Ever since I was at primary school I’ve always felt a little bit like this:

odd one outOr this:

Meerkats & kittenIt wasn’t anything dramatic or horrible. Nobody bullied me, I had friends and I don’t think anyone noticed. It’s just I didn’t feel the same as other people – not that I felt better or worse than them – just sort of separate. They seemed to understand what life was all about, while I found it all a massive unsolvable mystery. I spent a significant proportion of my time in a state of gentle disbelief; my tiny unformed brain muttering amazedness to itself: “What, so you mean I have to go to this school place EVERY DAY of the week until I’m 16?”, “So those girls actually WANT to all look exactly the same as each other?”, “Sex is WHAT?! That’s got to be a wind up.” “We have to run around a field in giant pants and nobody’s going to PROTEST?”, “Why do people go to work every day when it makes them look so unhappy?”, etc.

This is me now. You can see the wisdom in my wizened cheeks and fathomless eyes.

Of course now I’m all ancient and withered I know that everyone else was probably thinking the exact same bewildered thoughts and feeling the exact same odd-one-outness as I was. But I didn’t know that then, and instead thought that either I or the rest of humanity was a bit off-kilter. Which one I thought it was depended on the mood I was in at the time. But gradually, I got used to the incongruities of the world and came to some sort of ‘agree to disagree’ deal with it.

But that semi-comfortable crust I allowed to form over my childhood incongruousness is beginning to crack. I may now be all grown up and whatever, but secretly, rumbling under the surface there’s a resurgence of that sense of not-quite-belonging-in-this-world. Those things that I used to ponder over – questions about why people have arranged the world like they have – haven’t actually been resolved at all. I’ve learned LOADS of detail about how it’s arranged and read loads of theories about why, but the frustration of it, the sheer brain thumping aggravating reality of it, is no less powerful than it was when I was 8.

It comes in waves, this feeling, and today I had a big one. A tsunami. You see, I have this lovely new job which I’m very excited about. One of the things this job involves is finding young people who need some support in life – ones who have disengaged with the education system and other things – working with them to find out what they want to do and then supporting them to actually do it. This feels to me like a job that’s WELL worth doing. I love working with young people and I think I’m good at it. The fairy godmother who scooped me out of my previous horrible job and gave me this one certainly believes I am, and I want to prove her right. And so far, so good. I have been meeting up with troubled young people, chatting for an hour or so, working out what we can do to help them, filling out a form to apply for the support they need and then getting on and working with them. The form is  bit long, so I apologise profusely for it and make sure we have a laugh as we do it.

Only today I discovered that I’ve been doing it wrong.

There is in fact more paperwork that needs to be done at this initial meeting stage. A lot more.

Bear in mind that these are young people that have been more or less failed by a clumsy, bureaucratic education system despite the best efforts of their teachers. They’re disengaged, they tend to distrust anything that represents authority and the only thing they really respond to is a friendly human that treats them as equals, seems to genuinely give a shit and has a laugh with them.

So imagine you are one of these young people. You have been offered a chance to meet up with someone who wants to help you find your way. You decide to drag yourself to a meeting despite all the crap that’s going on in your life, and the person you are hoping will be able to connect with you says that before they can even be sure they can offer you help, you’ll have to fill out some forms. These forms will then be sent off for approval, and if you don’t fit the criteria, you won’t get any help. Imagine how you feel when you find out that the paperwork you must do before you even know if it’ll come to anything is as follows:

1. A Referral form – 5 pages, including:

  •  Support worker’s details and the college’s details
  • Young person’s details
  • Reasons for referral and which programme they’re being referred to
  • What the student thinks of the proposed service
  • Which alternative solutions have been proposed
  • Additional support needed
  • What advice and guidance has been provided, how it’s been provided and how long we’ve been providing it for
  • Details about other agencies involved. If no other agencies are involved, have any been offered? If not, why not?
  • Summary of education & employment
  • Summary of social & behavioural development
  • Summary of family & environmental factors
  • Summary of personal health issues
  • A ‘soft outcomes assessment’ where the young person has to rate themselves on a scale for confidence, self-esteem, writing, reading, aspirations, and several others, and comment on each one.

