Should schools run up their own home-made policy documents or take their pick from the off-the-peg collection? Below Gerald Haigh (left) and Susannah Kirkman (right) consider the options. A non-existent Somerset primary school is helping heads and governors get to grips with the mountain of documents they now have to provide.
The imaginary school, the Keats Church of England Voluntary-Controlled Primary, has a model collection of policies and papers on everything from the school review and action plan to the governors' report to parents.
Keats primary is the brainchild of Somerset Education Consultants, the county's former advisory service. It was devised in response to an appeal from Somerset's primary heads.
Brian Pibworth, head of Avishays primary in Chard and chair of the Somerset Primary Head Teachers' Organisation, says: "We wanted someone to stop us endlessly reinventing the wheel whenever we had to produce documents which are more or less standard, but still need a little local interpretation." As far as curriculum documentation goes, "we're looking for something that can withstand the rigours of an OFSTED inspection but still makes sense when you refer to it on a day-to-day basis," he adds.
Teaching heads at small rural primary schools find it particularly difficult to keep up with the paperwork required of them, Mr Pibworth says. It saves time if they can check their documents against an exemplar to ensure that they have fulfilled all the statutory requirements.
The Keats documents are available on computer disk, which makes it easy for schools to adapt them for their own use. There are sections on financial management including a budget plan, personnel and general policy statements on issues like intruders on school premises and homework.
Judging by the response of head- teachers, the Keats exemplars have succeeded in meeting a need. Around 250 Somerset schools, including some middle and secondary schools, have now bought it, and other areas are starting to show an interest.
Alan Lambourne of Somerset Education Consultants sees the Keats model collection as a good example of the new, consumer-led role of education authorities. He says that local authorities can no longer expect to lay down county-wide policies for schools. Instead, schools must indicate where they need support, which local authorities should then provide.
Governors are also finding the Keats models helpful. Chris McFarlane, chair of the governors at Milford Infants School in Yeovil, where they are about to re-write the curriculum framework document, said: "It's particularly useful for new governors. If governors have looked at the Keats version, at least they're familiar with the language by the time we discuss our own policy."
Another advantage is that governors are able to see school policies in their entirety, instead of only being familiar with those devised by the committee on which they serve.
Somerset Education Consultants are already planning an update. They are considering the inclusion of a policy on primary French teaching and a briefing for non-teaching adults in schools.
"It's not static," said Mr Lambourne. "We can provide more information as the fictitious school needs new policies."
The Keats C of E VC primary school school documentation is available from Somerset Education Consultants, Keats Road, Holway, Taunton, Somerset TA1 2JB, for Pounds 200 plus pp