Meet the King Canute of bureaucracy
Recently, I attended a day course for heads on completing the new form about... well, actually, I can't remember what it was about. I spend so much time stemming the flood of initiatives and form-filling that I might as well be called Charlie Canute. Policies? I've just finished putting all our policies on to a database, and you know how many we've got? Sixty-seven. You name it I've got a policy on it.
And still the authorities want more. Last week was a great one for policies. On Monday, I had a visit from a nice man from educational welfare who wanted to talk about child protection, which has assumed increased importance due to the Every Child Matters initiative. He needed an hour and a half of my time, he said, and he came loaded with fat booklets, pamphlets, checklists and the new child protection policy for us to evaluate and discuss. I said it looked irtually the same as last year's child protection policy, but I was told it had changed in "significant detail".
What detail? He wasn't sure, as he hadn't had time to read it yet. At that moment, a child was sick in the corridor, so it was a good moment to cancel the interview and rush off for the premises officer.
On Tuesday, the health and safety lady came. She gave me a list of policies that the school should have to hand and produced "helpful" documents such as a stress template for teachers, just in case I irritate my staff so much that they feel like climbing up to the roof and leaping off.
Then we talked about risk assessments. If you take your class to the swimming baths, you should fill in a risk assessment beforehand, and then on the day write a follow-up checklist, taking into account possible hazards such as "street violence". After all, she said, we're in an inner-city area. It occurred to me that writing all these risk assessments could give the teachers stress, in which case the stress templates would come in very handy...
On Wednesday, I received a letter saying I hadn't forwarded the certificate for my annual fire-risk inspection. Oh dear. I'd forgotten that one. The inspection has to be carried out by a qualified inspector, of course, and I know jolly well that I'll end up having a row with him because last time the inspector told me I shouldn't have that "paper decoration" all over the walls. He was referring to children's work which, amazingly, happens to be a feature of the places we call primary schools.
Thursday brought a bill for pound;2,500. This was for an asbestos inspection, arranged by the local authority, and which I'd no idea I'd have to pay for. Since we'd had an asbestos inspection several years ago, when just two tiny non-dangerous segments had been found, common sense told me the local authority would have looked up its previous report and not bothered to re inspect the building. But life's not that simple and I'm left arguing the toss about a huge bill I have no intention of paying.
Friday? Well, my premises officer asked me what he should do about PAT this year. No, that's not a troublesome cleaner but an acronym for Portable Appliance Testing. To make sure pupils and staff don't go up in a puff of smoke, we should have every electrical item checked annually, even though we've got hundreds of them, all with proper, tamperproof moulded plugs. Every item costs pound;3.50 to test. We could buy an awful lot of reading books with that.
And children? Well, I did see a couple fleetingly yesterday, but they're hardly a priority in these enlightened days.
Mike Kent is head of Comber Grove primary in Camberwell, south London