Papersomeness Nick Butt, headmaster of

Nick Butt, headmaster of an English primary school, explains why he quit his job.

My dispute with the government is not over the amount of money it is giving to education; it is over the demented way government controls that money. Apart from the 66 funding streams, money is tied to pet projects, and cannot be accessed by the majority of schools. If you happen to be in an education Action Zone, or an Excellence Cluster, you have had wads of money thrown at you. If you happen to be a failing school, you have had good teachers drafted in on high salaries, new buildings, redecoration, and an army of educational consultants to support you. If you happen to be a poorly performing secondary school, you can look forward to three years of the Leadership Incentive Grant, £125,000 up front per annum, plus a £50,000 facilitation grant to help you spend it.

At a successful school, there’s nothing, unless the headmaster spends all his time writing applications for grants for special programs and then writing program reports and “sustainability” reports. Any U.S. principal knows exactly what Butt is talking about.

Headmasters also must handle Educational Visits Coordination (EVC). Field trips. Butt describes his day of mandatory EVC training.

We were shown a slide of a group of children beside a river downstream from a waterfall. They were sitting or standing near the water’s edge, barefoot. We were asked to identify all the risks in the picture, and how this activity might be conducted safely. It was a sedate shallow river with many stones in the bed and crystal-clear water. They seemed to be happy. Appearances were deceptive. These children should have been fearing for their lives. First of all the waterfall was a real and present danger. They should not be shown waterfalls lest they were tempted to fall down them. The rocks were sharp and slippery, and that water was teeming with leptospirosis; their feet should have been shod. And what were they doing so far from a main road? A suitably qualified wilderness expert should have been in attendance. Perhaps, our tutor grudgingly permitted, once all cuts and abrasions had been plastered over, they might be permitted to kneel at the water’s edge in a stationary position. But that was all. Have fun? Dear, oh dear!

I recalled a trip last year to the Dales, and a similar waterfall and river. How our children loved splashing about between the rocks and letting the water slip through their hands, getting wet and dirty and jumping from stone to stone. No more. As EVC I am required to put a stop to all that.

I have just handed my deputy a stash of 30 full-page risk assessments to fill in for a trip to Derbyshire. They will then have to be approved by the governors and by the LEA before the trip is allowed to take place. In the meantime the hostel where they are staying will have to fill in a 16-page questionnaire covering every aspect of health and safety, which will also have to be approved by the LEA. Except I have resigned.

A new buzzword in British education is “papersomeness.” No wonder.

Update: A Nottingham school with worst-in-nation test scores is paying students to show up to class, with an added bonus if they pass the national exam with a C or better.

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