Why I am officially inadequate

13th February 2009 at 00:00

Sadly, I have to report that I'm totally inadequate. Not merely inadequate, mind - but totally inadequate. Has your dedicated columnist finally cracked? Should he be led gently out to grass? Before you decide, let me explain how I acquired that label.

During a school year, a headteacher endures a variety of "audits". Officials arrive with briefcases and serious faces. They peruse your documentation, make tutting noises, and then send you a report saying you're not fully complying with current legislation, usually designed by suits who change it every year because they've nothing better to do.

There will be a financial audit to make sure money isn't being siphoned into your holiday fund, a health and safety inspection to check that children aren't playing dangerous games like conkers, and a fire safety inspection to make sure the fire alarm Darren keeps setting off is still working properly.

But the one that really gets to me is the human resources audit. Four areas are checked: performance management; policies and procedure; safer recruitment; and personnel files. Each area is scrutinised, boxes are ticked or crossed, and a rating from outstanding to inadequate is given.

"Could I see the whistleblowing policy for the school?" I'm asked.

I try humour, explaining that it isn't needed because I've run a workshop on blowing a whistle and my teachers have mastered it. But humour doesn't work, so I turn to my computer and triumphantly screen the approved local authority policy. I'm told that it won't do because that's last year's and it's been amended. I hunt through my CD of policies and - hurrah! - I have the up-to-date policy. I'm asked when the governing body adopted it, but I can't remember. So no tick in the box for that bit, then.

Then I'm asked about performance management. I explain, at length, why I think performance management is patronising, unnecessary, unacceptable and a potential recipe for bullying. The auditor doesn't expound a view of her own, but simply points out that it's statutory. Never one to break the law, I show the auditor how I comply with it by getting my staff to fill in a simple form.

Throughout the afternoon, I question the sense of what I'm asked to do. When a teacher returns to work after illness, I'm supposed to hold a "return to work interview". If they've returned to work, I ask, why do I need to interview them? It's good practice, I'm told.

I explain that I don't ask my teachers to waste hours on unnecessary paper-filling exercises. They're free to enjoy teaching. And because they enjoy it, they're never away. If they do happen to be ill, I want to welcome them back, not conduct an interview. Unfortunately, my view is frowned upon. Another cross in the box.

Then I'm told that when writing my "person specification" for a job, I should mention that the applicant needs to be "motivated to work with children". Surely, I say, this can be taken for granted? If I were advertising for a zoo-keeper, would I need to say that a motivation to work with animals was desirable?

By 3pm my patience - and that of my auditor - is wearing more than a little thin. I'm given a rating of totally inadequate.

Two weeks later, I attend a one-day course with the human resources department on "safer recruitment". At the end of the day we're given a written test of our knowledge, and we are promised certificates if we pass. I passed, but I've never received my certificate.

Naturally, I've written to human resources and told them this is totally inadequate.

Mike Kent is head at Comber Grove Primary in Camberwell, south London, mikejkent@aol.com.

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