PLASC (the annual schools census) day has come and gone at my primary school. Somewhere in the bowels (or possibly attics) of an anonymous grey building, analysts pore enthusiastically over the data we've sent them. One can imagine them keenly scanning pupils' postcodes for secrets, creating thrilling lists of the number of special needs children, how many pupils in each class, and exactly what is being taught at 10.03am. They may get excited over the average pupil shoe size in Year 3, the length of male teachers' ties and the size of the headteacher's office.
Actually, I exaggerate: I'm only guessing that the DfES is interested in this information. At my small rural primary, it took our office manager the best part of two weeks to assemble the information. It is all loaded on computer every time a new child arrives. However, a software glitch meant that each time she added data, another piece would change; altering a child's SEN information would suddenly result in George being moved from Year 4 down to reception. Local authority data advisers scratched their heads over this, downloaded patches to fix a problem, and patches to fix further problems, until the computer began to resemble a large sticking plaster.
Finally, the data return was sent on the correct day. It is staggering how much time this took, particularly when you take into account all the other returns we make: the headcount of new children, attendance, Sats data, gifted and talented lists, optional Sats... All sorts of people want our data, and we often send the same information to more than one department. Over the years, the "paperless office" has created so much work that my small school employs a general assistant as well as an office manager. Ten years ago, most primary schools managed with just one school secretary. Now I see my office manager buried under paperwork, occasionally coming up for air and a fix of chocolate. I see my teachers and assistants drowning under piles of planning and assessment. I find the cook planning healthy meals in triplicate to send to the local authority and site manager, and filling out 25-page risk assessments on the dangers of stepladders. Does anyone in government want to come and see real children, those who just want enthusiastic teachers, not files of papers?
Helena Bakewell is a primary head in the Midlands. She writes under a pseudonym