Administration has become a dirty word. Teachers have too many "administrative" tasks diverting them from the job in hand. Education authority bureaucracies become bogged down in excessive "administrative" detail. Now, thanks to the Chancellor's largesse, we are to have a whole new army - a new profession indeed - of classroom assistants who will be partly charged with relieving teachers of "administrative tasks".
Leaving aside the obvious point that professionals could not pursue their calling without administrative support and that the new assistants will have a wider remit, the nature of administration in the modern classroom is not as uncomplicated as it might first appear.
Take attendance and registration. Almost all primary teachers believe these tasks could not be carried out by non-teaching staff, at least according to a survey by local authorities four years ago into the administrative workload of teachers. While apparently of an administrative nature, checks on attendance and the register were seen as useful in "getting close to pupils", particularly in providing a link with problematic home backgrounds.
Again, teachers have long-standing grievances about the time-consuming "paper chase" involved in recording and referring discipline cases. Yet both primary and secondary teachers said in the survey that this, too, could not be delegated to non-teachers. For primary teachers, forward planning is arguably the most onerous non-teaching activity (on which they claimed to spend three hours a week on average) and it is difficult to see how they could be detached from it.
There may be a degree of professional protectionism here. None the less a much clearer picture of how exactly teachers could be freed from the dread administration is required before much progress can be made. The Accounts CommissionHMI study, which hopes to report by the turn of the year, is therefore timely. It is asking sensible questions - could some administration be more effectively done by non-teachers, which tasks are better handled through IT, are there tasks which would be better done if they were done differently, should some tasks be regarded as unnecessary?
There are other issues, of course, such as the growing assessment workload, completing reports for parents and dealing with outside agencies, where the problem is perhaps lack of time for the task rather than the task itself. This, of course, implies more generous staffing but we are not allowed to contemplate that, especially if paraprofessionals can be hired more cheaply.