilitate expeditious comprehension?

a) yes b) you what?

9 (LEA schools only) Keep drowning us under even more bureaucratic bullshit. Please send us more, more, more. We love it

* Yes

(Grant-maintained schools only) Just send us another million quid

* Yes

l0 Finally, draw a large circle on a big piece of sugar paper. Cut it out. Write the names of all members of staff on it, then glue it to your bum.

Please mail your completed questionnaire to: The Navel Scrutiny Unit, Government Initiatives Plc, Futility Street, Unmitigated, Berks

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