 2. Programme agreement & initial assessment form – 9 pages, including:

  •  Young persons’s details (again)
  • Key worker details
  • Personal advisor details
  • Qualifications
  • Disabilities
  • General background
  • Ethnicity,
  • Achievements, qualifications, experience and action support that is required
  • Language, literacy numeracy, ESOL & key skills evidence and action support that’s required
  • Career preferences & suitability + action support needed
  • Interests & hobbies + action support needed
  • Learning difficulties or other support needs + action support required
  • A section for 3 things the young person is good at and 3 they are bad at + action support required to overcome these
  • Learning style assessment & action support required
  • An individual learning plan, including details of why this chosen programme is right for this learner, details of where the young person wishes to progress from this programme, details of the young person’s other key objectives, details of activities and support needed to enable them to meet their goals, details of the expected length of time required to complete these activities and achieve their goals, details of hours of attendance each week, which days they will be attending,
  • Two pages of all the levels, start dates, end dates and course codes of the qualifications they’ll be taking.
  • Details (AGAIN) of support being provided to ADD VALUE to the programme
  • Details of support activities to be provided by other organisations

 3. Initial assessment tests to be completed in literacy, numeracy & IT and results to be attached to above form along with the results of a learning styles test (also to be completed)

 4. A two-page Information, advice and guidance sheet, including:

  •  Young person’s details (AGAIN)
  • A section called: Where am I now? – young person’s experiences, qualifications, personal circumstances (AGAIN)
  • A section called “What do I want to do now and in the future?”
  • A goal setting section with activities. Students have to identify an overall goal, then make short term and long term targets and identify what activities are needed to achieve those targets. Who must do the activities and when each one is going to be done by.

 5. A time sheet of all the activities that are going to be done with the student and when, and all the activities that have been done so far.

 6. If the young person is under 16 there’s a whole “extended learning pack” to complete (I haven’t seen what delights that holds yet)

 7. Finally, an enrolment form that is double sided A3 in tiny print and requires all their personal info AGAIN. Including previous education, all their grades for everything, what course they’re applying for, benefits details, ethnicity, etc…. 

bureaucracy cartoonIf I was a disengaged young person – and I know this because I WAS one once – I would get up and walk out. It would fill me with fury. I would rant and fucking rave and go out and get pissed and decide that the ‘proper’ world was definitely NOT for me because it’s clearly mental. And of course THEY’D BE RIGHT. They’d be BLOODY RIGHT. It is INSANE.

And everyone in the meeting I attended about this KNEW it was insane, but none of us have any choice in the matter. If we want to be able to draw down the funding we need to help these young people, then this is what we have to do. The agency with the money require this paperwork before they will even consider funding a student. And there are two MORE batches of paperwork that have to be done in the TEN weeks that we may be working with a student who is accepted on the scheme.

It takes me two hours with a student to go through the first form. I DREAD to think how long it will take to do the rest. All of this is time that I should be spending working on what that young person (and the other young people on our scheme) need/s. I was employed in this role because I am an innovative teacher and hopefully an inspiring one. Students tend to like me and I really do like them and we work bloody well together. I am shit at paperwork and I hate it. It’s waste of my time and the time of our already disenfranchised young people.

No bloody wonder I felt at odds with the world when I was a kid.

I was bloody right.




18 replies to “Bureaucrisis

    1. “Takes the heart right out of you” is a brilliant phrase because that’s EXACTLY it. That is how it feels. And not only that, it hurts me to do that stuff with a young person who just needs someone to help them. Most of these young people are probably far more used to it than I am, but the whole point of employing me is that I try to do things differently, so I was told…

      I don’t know what to do. I suppose I’ll do what paperwork I can, put the students first, then get in trouble for not doing enough paperwork because that’ll mean we won’t get the funding and the scheme will close…. I don’t know.

      1. It’s a tough call. Once when I was the director of a non-profit agency for women, we were awarded a grant from the state that came with so many reporting requirements & forms I called them and refused the grant, and said I would send it all back, because I would have to hire another person just for the paperwork. They panicked and said no, no the money is already earmarked for you. We’ll do the paperwork for you, just send it back to us. So I did. I wouldn’t necessarily count on that happening, but it was an eye-opening experience for me. I never forgot it. So maybe you can, as you describe, find your own way to do it. It could always be done better, if someone cares.

      2. That’s really interesting. I will bear that in mind and see who I could talk to. There’s no doubt at all that this paperwork will take away time that should be spent with the young people. I can see that even more clearly since I made the list on this blog of all the things it covers.

        Thanks for that input, it gives me a bit of confidence to speak to someone about how unmanageble this actually is. Will keep you posted!

  1. You’re probably right, in that they are more accustomed to the “system” than you are. The fact that you acknowledge the ridiculous process with them is a great way to connect. Remember, too, that asking them about themselves, even in the context of a form, is conversation and allowing them to enunciate their issues does help them. I wish you luck as you find your way through this!

