Drowned in the paperwork

5th February 1999 at 00:00
THE EQUIVALENT of an extra 1,500 teachers could be found simply by streamlining the time staff spend on administrative tasks.

This is the main conclusion of an authoritative study carried out by HMI and the Accounts Commission, the first national joint venture between the two bodies. But offloading paperwork on to the estimated 5,000 support staff currently in Scottish schools has its limits, the findings reveal.

The report, published on Monday, reveals considerable variation in the administrative back-up teachers receive. In secondary schools of around 800 pupils, support ranged from three to eight administrative staff. Primary schools with 40 pupils have an administrative assistant for one day a week, while there is full-time support in others.

Robert Black, controller of audit at the Accounts Commission, said the report highlighted many ways in which schools could help themselves. But he also urged education authorities to allow schools more flexibility in how they spend their money "so that staffing can be tailored to the particular needs of individual schools".

The importance of freeing teachers to spend more time on teaching was underlined by Douglas Osler, senior chief inspector. "Most administrative tasks need to be done," Mr Osler said. "The question is whether it is teachers who need to do them." He urged schools to review their existing administrative processes and make any necessary changes.

The report recommends a three-pronged approach - streamlining the way tasks are handled, making better use of technology and deploying support staff more.

Scottish Office ministers have already earmarked pound;66 million over three years so that authorities can hire up to 5,000 classroom assistants, part of whose job would be to relieve teachers of administrative pressures.

The Inspectorate and the commission suggest a "who does what" review. "There were a number of instances where schools used administrative staff to carry out tasks more commonly undertaken by senior staff within other schools, eg organising cover for staff absences, handling cash, filing of papers and so on. These reinforce the view expressed by many teachers that much of the administration currently carried out by teachers could be done by non-teaching staff.

"Some significant changes are possible within the constraints of present funding and structural arrangements; others will become possible with additional support in schools, such as classroom assistants."

But the Inspectorate and the commission say schools need much more flexibility in arranging their staffing. The development of a career path for administrators in schools is one possible solution, for example, which could be applied in one school or clusters of schools if they had the freedom to do it. The working group overseeing the introduction of classroom assistants has already identified career progression for non-teaching staff as an issue.


Attendance - note absentees for every register class at the start of the day, collate a list to be used by teachers to note discrepancies period by period.

Primary- secondary liaison - use standardised formats to transfer written and electronic information on pupils' attainment.

Resource management - again, use standardised formats to collect information on resource needs from individual class teachers.

Forward planning - highlight relevant sections on school documents rather than copying them by hand; agreeing the layout of documents from school to education authority level avoids duplication and saves time.


Secondary heads should not spend three hours a week entering data into a computer.

Primary heads should not spend time on simple repairs like fixing a plumbing leak, because there is no one else available.

Class teachers should not write out lists of names or transfer information on pupils' assessments from one sheet of paper to another.

(Source: Accounts Commission and HM Inspectors of Schools)

Leader, page 16

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