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Paper floods in a computer age

Sheila Campbell wonders why schools must duplicate pupils' data by hand when the authorities already have most of it on computer. Can't they reformat the files?

Mid August, 2000 The school development plan, incorporating the education action plan, school, class teacher and specialist timetables, floor plan and a map of school indicating available parking spaces, was posted in June. The next deadline is for the school profile, to be with the reporting officer for August 23.

Time moves on inexorably. Information is still being gathered. Feelings of panic come and go: waves of optimism drown in pits of pessimism.

Why has it never been considered necessary for primary schools to have clerical support in school holidays? This issue has been raised repeatedly since 1987 when the days of seven-week summer holidays vanished in practice, if not on paper.

The 24 pages of information requested in the profile stretch - in our case to a total of 42 additional bits of paper - as class lists of pupils' attainment in order of ability groups for both language and mathematics, together with a flashback and flashforward of environmental studies topics, including science, which each class has experienced - that's another three sheets per class - all add up.

The total number of sheets is less significant than the fact that these have to be completed manually. Completion of the maths and language sheets involves writing out 680 names and adding national test results. Frustration and resentment return: with the press of a few buttons this information could be printed from the Seemis computer system - in alphabetical order or by ability groups.

The reporting officer is understanding during our telephone conversation, but in some doubt as to whether mechanically produced information would meet the inspectors' needs. And anyway, teachers' estimates in all elements of language and mathematics would have to be added manually.

The timing of this inspection contributes to the difficulties of completion, as teachers have not taught the children whose attainment they have to judge. Their previous teachers are consulted and professional volunteers from outwith theschool take the equivalent of four days to collate and record the information required.

Almost all the information requested is already stored in the Seemis machine under a range of headings. I recognise the need for standardised school profiles for inspection, but why is the format not installed on hard disc so that all schools record information that way? A minimum amount of time would then be required to update the details when the three weeks' notice call comes.

Individual pages could also be printed out as necessary to respond to other requests for data from the local authority or the Scottish Executive Education Department, who could be required to accept it in the agreed format. There's a need for tripartite talks, or for quadripartite discussions if the Executive's education office is at arm's length from HM Inspectorate.

August 18: In-service day The whole staff are welcomed back and the usual procedures, policies and practices are revised. I brief the staff on the specific performance indicators the inspectors will focus on and emphasise that they are coming to find out our individual and collective strengths.

Handy hints from colleagues are passed on:

* Answer questions, add no more;

* Everything said is noted;

* Open mouth - public statement requiring verification from at least one other person;

* Don't use inspectors as advisers, confidantes or axe sharpeners;

* Inspection is not an appropriate mechanism for airing grievances;

* Have your class area squeaky clean; inspectors are into everything bar your underwear.

The staff are informed that janitor overtime has been arranged, paid for from the school budget. The school will be open daily till 6pm until after the main phase of inspection.


Performance of the New York Ballet at the Playhouse Theatre, Edinburgh

(booked months ago). The programme falls open at an advertisement for performances of An Inspector Calls. I manage to raise a smile, while my gut gurgles.

Next week: The reporting officer arrives and the presentation is delivered.

Sheila Campbell is headteacher of Kilbowie Primary, West Dunbartonshire

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