Obligation - from where?

All participants in the study, including Aidan and Megan, described their experience of workplace paperwork using directive modality, as things that they 'have to' do. Aidan told me, 'you'd have to fill one of these in' ... 'you'd have to keep a log of that for each lesson' ... 'you have to fill in progress forms for learner support'. Megan explained 'we have to update the existing forms and we have to say who's achieved and who's withdrawn' ... 'there is a workshop planning sheet 'that I have to fill in'.

However, the source of this obligation was often unclear. Common across the college data was a vagueness about where paperwork demands were coming from and the purposes which they served. Tutors often spoke of paperwork requests as coming from an unspecified 'they' whose purposes were unknown and who were distant from the realities of teaching. This reflects Power's (1997) point that audit demands affect trust between managers and staff, when the requirement to feed records back to management is clear, but the purposes and consequences for staff can be less so.

Aidan was fairly clear about the link between funding and paperwork and the kinds of evidence funding bodies required, because of his dual position as manager and tutor. He appreciated the need for much of the tracking information requested, 'because if this isn't filled in [the college] won't get any money'. However, he was less clear when this did not relate to a course he organised directly, recommending that to understand demands linked to Learning and Skills Council funding (which funded most college activities at the time) I should talk to a manager higher up in the college. His description of a document required by the local council's adult learning department shows a more typical detachment from the purposes of the system: 'I think they have to have all this information to claim [...] I don't really get involved in all that you know, I just fill it in and hand it on'.

Megan's work was geared towards meeting (and recording) targets for the numbers of learners on courses and gaining qualifications. Most of her work was funded through the Skills for Life national literacy and numeracy strategy for which national targets had been set, broken down into regional targets to which every local provider had to contribute. She was not averse to working to targets, liking to have something to focus on, and understanding the relationship between meeting the targets and sustaining funding. However, targets were not always communicated clearly to her, and she said they could change without warning, 'moving the goalposts' and adding to her sense of uncertainty and threat.

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