We all know teachers work long hours without complaining, and yet their workload could be reduced instantly if they didn't have to waste time on endless paperwork. A friend of mine works in a primary where every lesson has to be planned, in detail, on a sheet of A4. All these have to be handed in to the deputy head, every week. The deputy doesn't teach any more, of course. She hasn't time. She just looks through piles of planning sheets, writes comments on them, and passes them back. When the teachers have taught the lessons, they have to write a critical appraisal of them, and give them to the deputy. It's a wonder they're not all dead from boredom. And yet a really enjoyable part of teaching, creating stimulating displays in the classroom, is now considered a chore for classroom assistants.
Some time last year I received a circular entitled Tackling the Workload, giving me yet more information on the national workload agreement. Take a deep breath, because unless you've seen it, you're not going to believe what it contains. First, it says the Department for Education and Skills has allocated money for implementing the scheme. We all know not to get excited. It'll be swallowed up in administrative committees and schemes.
And so it turns out, when you read further. A "workforce agreement monitoring group" has been formed. And what's its brief? You've guessed it... to turn out piles of "helpful advisory documents and supportive development material". With glossy covers, undoubtedly.
Next, we have the national remodelling team. Its members have been recruited from the civil service and they'll be "monitoring compliance".
Presumably anyone who isn't meekly compliant gets taken round the back and shot. The role of the LEAs, we're told further down, is to appoint a "lead facilitator" with "enhanced resources" (LF and ER, naturally). It's not essential to appoint one, apparently, but you can kiss goodbye to any DfES funding if you don't. Then it's suggested that LEAs should consider buying in support from "school remodelling advisers", swiftly creating yet another highly paid avenue for the armies of consultants and advisory "experts" who specialise in helping to bleed schools dry.
My LEA has sent me a form to fill in, with lots of boxes in which I'm supposed to describe how far I've got with implementing the agreement, what remains to be done, when I'm likely to do it; you know the sort of thing.
You've seen it hundreds of times. Amusingly, though, the form doesn't reduce my workload, it adds to it. Apparently Ofsted will be monitoring progress of the agreement when they inspect schools. Overnight they've become experts in that field, too. So, what am I doing about the agreement? For a start, I don't make my teachers play the "pass the piles of paper" game. They work incredibly hard, but all their efforts go to the right places: the classroom and the children's minds. I have only one admin officer, and she copes easily with her workload because we share administration tasks, but many primaries our size have at least two, and quite often a bursar as well. The money I save on admin officers goes back into the classrooms, giving teachers classes of 22 children.
And that really is a workload bonus.
Mike Kent is head of Comber Grove primary, London borough of Southwark.