Stop tinkering and address the real issue

22nd November 2002 at 00:00
What a pretty pass we've come to when the Government feels the need to list 25 administrative tasks teachers should not do. While everyone agrees that too much bureaucracy is at the heart of the frustration of teachers trying to do their job to the best of their ability, it's difficult to see how this is going to make much difference.

When budgets were delegated, most schools looked hard at how best to deploy teaching and support staff. They have long recognised that the bulk of this list's tasks are administrative chores most economically carried out by specifically employed staff. From that perspective, it is an astonishingly esoteric list, with the separate tasks having vastly differing levels of importance and requiring hugely differing amounts of time.

There are a small number of items that teachers might baulk at having wrenched away from them. Typing, if that means making your own worksheets through word processing and desktop publishing, and putting up children's work, which most would see as the most effective kind of classroom display, are likely to cause more frustration by being passed on to someone else. But this is quibbling and merely tinkering with the problem.

The real problem is that this list doesn't address the problem. Teachers, not civil servants, are the best judges of how to use their time professionally. We have always accepted that preparation and marking are an integral part of our job and that these tasks take longer than those outside the profession have ever been prepared to acknowledge. What has caused overwork and the lowering of morale is not spending time on those things which make teaching effective, but having to respond to so many initiatives, few of which teachers would value.

We have the nonsensical situation of the Government introducing a measure ostensibly to cut down workload while at the same time insisting that all those requirements that have caused the bureaucracy in the first place go ahead. Teachers were already working flat out before it was decided that more examinations were required and that all exam syllabuses needed rewriting, that strategies to remodel teaching styles across all subjects at key stage 3 and below - with huge Inset implications - must be introduced, and that standards could only be improved through performance management with its hugely top-heavy system of form-filling and external advisers.

The issue that underpins the whole problem of workload is the way in which the professionalism of teachers has been undervalued. There hasn't been enough respect for the job and, not surprisingly therefore, there aren't enough teachers. Now that the penny has dropped that respect needs to be restored, the Government has introduced so many accompanying initiatives that most people who might wish to try their hand at teaching are put off by all the fuss about workload. We should address fundamental issues rather than tinkering at the edges of a teacher's job description. We desperately need to:l resource the pastoral systems in our schools effectively so that teachers are not constantly pulled in different directions;

* review the exam structure and drastically reduce the number of major exams children have to sit;

* plan sensible Inset provision so that every day in the school year is not interrupted by courses teachers must attend;

* simplify teachers' pay, and the huge machinery and bureaucracy that accompanies it.

Anyone in schools knows that to solve teacher shortage - a bigger headache than workload - expecting support staff to take responsibility for classes will lead to the greater problem still of lower discipline standards in our schools.

John Claydon is head of Wyedean school, Chepstow

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