Brandon Robshaw: A high price to pay for failing a form-filling test

People often say, "It's not the money, it's the principle", without really meaning it. In fact, they generally mean the opposite. But the further education college where I teach has recently put me in the unusual position of being able to make this claim with absolute sincerity.

Earlier this year, after protracted wrangling with the University and College Union (UCU), the college management finally agreed to allow suitably qualified lecturers to move up to the top of the pay scale – Spine Point 41, for those who follow these things. But there was a catch. The pay award was discretionary. Only those lecturers who could demonstrate their eligibility would receive the award. And the way we were required to demonstrate eligibility was... to fill in a form.

Like most teachers and lecturers, in the last few years I have had to fill in an ever-thickening blizzard of forms. Forms to enrol students; forms to monitor students' progress (complete with "Smart" targets); forms to record achievement and retention data; survey forms and questionnaires galore, not to mention the Ucas forms I help students fill in – and now a brand-new four-page form to demonstrate that I merit a pay award which, considering that I have worked at the institution for 18 years, I might reasonably expect should be granted as of right.

It is often said, dismissively, that forms are merely hoops to jump through. This is perhaps truer than is realised. Making someone jump through a hoop is a graphic image of exercising power. Forms demand time, effort and concentration – and there are penalties for getting them wrong. It is rare in educational institutions for power to be exercised in its cruder forms; those at the top of the hierarchy do not usually harangue, abuse or bully the toilers at the chalk face. But making us fill in forms is a subtler exercise in power. The form-filler is nearly always acting under duress, and is often, as in this case, a supplicant.

As must already be apparent, on this occasion my form-filling skills were adjudged deficient – along with some 30 of my colleagues. My form failed on two counts: using IT skills in my teaching, and enhancing students' educational experiences. Swallowing my outrage, I lodged an appeal (this necessitated filling in another form, naturally), and in due course was brought face-to-face with two stern-faced stooges who proceeded to grill me as if I had attempted to file a false insurance claim.

Staunchly supported by a union representative, I pointed out that I had used IT in a variety of ways, as detailed on my form, including use of the college electronic system blackboard. But the fact that I had not posted a course outline (even though it was nowhere stipulated on the form that this was the only admissible kind of IT use) counted against me. On the enhancing learning point, my form stated that I'd arranged theatre trips for students – but owing to a deficiency of imbecilic literal-mindedness, I had omitted to explain exactly how literature students who were studying King Lear might benefit from a trip to the theatre to see King Lear. At the hearing I duly spelt this out – only to be told that new evidence was inadmissible as it was not included on the original form.

So my appeal was turned down – although I am allowed to fill out another form to reapply next year. At the end of the hearing, one of the stooges unbent sufficiently to reassure me that the college did indeed appreciate my work, but that the application for the pay award was "form-driven". At the time I was too gobsmacked to reply. But the only appropriate response would have been: "Well, it shouldn't be form-driven, should it?" If a form does not sufficiently demonstrate the applicant's eligibility, then they should be allowed to re-fill it until it does (provided they don't write lies on it). Assuming, that is, that the college is serious about giving the pay award to all the lecturers who deserve it.

Management must have known when they made it a form-driven process that there would be some lecturers who'd fail to make it through that particular hoop – leading to the invidious consequence of lecturers with the same or superior qualifications, capabilities and length of service as their colleagues being paid at a lesser rate (around £2,000 a year pro rata) for doing the same job. It's evident that this is not the way to produce a loyal or contented workforce. On the other hand, it does save money.

Of course, I am not saying that the college is more interested in saving money than in the principle of the thing. But if that were the plan, a form-driven process would be a neat way to accomplish it, wouldn't it?

Useful things, forms.

The writer is a lecturer at Westminster Kingsway College. The fee for this article has been donated to UCU

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

WORLDbytes: Two-Day Intensive Camera training and Shoot: Saturday 7th & Sunday 8th March

expenses on shoots: WORLDbytes: Volunteering with a media based charity,for a ...

Tradewind Recruitment: Year 4 Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: A school in Tameside is currently l...

Tradewind Recruitment: SEN Teaching Assistant

£50 - £70 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Tradewind are currently looking for ...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Advisor - OTE £30,000

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Day In a Page

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003
Barbara Woodward: Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with the growing economic superpower

Our woman in Beijing builds a new relationship

Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with growing economic power
Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer. But the only British soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross in Afghanistan has both

Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer

Beware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor