Why is so much paperwork needed? Seriously!?

Matt Burnage wrote a somewhat devastating thread about ITT on Twitter recently.

I completely understand where he’s coming from and I thought I’d get my thoughts down on each of the points he’s made and some reasons why it might seem like ITT Providers, and/or schools, are dragging their feet. These are just my own thoughts. At my place there is a good element of collaborative decision making but my role is more like a HoD than SLT.

I can’t do the thread justice in one go, so I’m going to try to take the points one by one. This is number 1.
This is number 2.

Matt’s 3rd Point

There are three reasons for getting trainee teachers (and mentors and tutors) to write things down: sometimes it improves thinking and clarifies actions; sometimes it ensures that things that should be happening, are happening; sometimes it is for ‘proof’ at some later date. The first is productive; the second debateable; the third is wasteful.

Now, I think there are a wide range of opinions about which bits of paperwork fall into which categories, but here is an excerpt from the ITE Inspection Framework.


As I said before, it may be just that the Framework reflects the accepted practice that providers had gradually settled on, but my experience is that, as often as we ditch something to try to ease trainee teachers’ workload, we get sucked into adding something to demonstrate we are addressing potential gaps. This is the most relevant list of what inspectors are evaluating during an ITE Inspection:

Inspectors must evaluate the extent to which trainees benefit from high-quality training and support that prepares trainees with the skills they need to:

  • critically evaluate their own teaching
  • meet the needs of those they teach
  • show through their teaching that they understand how children/pupils/learners learn
  • use a range of approaches to teaching and learning, including information and communication technology (ICT) and educational technology where relevant
  • recognise the signs that may indicate disability or special educational needs and make the necessary preparation to help children/pupils/learners overcome any barriers to their learning, including those for whom English is an additional language (EAL)
  • make effective use of other adults, including teaching assistants, to improve children’s/pupils’/learners’ progress
  • promote and manage good behaviour through effective teaching to ensure a good and safe learning environment
  • develop strategies to promote and manage good behaviour successfully and tackle bullying, including cyber and prejudice-based bullying
  • develop the literacy (reading, writing and communication) and mathematical skills of their children/pupils/learners and understand the causes of low achievement among some groups of children/pupils/learners
  • challenge and motivate children/pupils/learners in settings, schools and colleges where attainment is low
  • use effective strategies to support the learning and progress of children/pupils/learners from underperforming groups.
  • use effective strategies to support the learning and progress of children/pupils/learners eligible for the pupil premium
  • work within the current and new curriculum, examination and assessment arrangements, including for vocational education and training where relevant
  • understand how to use continuous assessment and summative tests effectively to evaluate the quality of their teaching and the progress of their children/pupils/learners.

Now that’s a long, old list. I’m sure you can see the pressure to be able to fall back on written records, where the trainee records the training and the impact on their practice, or pupils’ learning – the ubiquitous phrases that sprout up everywhere these days.

However, I think it is ITT Providers that got themselves into this mess, and it ought to be ITT Providers digging ourselves out. If collaboratively we can start saying that excessive ‘reflective’ paperwork and written records are reducing the quality of the training experience then, maybe, sooner or later, Ofsted will produce a Framework that explicitly recognises that ‘thorough’ may be the enemy of ‘excellent’.

It’s an endemic problem in education, though. We are trying to evidence things that are hard to evidence: that is fertile ground for the seeds of excessive workload to germinate in. You see exactly the same thing with BTECs and NVQs. How much paper does that generate for something that is meant to be about practical, vocational skills? Again, hard to evidence, isn’t it.

My dad was involved in writing modules for SVQs (Scottish Vocational Qualification). He tells a story about a bricklaying unit. After a lot of to-ing and fro-ing, they had a criterion which was to build a wall X bricks long, and Y courses high, within a tolerance of Z inches. But the time-served brickie wasn’t happy. “What’s the issue?” my dad asked. “Well,” he said, “what if it’s out by more than that, but it’s a good wall?”

Maybe the very heart of the problem is that we know a good one when we see it, but for a bunch of reasons we aren’t happy to settle for the bald judgement of the time-served brickie. So when it’s hard, and maybe impossible, to reduce the judgement to simple criteria, we choose instead to go for large volumes of qualitative data.

Can we fix this? Maybe. If we can get to a place where everyone lines up to genuinely place workload at the top of the priority list. If we start building some professional trust back into the big systems. If, we can judge a good wall and be satisfied with that.

I certainly think we could get rid of the whole notion of ‘evidence’ in ITT. I know it’s meant to show breadth against the Teachers’ Standards but I’ve never heard of a good teacher being denied QTS because of a weak portfolio of evidence. Sure, they’ve been told to go and sort it out, but that’s not the same thing. Equally, I hope there has never been a very weak teacher awarded QTS on the basis of an excellent portfolio. But at the moment, I’m not aware of any provider that doesn’t require one.

Anyway, we are gradually cutting things out, but there is this permanent concern that if other providers have trainee teachers that can ‘show’ something more complete, that might mean what we are doing isn’t as good. If nearly everyone is doing the same thing of looking over their shoulder and trying not to fall out of step, it not only tends to prevent radical solutions but actually it leads to a gradual creep in the wrong direction because it is easier to see something that is being done (and written down) than something that is not being done. Psychologically, it is always easier to add something, than to take something away.


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