Logging on not logical

25th April 2003 at 01:00
Jeff and I were rather melancholic as we sat with our pints. I suppose it could be the prospect of key stage 3 SATs and then GCSEs, but it has mainly to do with money. Not ours; the authority's and how we can spend it. To be accurate, what really has us downcast is the system they've imposed that makes it nigh impossible to spend what money there is.

Don't get me wrong. The days of staff going into the local bookshop, buying things, dropping off a receipt and being reimbursed from the secretary's cash box are gone - and quite right. But the new system does not allow for any flexibility. If the authority computer hasn't had 48 hours' notice, it can't happen.

Take the book man. He came with his selection. I asked for some inspection copies. No sooner had they been delivered than they were winging their way back to the publishers and I was before the head. My conversation with the book man was deemed illegal - "the computer" didn't know about it.

Computers are supposed to save time, but where is the time saved in interrupting a conversation about the potential merits of a poetry book to go and find the computer person with a request to enter codes and references for an item we might not buy?

Jeff's struggling with computers, too. He's been given a laptop to tote round when he goes to see his students. He also works with excluded kids, but he's part of a virtual pupil referral unit - an office, a computer, a phone and 90 kids scattered across the county. The authority thought it would be good to give him an email address. Kids can send him work, he can send work back - and messages to their families. Even better, colleagues can leave messages.

Jeff's found a glitch in the system. He can read his mail only when he's using the right laptop and he's in the office. As he's only in the office on Friday afternoon, messaging kids and contacting colleagues is a dead duck. Last Friday, when he opened his inbox, he found an email from his team leader asking why he hadn't responded to Monday's email.

We've decided we're too old for this. We know there have to be systems; we know we have to be accountable for the resources offered to us; we know we have to work efficiently. But where do the kids get a mention? These kids may be outside the traditional education system, but they deserve a crack.

The way we have to rekindle an interest in learning and a sense of self-esteem means some of the normal teaching conventions have to be abandoned.

Life's hard enough when you've been sworn at by a reluctant Year 10 kid with whom you're trying a physics experiment - never mind that it's happening on his kitchen floor and you had to lug the kit up three flights of stairs because the lift is out of action.

If we're to do our work well, we need ways of overcoming these hurdles.

Every now and again we come across resources that look fit for the job and, while I accept that there have to be protocols, isn't it time the administrative managers considered what it is that they administer? Surely, they are there to help us do our difficult job, not get in the way of it.

The writer, who wishes to remain anonymous, works with excluded students

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