"Aagh!" The cry of anguish reverberated around the staffroom. Suddenly the rest of us were all ears. "It's like digging holes and filling them in again: totally bloody futile!"
Sympathetic murmurs broke out all around. We knew what was going on. Our colleague was suffering from SWCF, or scheme of work composition fatigue.
As anyone at the sharp end of teaching knows, creating these monstrosities is a given in further education, and indeed in most other educational settings too. For teachers, it is a summer ritual, like dodging the showers or spotting the Briton still playing in the second week of Wimbledon.
The scheme of work (Sow - though sob would be more fitting) requires you to plot in minute detail the content, teaching methods and required resources for every lesson for the whole of your course. If it is a full- year course, that means deciding in July exactly what you will be doing on a particular day next June.
There is, of course, a template for all this information to be captured on. In the spirit of more means better, this now has five or six columns, compared with the three or four that once sufficed.
But why stop at five or six? Couldn't a column be added for the clothes you will be wearing, plus another for the jokes you might tell? Except that the spirit of the Sow would never allow for humour of any kind. It is a serious business, this built-in futility.
Column one requires you to give the content of each class. No objection to that, as there is clearly a need to plan out a course in advance to ensure you are covering what you need to cover, and in the right order.
Next up come the learning objectives. These, like so much else in the Sow, are an exercise in mindless dogma, in that you are required to express them in suitably active terminology of the "at the end of the session the student will be able to" variety. This is fine for the two uses of a pencil (the second, by the way, involves writing) but is a lot trickier for more complex matters. Believe it or not, there are some human endeavours that cannot be broken down into 11 easily measured mini- steps.
In the third column, you are expected to lay-out the minutiae of what teaching and learning will be taking place on that Wednesday 11 months hence, be it wet or sweltering. Notice the emphasis on learning, as well as teaching. It is all right saying what you might be doing, but what are the students going to be up to? The key thing to remember is that entries have to be aspirational rather than realistic. That rules out phrases such as "looking out of the window" or "glancing around at classmates to see who they fancy". If they must be ogling each other, at least give them a checklist to record their conclusions.
You are not finished yet. On most Sows there are three more boxes to be filled in, covering such matters as assessment, resources and how you might tie in what you are doing with your students' key skills requirements. To do the job as it is designed to be done, the average Sow for a full-year course will take at least five hours. If you teach five or six courses, that's 30 hours of your life passing by.
The one thing for which there is no guidance on the template is the question "Why?" You know the answer though: because you must. Or, if you want to force the argument that ends all arguments: because Ofsted will want it. And what Ofsted wants, Ofsted gets.
So, after opening the explosive valve of indignation, my colleague just had to get back down to it: digging his holes and filling them in again, planning the shape of holes to be dug in nine months' time, and whether he will be using a big spade or a little shovel.
Stephen Jones is off for the summer holidays. He will be back in September.