Freedom to find our own workload solutions

31st October 2003 at 00:00
Few schools have a cat in hell's chance of implementing the Government's workload reforms. Rather than being given extra funding for all the changes, they've actually had resources taken away.

But through a complicated set of circumstances, my school finds itself with enough cash to address seriously the efficiency of the organisation.

Because we have been perennially underfunded as a shire county without area cost protection and with a mean county council, we have profited a little from the new funding formula that has caused such havoc elsewhere. This has coincided with our gaining specialist school status - and all the extra funding that brings - and a rise in pupil numbers. A huge building programme also made us consider carefully how we could make everything work more smoothly. And that is the point; we're not addressing workload reform because the Government or the unions say we must. It's simply the sensible thing to do now we have the resources to do more than eke out survival.

We've always tried to reduce the bureaucratic burden on teachers. They've not invigilated exams for a long time, which has permitted a substantial and cheap internal Inset programme in each summer term. We also have a data analyst, separate from the main office, to support assessment and targeting strategies, and to establish our computerised in-house reporting system.

And an admin assistant has been exams officer for several years; the post has expanded to well over half a full-time job now. I cringe when I remember that a head of department used somehow to fit the role in alongside his main job.

This year's funding bonanza has allowed us to add:

* An attendance officer. We have high attendance and low truancy rates, but this appointment has tightened up procedures and improved statistics.

* A school administrator. The US model of separate academic and administrative structures played a role in our thinking. This new post is on a level equivalent to bursar and attracted a large, diverse and hugely talented field with amazingly sophisticated skills. The prime roles are organising staff cover and supply management (many people believe that should be done by a teacher, but it's tremendously liberating for it not to be), overseeing the full range of support staff, and premises management.

* A departmental support assistant. This post provides allocated time for departments that traditionally don't have a technician. Unsurprisingly, she's worked off her feet, with a mountain of handouts to produce, displays to put up and sheets to photocopy. She also collects children's money for trips and from charity days, which has removed a time-consuming task from the finance office.

* A second ICT technician. This has proved a huge bonus, out of proportion to the cost. It's a direct benefit of specialist school status and partly supports our primary school partners, but the general angst and frustration caused by malfunctions in the ICT area seem to be greatly reduced. Somehow a problem shared seems to be a problem halved, even if something serious happens such as the system going down.

There's nothing revolutionary about any of this, and we've still much more to do, but we've sought our own solutions to our own problems. That, of course, is what workload reform should be about. No two schools are the same, and some of the inflexible government statements on the issue comprehensively miss the point of what is trying to be achieved.

John Claydon John Claydon is head of Wyedean school, Monmouthshire, recently designated a maths and computing specialist college

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