Questions "83 pointless questions"

3rd July 2009 at 01:00

Big Brother has arrived. I have proof. Documentary proof. During a school year, my admin officer and I fill in many forms. A few are useful - most aren't.

Take the self-evaluation form, for example. Despite what anybody tells you, this is really for Ofsted, so that inspectors from miles away can get a vague idea of what is happening in your school before they spend two days rummaging around it. Even then, they often get things wrong.

But the forms that really annoy me usually emanate from the Department for Children, Schools and Families. The Plasc, for example. No, I can't remember what the abbreviation stands for either, but it's a sort of school census that was a reasonable length when it began some years ago and has expanded rapidly. And now it is required three times a year.

I can only assume the suits in the DCSF have no idea what life is like in school. They seem to think people in the office are constantly looking for something to do, and the civil servants' role is to fill that void.

The latest form really takes the biscuit. It is called the school workforce census, and it bounced into our office via the local authority. When she saw it, Secretary Sandra's mouth dropped open in astonishment. Ten screens - 83 questions - have to be completed for every adult working in the school.

You can't copy information from one file to another, either. It would be helpful, for example, to call up the screens for your male staff and enter "Mr" in them all with one click. But, no, you have to do them individually.

Then you stare at the questions in disbelief. The first screen asks for a person's salutation, known name, legal surname, maiden name, initials and second name. Then address, email address, home telephone number, mobile phone number, passport number, nationality, ethnicity, mother tongue, religion, disability, Criminal Records Bureau check, references. You name it, it's in there, apart from the colour of their underwear.

I calculated it would take Sandra two days just to fill in one of these forms. If she had the time, which she doesn't.

Gender is next. Is the person male, female, or - you're not going to believe this - is the gender "not known". OK, call me naive, but I haven't met too many people who aren't sure of their gender. What are they supposed to do? Slip behind the piano and check?

And then - hand on heart, I'm not making this up - there are questions about people's cars. Why on earth would Whitehall want to know the make of our cars? And not only the make: they want to know the registration number and the colour as well.

I suppose they wouldn't... surely not... be intending to market all this information, would they?

Irritated, I telephoned a local authority statistics officer. No, he didn't know why they wanted to know the colours of our cars either, and he said we needn't bother filling that bit in.

But that isn't the point. Why is the question included? In fact, I haven't a clue why the department needs most of the information on this form, particularly since much of it is already held in confidential staff files. I told the officer that I had no intention of asking Sandra to waste her time unless the department sent me a letter of explanation.

And then I had an idea. We would fill them in, but we'd say every teacher owns a Porsche, the average age of teachers is 105, everybody's religion is Russian Orthodox and staff have qualifications only in raffia crafts and Morris dancing.

And we'll see what they make of that.

Mike Kent is headteacher of Comber Grove Primary in Camberwell, south London. Email mikejkent@aol.com.

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