Suitable case for treatment

1st April 2005 at 01:00
We are being stifled in the name of efficiency, argues Kevin Fitzsimons

This morning I went to the hospital for an appointment with a consultant for which I have waited eight months. When I arrived I waited 50 minutes and then found that the results of my December scan were not on my file.

The outcome is that I have to have another scan, then meet the consultant to discuss what we should have discussed today, which is when I might have surgery; waiting list, six months.

Ten years ago I had the same operation. I visited my GP who made the referral and three weeks later I was in hospital. The consultant saw me the night before the operation and wished me luck the next day, when I was due to leave.

So what has this to do with education? Or the police force, for that matter? On the news I heard that vast sums of extra money have been poured into all public services and yet the chief constable of Nottingham was saying that his force could not cope. Why not?

Because it has mostly been "poured" into the vast drain that we fondly know as "management". We all work harder than we used to but achieve less. We are all scrutinised, or "monitored" - supportively, of course - by people who find every excuse not to be in the classroom or on the beat or performing operations. The decision to appoint "literacy consultants" and their equivalents in maths and science was well intentioned but flawed. A national strategy which provides a framework is good; a strategy which is a straitjacket tightened by constant inspection is disastrous. We are being asphyxiated in the name of efficiency.

To compound the problems we have removed a significant number of good practitioners from the classroom and sent them out to spread the wrong gospel. "Training" sessions now consist of consultants, many employed at vast expense, dishing out folders, CD-Roms and endless PowerPoint presentations which have been written by someone no longer at the chalkface. I use the old cliche deliberately because, if we are not careful, skilled teaching and teachers will disappear. I always used to tell new members of my faculty to teach what they know and tailor it to the needs of the children. Now it's teach what Big Brother tells you, or else.

We employ twice as many ancillary staff as we used to and yet we received a note asking us not to ask the office staff to shred paper for us, due to pressure of work. Last week the excellent trainee on our graduate teacher programme missed a double period to attend a meeting with his mentor and the head of faculty. Irony upon ironies, when I arrived back in school this morning, having missed three periods of teaching, I missed the fourth with my top-set Year 9s, who have about a dozen lessons left before Sats, to attend my AST review session.

The net result of all this disruption emerges in the exam results. The apparent failure to meet government targets is then used as a stick to beat the school which then becomes a stick with which to beat the staff. Fear breeds fear and no one dares take a chance. Lessons become standardised, and "learning" only counts if it is measurable. No wonder that on top of all this are all the attendant problems of the increased number of staff who are long-term absentees. Ten years ago we had an excellent attendance record; now we regularly have cover lists stretching to 15 out of 60 staff.

So here we are, the recipients of huge sums of money invested in public services, and yet we feel that we are neither providing nor receiving good service. Quite soon the public will wake and realise that political promises are such stuff as dreams are made of and amount to no more than an insubstantial pageant which will fade and leave not a jot behind.

Kevin Fitzsimons is head of English at a comprehensive in Hull

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