March 26, 2003
A novelist overwhelmed by paperwork

Here's some more chapters and verses on the theme of how excessive form-filling and paperwork is driving people out of the teaching profession, this time from novelist and journalist Emma Lee-Potter, who fancied the idea of trying to become an English and Media Studies lecturer. Until, that is, she actually started studying for it. The idea of a journalist and novelist exercising her own judgement as to what it might make sense to teach young people, and how to set about doing it, seems to me very obvious. But that isn't how things are done nowadays:

No, what infuriated me was the teaching profession's emphasis on self-evaluation and reflective practice. Every lesson plan had to be accompanied by written rationales for the teaching methods we had chosen. Tutor and student feedback on every lesson we taught had to be repeatedly scrutinised and analysed – not only verbally but on special self-evaluation forms.

And this didn't just mean checking that you had fulfilled your aims and objectives – there were issues such as whether the seating, lighting and classroom temperature were up to scratch, whether handouts and acetates were easy to read and what teaching principles the lesson demonstrated. We then had to draw up detailed action plans for future teaching. I don't know of any other profession where you sit down at the end of the day and fill in a self-evaluation form. Isn't it common sense to learn from your mistakes and try to avoid making them again in future?

The biggest bugbear was having to keep a private "reflective diary" or "learning log" to record your thoughts and feelings about your "teaching experiences". Looking back at mine, it is full of angrily scrawled comments such as "increasingly unsure" and "so irritated – this doesn't seem relevant to teaching". I'm all for learning from experience and striving to do better next time round but in a profession that's already overflowing with paperwork, it seemed mad to create yet more.

Sounds like compulsory blogging, doesn't it? No doubt that too will come.

When you hear the word "safeguards", this is what you must imagine. Another form for someone to fill in.

The bottom line is that teachers are not now trusted by the government, and the result of all the schemes to force these untrusted people to do their job properly is to make it impossible for them to do their job properly. The good ones, like Emma Lee-Potter, leave. The ones who remain are the ones who would find any other job harder to come by than talented persons like her. They're second-raters, in other words. So the official education system degenerates still more, which causes further distrust. Which requires more "safeguards", etc. etc., until meltdown in achieved. Being a legally recognised teacher becomes literally impossible.

I have no direct experience of this downward spiral, but I am reading and hearing so many people writing and saying this stuff that I am starting to believe that western official education really may be heading for Soviet-style collapse.

Sadly, this collapse will probably be disguised. Out here in reality-world, people are learning all the time, under their own steam, just the way I'm learning under my own steam about official education. There'll be a completely hopeless official education system, the wreckage of which floats in an ocean of unofficial, self-powered progress and success. And nobody except me will notice.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 09:58 PM
Category: Sovietisation