“The only time the entire teaching staff will be brought together is to have a party,” is what one fun-loving secondary head recently decreed. Most meetings, she believes, are a waste of time and energy, and so she has dispensed with whole-staff meetings, as well as heads of faculty meetings. Faculty heads are left to decide whether to convene department meetings – most don’t.
The arithmetic supports her argument.
At a recent school meeting, I calculated that, for the 12 senior teachers present, such gatherings consumed at least 12 hours of their combined time. Each would then convene a faculty meeting with an average of six teachers, which puts the cumulative time spent in meetings – along with that for preparing an agenda and producing minutes – at almost 100 hours. The key business of the meetings was to disseminate information, rather than discuss and formulate policy. The same objective could have been achieved by email, saving considerable time, inconvenience and the acrimony that often arises from large meetings.
Most teachers I know would prefer fewer meetings and more time for planning lessons and marking. Yet regular meetings are viewed as part of an effective school, even though most meetings achieve little. It takes a brave headteacher to dispense with meetings.
Meaningless meetings are just one part of the bad bureaucracy of our education system. Pupil support has become, largely because of legal considerations, a bastion of bureaucracy. As well as ensuring pupils’ wellbeing, a school’s pupil-support team also has to find time to properly log, in some detail, every concern and every referral. Pupil-support departments now consume huge amounts of time and money in order to support the bureaucracy inflicted on them.
The over-elaborate and needlessly complicated subject guidance from the Scottish Qualifications Authority is another source of burdensome bureaucracy. Information that could be conveyed in one 15-page document is usually offered in multiple documents with hundreds of pages. The SQA must realise that wading through its convoluted documents consumes precious time.
Even our own professional organisation, the General Teaching Council for Scotland, contributes to bureaucracy by asking us to complete a “Professional Update”, as if we have nothing else to do. The big fear over the GTCS’ recent subscription hike is that it will create funds for new initiatives that consume considerable time, for little of consequence.
Most schools have now completed their final set of unit assessments, whose departure will help to lessen workloads for exam courses. Scrapping what has been one of the most time-consuming bureaucratic requirements inflicted on our education system is a step forward. But education reforms, including the idea of devolving more responsibilities to schools, threaten to add to bureaucracy.
Those intent on demanding more paperwork from teachers should remember that it is great teachers – not great bureaucrats – who make the difference to young lives.
John Greenlees is a secondary teacher in Scotland