Ah, good morning to you Mr Smith, come in. And what makes you feel the need for a psychiatrist?"
"Well, the thing is, I'm a teacher... "
"I see. I seem to have talked to a large number of those lately. What are your symptoms?"
"Basically, I've forgotten what a child is. I vaguely remember they are rather fascinating little creatures and once upon a time I devised wonderful things for them to do in my classroom. Something called 'exciting learning' used to take place. But I don't have time for that any more. APP, you see... "
"Assessing pupil progress. I do a lot of it in my PPA."
"Planning, preparation and assessment time. But that's just it: there isn't enough of it for all the form-filling I'm required to do. There are 30 children in my class and I've been up until 4am every night levelling their writing. I haven't even got to maths yet. My wife has forgotten who I am, my neighbours think I've passed away and I've had to sell the cat. Haven't got time to feed it."
"Dear me, this is serious. Surely the forms can't be that demanding?"
"I have an example. Excuse the shaky hand, the nervous tic and the dry cough. I'm given a set of papers like this for every child in my class and I have to use the set to decide whether the child has reached level 1, 2, 3 or 4 with their writing. As you can see, each set has 27 parameters and 130 sub-headings. I have to consider them all. You haven't got any gin, have you?"
"Sorry, no, but there's some Valium in the jar. Oh, it's all gone. Must have seen more teachers this week than I thought."
"I'm bewildered by half the headings, and if I don't finish the forms this week my senior managers won't be able to put all the data on the computer and the local authority will be very cross."
"Can't you ask your head for help?"
"Oh no, she never comes out of her room any more. I think she lives there."
"But surely you know whether your children are making progress without asking a computer to cough out graphs and charts?"
"Of course I do, but teachers aren't to be trusted these days. That why I have to complete all these APP sheets to decide whether Charlie is low, high, secure or hopelessly insecure with each attainment focus."
"Let's have a look, then. Use of connectives and subordination, sentence demarcation, time-related phrases, use of adverbials... I see you've started shaking, Mr Smith."
"Sorry, I can't help it. The phrases cause a reaction in my underwear."
"Mmm... lexical words with more than one morpheme, orientation inconsistencies, distinguished ascenders and descenders... Good God, who compiled this rubbish? Committees who have never practised what they're preaching, presumably?"
"I wouldn't like to say. We're not allowed an opinion. We're only teachers."
"Don't children write for pleasure any more? Don't they write stories and poems and plays? Aren't they encouraged to experience the joy of putting words together for a purpose?"
"Haven't got time, I'm afraid. Always the next hoop to crawl through or level to reach."
"Well Mr Smith, you're in a bad way, so here's my solution. I have a friend who is a hypnotist. He'll put you to sleep for a couple of years, by which time hopefully all this nonsense will have passed. If sanity hasn't prevailed when you wake up, I suggest you find the nearest rooftop and start shouting very loudly."
Mike Kent is headteacher at Comber Grove Primary, Camberwell, south London. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.