One of the most frustrating things about this job is the lack of time to do all everything that needs done. Pupils and staff come first, that goes without saying, but it would be nice to have more time for all the stuff that happens in the background.
Take ordering new materials for example: one of my favourite activities. Scanning catalogues for new resources is like window shopping: good fun, but it doesn’t tell you enough about what you’re getting. You’ve got to get in there, make sure what you want is still available, poke at them, open them up, check the workmanship, find out when they were made (not forgetting to check the budget) and above all, check they’re fit for purpose. And that’s before they arrive and need cataloguing, classifying, jacketing, labelling .. and that all takes time. Which you don’t have.
Thankfully we have the holidays, which allows us to catch up with all that administration.
Hmm … I’ll come back to that.
Our Religious Education Department has a new 1st year course. The Principal Teacher and I met at the start of term to discuss ideas for interesting research ideas. Naturally, being a new course, there was little useful material already there on the shelves, so it would mean all new resources. Except, of course, not enough time for research or checking them out. We do have the internet, and I had already identified some valuable websites but there is plenty of information that isn’t online, especially if you’re looking for useful material for a particular age group. And of course, we have a limited number of computers.
Thankfully, our authority has an Education Resource Service which supplies all sorts of resources on all sorts of topics to any of its schools. There was already a waiting list for the boxes of artefacts and books on the subject we needed because they were in high demand, but a quick trip to the ERS supplied a decent collection of additional resources that I couldn’t have found anywhere else at no cost.
Now we are in the middle of a very difficult financial situation. Our authority has identified that millions of pounds have to be saved. And it has identified some potential ways to save that money from across all of its departments. One of them is to close the ERS. The other is to stop those of us in schools working over the holidays.
This information is available for public consultation, but the cuts to education libraries haven’t been included in the main consultation questionnaire, and to be fair, it must be nigh impossible for anyone not working at the chalkface in schools to realise the impact this will have on pupils. Because it will.
The ERS is a jewel that the authority should not throw away. The demand for its materials is a clear demonstration of how well it’s used, and the expertise, pride and determination of its staff in serving their clients is outstanding. It demonstrates clear value for money in having the same resources being used over and over again, rather than being purchased repeatedly by individual schools to be used once a year and put away. It assists in providing the personalisation and choice which is such a keystone of Curriculum for Excellence. Its activities help teach children to find, read and understand information, and keep on reading. Specialist services and initiatives in support of literacy are cropping up all over the place; why is this one being closed?
The example I outlined above is only one instance of how the ERS has helped my school and its pupils: we borrow box after box of resources from them every year, and they are invaluable for matching the information available to what the pupils have to find out. And that’s before you include all their visits to primaries, involvement in working parties, event management and promotional activities.
I’m not oblivious to the financial problems we are in – I’m living in the middle of them – but there are other ways of saving money without closing the service entirely. Budgets can be frozen or dropped altogether and the service run from existing resources for the time being. There appears to be no saving from staffing anyway, as the council has stated there will be no compulsory redundancies.
The council will meet in December to decide how to balance its budget. It would be nice to think that those involved will take the time to find out more about what each of these services under threat actually do for their constituents.
Let’s hope lots of them choose to visit the ERS.