Taking the photocopier away from us is like taking the X-box from kids

In the week before my Sheffield school broke up for half term, there was a lot of talk in the staff room about crowdfunding after managers had threatened the ultimate teacher punishment – turning off the photocopier.

Friday, 31st May 2019, 2:55 pm
Updated Friday, 31st May 2019, 3:59 pm

If you have had a letter from school asking for money to buy what you might call ‘the essentials’ then you are no stranger to this – if you have not yet had one, expect it to be coming home in a school bag shortly.As I casually eavesdropped on a heated conversation, departmental leaders were scratching their heads trying to come up with innovative ways to raise money in a cash-strapped educational era. One of the most promising ideas they could come up with was to basically go cap in hand to the parents, plead poverty and hope for the best. It’s not a new idea.Some Sheffield schools have tried internet-based fundraising initiatives before when courses have been threatened with closure and large amounts of cash needed raking in.But there’s been a sea change in the ambitions of those thinking about crowdfunding in the multi academy trust I work for. We’re not talking about aiming for thousands of pounds to fund a teacher, we’re talking about getting a couple of hundred for glue sticks and photocopying.Enough to cover a shortfall in ‘the essentials’.The teachers I listened in on came together over coffee and biscuits one lunchtime in an unplanned powwow. Sat around a coffee table, they shared the same experience of being spoken to by senior leaders and being told that their departmental budget was to be cut next year, that they had to find ways around it and if they didn’t it would result in the ultimate punishment – the termination of the photocopying code.Photocopying is brought out and used regularly by headteachers wanting to get spending under control. It’s the teaching equivalent of parents taking the X-Box off their kids for bad behaviour. Like this domestic threat, it’s also often hollow, rescinded, after a short time because the headteachers know that the lessons cannot realistically go ahead without some kind of photocopying bill. When I started teaching in the year 2001, teachers were even then being warned about their photocopying bills and in my first term I heard of the photocopying threat being used.I’ve never seen it implemented with much seriousness, it’s always been used as a stick to get people to slim down their use of the copier, but now there is a real sense we’re getting to the thin end of the wedge.Maybe the once so hollow threat of photocopying ban is actually going to become reality in my school. I can see it happening.Yes, some departments can certainly make savings – especially those binning materials that could be used again and those relying too heavily on worksheets instead of a paperless on-screen presentation.But some departments are in real trouble if the copier gets turned off, including those who need colour materials for teaching exam techniques and giving exam-style end of unit tests their line managers insist upon.The concern is real; just what would these departments do if they could not produce new materials and practice exam questions?One subject leader who arranges a couple of foreign trips had actually thought of charging a couple of pound extra per pupil and keep the excess in the department coffers. They changed their mind when they realised it was unfair, but it’s a sign of desperate measures.Several DT departments write home to ask for money to buy resources and food tech teachers are used to dealing with cash for ingredients. This trend may take off – how would you feel if letters came home from physics and English that asked parents to pay for photocopying and glue sticks?The teachers in the staff room last week left before they had the chance to make any decisions. But it’s something they will return to. If they don’t, they’ll have to consider the impossible – being named and shamed in the reprographics room.​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​