School diary - Prodigal council's folly of going by the book

15th October 2010 at 01:00
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Monday

We had a visit from a publisher's representative this morning, who had some interesting materials covering Curriculum for Excellence. In spite of the financial difficulties under which Greenfield Academy still labours, even my faculty head, Madeleine Nichol, was persuaded that we should take a look at the books. So I was granted leave to ask for some inspection copies.

"Bit of a problem there," explained Mr Connelly, the representative concerned. "Your local authority's just signed up to be part of a contract with a national body that claims to be making book purchase easier and cheaper across the country, so you're only allowed to pay invoices from a limited number of contractors. And none of them will supply inspection copies to schools."

"So how are we supposed to evaluate a title before we spend several thousand pounds on class sets of books then?" I queried.

"Ask your local authority," he suggested, "or the people who drew up the tender contract. They don't seem to have thought of this before they did so."

Happily, Mr Connelly was able to lend us some copies from his own car- stock for temporary evaluation but - as he pointed out - that's the kind of service it's impossible to replicate across the country.

"Believe me," he confirmed: "the inspection copy service is an expensive one for us to run, but it's the main way by which teachers can evaluate materials before spending council taxpayers' money on textbook resources. It's just a pity that their council employers are now making it impossible for them to do so."

Tuesday

Our council has demonstrated many innovative ways of spending money in the past, but today's circular that appeared in mass bundles on the staffroom coffee tables took some beating in these financially-challenging times.

In short, it took eight pages of glossily-enhanced articles, charts, quotes and pictures to explain why we are about to embark upon the most savage educational spending cuts in my 26-year career. Nothing, it appears, will be sacred.

"Apart from the council's education department," sneered Frank O'Farrell of modern studies. "And d'you know what I'd like to know? Just how many people there are in the front line of education now - as in, working in schools - against the numbers in central administration, compared with 20 years ago? I'd bet half my pension that it's way more in central admin now than it was then. Or even all of my pension!"

"And how much?" I pondered aloud, "d'you think it took to produce this pamphlet telling us how much they're taking off the education budget?"

"Exactly twice as much as it should have!" denounced Frank immediately. "Very strong rumour has it that they had to pulp the first print run and reprint the lot because of a spelling error, where they referred to `major reductions in pubic, rather than public, expenditure'."

Talk about cuts below the belt.

Wednesday

We have taken an urgent spending decision to buy Mr Connelly's textbooks. The rush is because a spending clampdown has been ordered by the council, whereby our PECOS electronic ordering system is due to be "shut down for maintenance" - for a period of six to eight weeks.

"Bullshit!" commented Frank. "There's nothing wrong with PECOS. According to my mole in the council, it's just their way of showing the usual disdain for the education department by stopping all spending for the rest of the calendar year - the only department they're doing it to!"

Anyway, it has meant a deluge of last-minute orders, and Mr Connelly has been enormously helpful in offering us a 40 per cent discount on our purchase of 120 textbooks. Madeleine has sent it off today, and we hope it gets under the wire before the clampdown starts.

Thursday

As part of the school's commitment to numeracy, the maths department is launching a "Graph Week" next Monday, asking everyone to incorporate them in their subjects - so PE is doing graphs based on race timings during the Commonwealth Games, home economics is doing graphs of recipe timings, and geography will do graphs of rainfall, all leading inexorably towards a final maths department presentation, demonstrating the usefulness of graphs - and numeracy - in all quarters of the curriculum.

Personally, I think it's mere tokenism in case we get inspected by HMIE. Which is why, in the English department, we are thinking of doing a graph showing how many pointless hours of teaching time are consumed trying to satisfy the need to tick a box in our school development plan.

Friday

The ill-advised construction of our council's textbook-purchasing arrangements has been demonstrated in full and foolish glory by the rejection of the order we placed on Wednesday, because it was sent to the publisher - which was offering a 40 per cent discount - and has had to be placed instead with one of the contractors in our new contract - which is offering a discount of 15 per cent.

Thus, our headteacher is losing a potential saving of approximately pound;400 on her already straitened budgets. Rosemary Slater was on the telephone at once, resolute with fury, but returned to our departmental meeting a crestfallen figure.

"I'm sorry, Madeleine - and all of you," she addressed our disbelieving group. "Apparently, the council's finance department is unwilling to countenance any orders outwith the list of approved contractors, even if it would save my budgets pound;4,000, let alone pound;400! I've argued that there's no legal requirement to order through this bloody quango-organised procurement system that claims to `secure best value for customers' - even if it demonstrably doesn't! - but it's like knocking your head against a brick wall! So your order has to be reduced to 80 books - and the kids will have to share them."

It does seem ironic that here we are in the midst of the worst financial crisis to hit education in a generation - and we have to spend more money than we need to on books because of a contract that claims to save money. Such is progress.

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