Unhealthy doses of red tape

Mike Kent

So, it's official. Despite the huge sums poured into the NHS over the past decade, a new report reveals that "blind pursuit" of political and managerial targets has led to a lack of focus on patients' interests and needs.

Well, we knew that, didn't we? And if you substitute "NHS" for "education", and "patients" for "children", you have a pretty good picture of what has happened in our profession, too.

Yes, money has been forthcoming, buildings have been refurbished, and class sizes are more acceptable. We couldn't have said that during the last Tory administration. But huge amounts of money are still wasted. The staggering cost of a failed initiative such as the "literacy hour" makes me shudder, let alone the sheer stupidity of aspects of it.

The modern foreign languages initiative demands that our MFL teaching is up and running by the end of this year - and I'm all for children learning a second language - but many of our inner-city schools already struggle with up to 40 languages and dialects, and many children who speak little English.

Millions of pounds are being poured into ICT and the managed learning environment - mandatory for all schools by 2012 - yet we have hardly grasped the full potential of electronic whiteboards, or coped with the cost of repairing and upgrading the costly ICT equipment that schools are now expected to use.

When I consider recent changes in primary education, it seems we hardly have time to breathe before another set of demands is unleashed. I still do a fair bit of teaching - I think it's important that I should - but to do so I must take home a lot of administrative work.

Every year, I am visited by paper-hungry officials - fire-risk people, financial management standard in schools auditor, safeguarding assessor, health and safety lady, moderators from the local authority, not to mention the people from human resources, whose demands are so wide-ranging that I could spend my entire existence gathering all the documents they want. I am expected to be an expert in many specialist fields.

Yet try to get a school nurse or a decent educational psychologist or a speech and language therapist and you might as well be seeking a four-leaf clover. Even when you find a school nurse, you will be hard pressed to get her to measure anything or carry out a straightforward hearing test. Check a child's hair for nits? Oh, come on!

We have an inspection system which has been linked to cases of staff ill-health, and even suicide, and questionable institutions such as the General Teaching Council demanding teachers' money, doing little that is useful to them and then sending out strange questionnaires (like the recent one asking teachers to tick a box if they considered themselves too disabled to do their job).

I am required to produce an annual school improvement plan, a self-evaluation plan, a risk assessment every time a class leaves the building, and policies for everything from healthy eating to restraining children when they go berserk. Meanwhile, my admin officer is constantly dealing with complex, and often irrelevant, government data-gathering demands.

Teachers are no longer trusted to do their job without producing reams of planning, targets and tracking data. Local authority officers rarely show an interest in your school unless your data suggests "targets" are not being met, and we are still plagued by Sats and league tables and lashings of mindless bureacracy. Did you know the Government and national agencies issued 459 documents between 1996 and 2004 just on literacy teaching?

Oh well. At least I'm never short of something to write about ...

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

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Mike Kent

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