A while ago, I read that two government working parties had been inadvertently set up to look at the same issue. Neither knew of the other's existence. Even more amazingly, the committees came up with different results, rendering the investigation useless, and Mr and Mrs Taxpayer were left to pick up the tab.
We often grumble about official wastefulness and extravagance, but it happens at school level, too. I recently visited a school that has three admin officers and a full-time bursar. A sprawling secondary? A primary with a big roll? No, it was a school not much larger than mine, where an entire classroom had been given over to these women. They shared the space with computer screens, filing cabinets, desks and drawers. The scene wouldn't have seemed out of place in a city office.
So what occupies these people full time, five days a week? Thousands of letters to parents? Managing a budget of millions? Typing up today's policies for driving up standards? Or were the dinner money collection tins so heavy it took three people to manoeuvre them down the stairs? In comparison, my own administrative "department" seems decidedly spartan; me and one admin officer, who's deadly efficient and always on top of her work. Often, she's so ahead of herself she spends time hearing children read or helping them with their writing. Playing devil's advocate, I have to wonder whether having a handful of admin officers simply creates more time for people to sit and have a chat...
Visitors often call my school an outpost of common sense. Even so, Parkinson's law seems ever ready to leap over the wall and join us.
Recently, an LEA adviser popped in to moderate those abominations known as infant Sats, and was astonished that my deputy is a full-time class teacher. These days, apparently, deputy heads don't have classes. How on earth, our visitor wondered, could my deputy do all her paperwork and administrative duties and teach a class?
Well, I'm not sure what they're teaching on leadership courses these days, but when I appointed my deputy I was looking for a first-rate class teacher whose inventive teaching techniques, personal qualities, and classroom organisation would be an inspiration to the rest of the staff. Everything else was secondary. The last thing I wanted was somebody who fancied their own little office and lots of forms to fill in, even though this is becoming the norm. The modern deputy, it seems, runs around "monitoring" everyone's monthly, daily and hourly lesson plans, which teachers have spent entire weekends writing in minute detail, usually arriving at school on Monday morning too whacked to teach effectively.
For sheer papermongering with precious little result, however, your average governing body can't be beaten. Swamped with documents from every level of educational bureaucracy, these worthy volunteers struggle to create effective committees and working parties against massive odds. At my governors' meetings, we rarely discuss day-to-day school reality. Instead, we stare at papers on educational matters that have little bearing on our own school. Two of my best governors resigned in disgust. Others leave almost as soon as they join. Another sighed and said to me, "We're weighed down with paper and sometimes I don't think we support you well enough.
We're grateful you seem to know the right direction the school should move in." Well, right direction or not, somebody has to grab the wheel and steer a path through the murk.
Mike Kent is head of Comber Grove primary, London borough of Southwark.