“Where are you off to?” Derek, my manager, is surprised to see me heading out of the door wearing my coat in mid-afternoon.
“To the cinema. I’m taking the students to see the new Macbeth film.”
“Good. Ofsted likes to hear about culturally enhancing trips. You’ve completed the risk assessment paperwork, I trust?”
“Actually, Derek, I thought as it was an adult class and we are only going locally, it wasn’t necessary.”
“Not necessary! Come on, man, you know better than that. They didn’t create that 10-page risk assessment form for nothing.”
“But it’s a public cinema. What risk can there be in that?”
“You’d be surprised. Let’s have a little look, shall we?” Derek punches some search terms into Google. “As I thought. Three fatal shootings in movie theatres in three years.”
“That was in America, Derek. And anyway, how can I guard against some crazy person with a grudge and a gun?”
He thinks for a moment. “Body armour.”
“Come on, be realistic. Where are we going to get 15 sets of body armour from?”
“What about those stab-proof vests we issue to staff on open days? They could wear them.”
“All right, all right, if it makes you happy.”
“Not entirely, no. Look at this next search result. Apollo Theatre, 2013. The ceiling fell in, injuring more than 80. Have you thought about protecting against something like that?”
“You know, I haven’t.”
“Exactly. That’s why the form’s there. Now, just nip over to construction and borrow 15 hard hats. At least it’ll look as if we’re trying.”
“Trying it certainly is,” I say with a sigh.
Derek collects the vests while I pick up the hats. “Good. We’re getting there, but there’s still one more result you need to consider.”
I lean over his computer. He is looking at a report of the 2002 Moscow theatre attack in which more than 100 hostages were killed. “Terrorist outrage,” he says. “Have you thought what you’d do if armed terrorists took over the cinema?”
I peer at the screen again. “Most of those hostages died as a result of the gas the Spetsnaz special forces pumped into the theatre as part of the rescue,” I say.
“And what makes you think the SAS wouldn’t have access to exactly the same gas?”
“So what are you saying, Derek? That I should kit them all out in gas masks as well?”
“Army surplus store. In the high street. I think the department funds could run to that.”
I sigh again and head for the high street.
Vest, Mr President
“Excellent, excellent,” declares Derek, as he inspects the students in their vests, helmets and gas masks, all ready for an afternoon’s entertainment.
“Even the president of the United States isn’t this well-protected,” I observe as we all file out into the corridor.
“Hang on, hang on,” Derek calls in panic. “Wasn’t Abraham Lincoln assassinated in a theatre?”
Stephen Jones is a lecturer at a further
education college in London
How management can ease the burden on lecturers
College lecturers tend to complain as a matter of course about the amount of paperwork they have to complete.
One of the problems is that almost all the initiatives come from on high, sometimes even from outside the college. These are then applied right across the institution without any consideration of either their applicability or the other good ideas that are being implemented at the same time.
Thus, no one looks at the totality of the lecturer’s admin workload and the impact it might be having on their real work: planning, teaching and marking.
The risk assessment form is a case in point. If you’re taking a group of 16-year-olds on a canoeing trip to Iceland, then trying to anticipate any hazards is clearly a good idea. Forcing an art history teacher to do the same if they are taking an adult group to a gallery, however, demonstrates the foolishness of the one-size-fits-all mentality.
Enlightened managements might like to consider setting up a committee with teaching staff (not managers), which would take evidence from colleagues about excessive admin tasks and then act on the results.
Many will be surprised at how long the list is.