Another view - Weight of paperwork is enough to leave us crying over spilt ink

11th December 2009 at 00:00
Comment: Stephen Jones

Teachers moan a lot. They can't help it - there's a lot for them to moan about. And over the years they have become expert at drawing attention to all those unproductive administrative tasks they are required to do, rather than the job they trained for.

But none has managed quite so audacious a method as that adopted by Sara Mitchell, a South Yorkshire school teacher whose therapist suggested she should "write it all down". It's the sort of thing we all might have thought of doing at some point: setting down in words all our frustrations about the job, colleagues, managers.

But we only think about it. Ms Mitchell actually went ahead and did it. She not only wrote it, but also published it in a limited hardback edition. And to top it all off she sent one of the bound volumes to her headteacher.

Hauled up in front of the General Teaching Council, she admitted this was perhaps a little naive on her part. Interestingly, though, the GTC committee hearing her case found her not guilty of unprofessional conduct.

Ms Mitchell entitled her tale Just Let Me Teach, a sentiment many of us with the word "teach" in our job descriptions will surely echo. But - and this has got to be the question of questions - why won't they just let us teach?

Of course, no one has ever sat down and said, "Let's think up all sorts of things for teachers to do to keep them from their teaching." Far from it. Most of those who determine such things would insist they should be free to teach. It's just that their "one thing" is seen as more important. Then someone else comes up with their one thing, as does someone else, and then someone else .

Some of the things they want us to do might even have merit. For instance, the independent learning plans (ILPs) that are now de rigueur throughout further education colleges at least encourage students to focus on their own learning and how they might take responsibility for it.

But others, although propounded with messianic fervour by those who know little about them other than that they are the "latest big thing", have no merit at all. In this category comes the now discredited learning styles. Only recently we were all being told they were the only way anyone anywhere could ever learn anything. Then someone said that in this case the Emperor really was showing his bare bottom and that there was no evidence at all that they worked.

Somewhere between the two comes the current obsession with risk assessment. If you are about to take a group of students trekking in the Welsh hills, it surely makes perfect sense to stand back and review what you might, or might not, want them to do on the trip. But if, like me at the moment, you are contemplating a trip for 15 or so adults to a matinee performance at a theatre not 10 miles from their homes, you might think such risk assessment a fatuous waste of time.

No matter. Someone, somewhere has decided it "has to be done". Thus, in addition to priming the students, collecting their money, booking and paying for the tickets and clearing their absence for the afternoon with other staff who might otherwise be teaching them, I have to spend at least an hour of my time filling in a six-page risk assessment form.

And exactly what dangers do they face? As this is a matinee, maybe they'll be at risk of tripping over the odd Zimmer frame. Or perhaps I should be alerting them to the fact that the hot coffee served in the cafe might actually be . hot! In other words, there is exactly nothing to be assessed and nothing for me to do with the nothing that I might find out.

Or perhaps there is something I could do with it. Maybe I could stick it in a book and send it to my line manager.

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