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WORK LIFE - PAPER TRAIL

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While schools work hard to educate our children, teachers are burdened with too many tasks outside their remit, say...
While schools work hard to educate our children, teachers are burdened with too many tasks outside their remit, says Paul Macey

The school at which I am a parent governor in south-east London faces an Ofsted inspection in the coming weeks. It is not a pleasant time. While the inspection could give recommendations that lead to positive change, the pressure on all concerned, particularly staff, is immense.

At the time of writing, no one is sure how this inspection is going to pan out. But for a first-timer such as myself, it is easy to see that the increased workload has added to the pressure on an already heavily burdened staff group.

At a recent meeting, we were guided by a colleague from the education department on how to prepare for the forthcoming inspection. While the advice given was welcome, it was hard not to feel that many of the problems we encounter could have been alleviated by ongoing support from our education department.

As a school we face many of the same problems as others in urban areas, namely: lack of funding; a high turnover of staff; large classroom sizes; and variable attainment levels.

The staff group works hard and, whatever the outcome of the inspection, will work harder still to improve the potential of our children.

However, for me, a recurring theme from colleagues is the wish to have more support from the education department.

Take the following example. One of my roles and responsibilities is that of health and safety representative. I support the headteacher and caretaker in ensuring works around the school are completed to the required standard.

For the past year, the school has tried to have a play area renovated and made safe for the children. The work should have been completed months ago, yet we are still waiting. The headteacher has spent days writing letters, making phone calls and meeting with contractors to plan the work, but so far to no avail. Yet this is a company approved by the council.

Does the education department check its providers list? What quality assurances are there? Who would be blamed if something happened to a child, caused by shoddy and unprofessional work?

Another example of how education support would have been extremely welcome is with the ICT provision in the school. The school was recently equipped with a new ICT suite but not without great effort and commitment on the part of teaching staff, who were prepared once more to go the extra yard to ensure the provision met the standards required.

The main difficulties arose because despite the many talents the headteacher and her staff possess, a detailed knowledge of ICT equipment is not among them.

Once more they found themselves at the mercy of myriad suppliers, all recommended by the education department. Negotiating between suppliers and sub-contracted consultants' suppliers was not only incredibly time-consuming but also extremely complicated.

Education departments could do schools a real service by removing this burden andassessing providers and

co-ordinating provision through its inhouse IT expertise.

All of this links to the vexed question of work/life balance, which has seen so many skilled and experienced teaching staff leave the profession - and dissuaded potential teachers from joining.

The government and education departments have noted the work overload of teachers, and has set standards that schools must meet to tackle the issue. However, the workload continues to increase or be transferred elsewhere. Bulk photocopying, for example, is not on the agenda for teachers anymore, but the burden must be taken up by others, namely administrative staff.

I am not seeking to make excuses ahead of any negative outcomes from the Ofsted inspection - what needs to be done will be done. However, it does appear to be manifestly unfair that teaching staff are to be judged on their achievements without the overall context of their responsibilities taken into account. Many of the issues are obviously related to government policy and I am convinced that this government, like most others, provides education on the cheap, and therefore fails many children.

But within this context, education departments could do far more to support schools and take up many of the tasks that teachers are not trained to do, leaving them free to do what we pay them to do - teach.

Paul Macey

Director, Creative Collective and a parent governor

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