  2. I hate that you’re in that position. You deserve better.

    “… the rest of humanity was a bit off-kilter.” It is indeed.

    ” I would get up and walk out.” Yep. Sadly, most of the people in those roles are not like you. They are unhappy with themselves and take a perverse delight in saying to you and others “They don’t to be helped.” or “I’m only trying to help but computer says no.” or much, much worse “It’s the WAY IT’S DONE. IT’S THE SAME FOR EVERYONE.” To which my reply is “Well fucking change it then.”

    Try being a parent of an 11yr old who has just lost her mum. Being dad you get all these questions you can’t answer and then they think you’re somehow mentally deficient for not knowing and when you tell them that you and your little girl’s mum and you weren’t married… well.. Tolstoy would look at the amount of pages and think “Are you having a laugh?” And no one cares. The situation you’re in, grieving, having to fill in forms to say you’re the dad of the most beautiful cosmic object in the universe, parental responsibility forms, basically being audited to see if you’re a good enough human to even have visiting rights… well… it kinda kills off your love of humanity. Its no wonder I had a breakdown.

    The worst thing about all of it (apart from the increasing distance, emotionally and physically, from my daughter) is that everyone in Bureaucracyland sees you as (at the best end of the scale) ‘unlucky’ or at the other end, culpable. Like it’s somehow your own fault you’re in the situation. Finding out that men don’t have a natural right to their children unlike mothers and have to go to court to get it, only to have others decide that “they know what’s best.” Sitting in a court welfare office with 2 female court officials, a female health advisor, my daughter, and her maternal gran and the CW officer referring to everyone as “Jane”, “Michelle”, “Granny”, and …. the absent father.

    Sorry. bit of a nerve touched. I apologise for going off-topic.

    When did we stop thinking? When did we wake up one day and think ‘I need a form to make a decision.’
    All forms we fill in descend from an accident on the part of the bureaucracy or someone thinking of extra pay or advancement.

    We’ve become a dumb species and don’t deserve most of the comforts we have.

    1. It’s not really off-topic; it’s another example of how bureaucratic systems can be actually counterproductive in terms of achieving what they set out to achieve. I’m sorry to hear all that stuff you had to deal with, genuinely. There’s no excuse for it whatsoever.

  3. Oh my. That sounds like a horror story.
    I was one of those disengaged teenagers; at one point I just stopped going to school altogether. I would have loved to have some adult show interest, respect and faith in me at that time and help me to find a way back into “normal society” (even if I’d never shown that). And now you as the ones that try to help and make a difference are driven mad by bureaucracy, as if working with discouraged and distrustful teenagers wouldn’t be rough enough. That system annoys me so much, since I know a couple of great, dedicated teachers-to-be and social workers that just get thwarted by bureacratic regulations and in the end are left nothing but exhausted and frustrated.
    Don’t let this system drive you nuts! A good laugh can help when filling out these ridiculous forms with your students, and maybe showing some humour can even serve as an example for them on how to cope with such strange and sometimes annoying regulations that society holds for all of us as we grow up. I always found it reassuring to see that even adults experience frustrations and it’s not just all “in my head”, but that it’s real and society is just akwardly irrational sometimes. I’m sure you can make the best out of it!

    1. Actually, I’ve never thought of it like that… that we can show examples of how to cope with stuff we know is shit… that’s a really interesting way of looking at it. I can remember being frustrated as hell when it was obvious to me that something was illogical or just plan wrong, and ‘grown ups’ in authority would just not acknowledge it. That makes you feel even more of an outsider than you did already. And many of the young people really need to work out how to deal with shit…

      A really interesting point. Thank you.

      1. Yes, that’s exactly how I felt; grown-ups that ignore the things that are obviously wrong (or act like as if they’re not there) can increase this feeling of being a weirdo and not-fitting and can cause a lot of self-doubt, as obviously you see something that “isn’t there” for others. I’m glad you could get something out of my loooong reply… Keeping it short is something I still have to improve 😉 Have a beautiful day.

  4. Another classic case of what this country is best at; creating meaningless jobs with bullshit tasks purely to justify it’s existence, merely to reach a simple outcome. Does this kid need help? YES / NO. There, I’ve re-written your forms. You need to take over the funding agency too….

      1. I suppose it all comes from the need to cover our backs and prove we’re not just pissing about. In ye olden dayes people probably just sort of trusted that professionals were doing stuff even when they weren’t writing it down on forms.

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