Bureaucrat bloomers blow my mind

19th November 2010 at 00:00

Honestly, you couldn't make it up.

Recently, a circular came from the local authority detailing next year's school holiday dates. On the list of public holidays at the bottom of the letter, we were told Christmas Day in 2011 would be on December 26, Boxing Day would be on the 27th, and New Year's Day would be on January 2.

Fascinated, I emailed the authority to ask if it had alerted Christians to this change of Christmas date. Of course, the dates were incorrect and there were apologies all round, but nobody had bothered to check the letter before sending it out to every school. Which amazes me, because even if I'm sending a letter to a parent I check it several times.

A minor incident like that doesn't cause any disruption, of course. It was merely a moment of amusement that lightened our afternoon and caused slight embarrassment to the authority. But local and government educational bureaucracy can sometimes reach mind-numbing levels of asininity.

A friend of mine is head of a small school in the countryside. He was recently told by his local authority that all its schools had to produce a "travel plan" for pupils. In fact, two people were employed by the authority to visit every establishment and explain exactly how it should be done. As in all schools, town or country, the idea was to promote walking, cycling or the use of public transport - and no teacher would have a problem with that.

However, with this school there was one major limiting factor. Just seven pupils live in the village, relatively near the school, and the rest travel considerable distances. There is no public transport so they have to travel by car.

This fact cut no ice with the local authority. The head was instructed to form a "travel plan working party", consult widely, then compile a series of targets with a time scale. Astonished, he completed the local authority's proforma with wisely worded nonsense, was thanked for his efforts and told someone would be in touch if the Department for Education felt that anything had been left out. He is hoping the authority will supply him with 100 motorised pedal cars and scooters.

Another colleague received an email informing his independent school that information could be sent to parents by electronic means and that he might not be aware of that. Almost immediately, the email was recalled. Then the same email was sent to him again, with minor adjustments. An hour later, this too was recalled. The same thing was sent again. And again. And again. The head sent an irate note asking if the Department would be kind enough not to waste his time. Back came a reply, apologising for the fact that it had taken seven emails, but it was "a genuine attempt to determine whether measures put in place by the DfE to reduce bureaucracy were being successful".

Daniel, a headteacher in Oxfordshire, had to submit a staff absence return to the Department, but its computer rejected his results. They were too low and, astonishingly, he was asked to increase his staff absence numbers so that the return could run successfully. Naturally, he went straight to his hard-working staff and told them to be ill a lot more often.

But the trophy for prize bloomer has to go to the authority which sent out a letter from its English inspector, expressing his concern at the declining standards of "litracy" in its schools.

I gather the inspector was due to give a lecture to the authority's headteachers shortly afterwards, but he failed to turn up. I bet he was in a cave somewhere, hiding.

Mike Kent is headteacher at Comber Grove Primary, Camberwell, south London. Email: mikejkent@aol.com.

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