Gemma If you haven't got your pocket calculators with you, could you fetch them now? You'll need them for today's lesson in conservation.
This year, my Panda document wasn't posted to me. I had to download it from the internet, all 41 pages of it, using my own ink, paper and printer. The report doesn't actually get under way until page nine, but there you go; the Office For Standards in Education has never relished using one word when 300 will do.
Having sat down and studied the thing (rare for me), I didn't know whether to shrug in resignation at the mistakes, or phone up in anger. But, as I couldn't stomach the thought of half a dozen button-pushing options and electronic Vivaldi while I was put on hold, I decided against it. Our Sats marking this year had been incorrect, we'd complained, had it corrected, and built the calculation into our own school data. But had the Panda's figures been adjusted? No, of course not. Cross-referencing between huge bureaucratic empires hasn't shown any signs of emerging at the moment, but give it another millennium or two.
But it's not what's written on the paper that bothers me, because I don't take much notice of it. I'm concerned about the paper itself. We're talking huge amounts here, which is why you'll need your calculator.
Remember, my Panda has 41 pages. My governors, of course, all need a copy to study, as it's an agenda item for our next meeting and, wow, there are lots of exciting new targets to set. I have 16 governors, so I make that 656 sheets of paper in total. Agreed? Plus my copy, which makes 697, and a copy for the clerk, which brings it to 738. Naturally, my staff want to see it, if only to tut and shake their heads at the inaccuracies, but to stop the photocopier exploding I give copies to the senior management team only, and they pass it on. There are eight teachers in the SMT, so this means 328 more sheets of A4. Add this to the other 738 sheets, and we're up to 1,066 already.
Our school, of course, is a speck in the ocean of academia. There are 26,582 primary schools in the UK, and if they're all running off copies for their governors and senior management teams, we're looking at a total of 23,336,412 sheets of paper. If they're doing copies for the entire staff, it'll be a lot higher. And that's not counting the photocopiers, the toner cartridges, the printer ink, the binders. What a huge and wasteful industry it's become. And bear in mind, we're talking about one report. Not the autumn package, not the latest literacy hour document, not the new health and safety regulations or the monthly DfES bulletins. The Panda is just a fraction of the tree decimation that reaches our schools every year.
But the final straw was page 11 of my Panda, giving a summary of our last Ofsted findings. The "management and efficiency" of the school required some improvement, it said. In our previous Ofsted, exactly the same management team was said to be "strong and efficient". So, the usual reliable judgment there, then. Also, Ofsted teams are required to make predictions about trends in the schools they inspect, and we were told that our pupils' standards would require "some improvement". Interesting, then, that the Panda tells me all our results are consistently well above the national average.
Perhaps the best place for a Panda is still up a tree in China. If there are any trees left, that is.
Mike Kent is head of Comber Grove primary, London borough of Southwark.