The Government is heading for its first confrontation with teachers after the two largest unions declared war on red tape with plans for a work to rule.
The National Union of Teachers and the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers announced overwhelming support in ballots for action short of striking, while the Association of Teachers and Lecturers also revealed plans to canvass its members - with strikes a possible last resort.
Teachers in the NUT and NASUWT are advised to boycott some tasks and limit others which the unions say have no benefit for teaching and learning. But the Government said it believed such action could be unlawful because of the ballots' low turn-out and warned the unions they risked damaging the reputation of the profession.
Unions are protesting at what they say is an ever-increasing bureaucratic burden, caused by testing, inspection and now target-setting, cutbacks in school administrative staff and a growing list of new initiatives - many of which rely on funding bids.
Concerns over red tape prompted Labour to set up a working party in July last year. It concluded that cutting bureaucracy would help raise standards by allowing teachers to concentrate on the classroom.
Teachers and heads both say they are disappointed that no action has resulted from the working party's report, published in January. Now the NASUWT is attempting unilaterally to implement its recommendations.
It has drawn up a list of 17 measures, each based on report recommendations, including keeping all documents down to 400 words and attending no more than one evening meeting a week (see below).
A Government spokesman denied that nothing had come of the working party report, saying measures would be announced shortly. "We are acting on it and the union leaderships know this," he said.
NASUWT and the NUT declared identical ballot results - 93 per cent of members voted in favour of action against bureaucracy. The NUT's turn-out was 28 per cent, the NASUWT's 40 per cent.
Nigel de Gruchy, NASUWT general secretary, said the action would be "teacher-liberating, pupil-friendly and standards-enhancing".
"There is absolutely no proposal for strike action. It is not a traditional work to rule. Not a single child will lose a single second of education. It is industrial action with a halo."
The action is aimed in part at headteachers who place excessive burdens on their staff - the NUT reports one member who acts as a clerk at governors' meetings. But the National Association of Head Teachers has declared its own opposition to red tape and says the unions are pushing at an open door.
Rowie Shaw, the NAHT's director of professional services, said:
"Broadly we are recommending our members avoid confrontation. Our members should meet local representatives of the NUT and NASUWT and try to come to local agreement about what can be cut out." The union argues that annual parents' reports and meetings - usually poorly attended - should be the first to go.
The ATL also recommended local negotiation as it launched its own workload questionnaire at its annual assembly in Bournemouth - but general secretary Peter Smith said strikes could not be ruled out.
Teachers should approach their heads or local authority to discuss any overload revealed by the survey, he said. Only if they could not reach agreement on cutting workload should industrial action be considered. But the low turn-out of the rival unions' ballots showed teachers had no appetite for action.
Mr Smith added that necessary bureaucracy, such as target-setting and disseminating information to parents, should be carried out by specially-created LEA units to relieve pressure on schools. A convenient way of doing this might be to open up information kiosks in supermarkets, he suggested.
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* Workload proposals
Only the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers has so far issued guidance to members on actions they should take to cut bureaucracy. The National Association of Head Teachers believes the recommendations should not cause problems to its members.
NASUWT guidance, which follows recommendations from the Government's bureaucracy working party, says members should:
* limit any document they are required to write to 400 words, including pupil reports which should be limited to one per year; * attend no more than one after-school meeting per week, including those with parents. Meetings should last no more than one hour; * boycott a range of purely administrative tasks, including collecting money, bulk photocopying, processing exam marks, copying lists, sending standard letters and attendance analysis - with local agreements on other tasks including monitoring exams and chasing absences; * stop drawing up detailed programmes of study for non-core subjects at key stages 1 and 2; * limit Office for Standards in Education preparations to only those required by inspectors, boycott pre-OFSTED inspections and refuse to redraft policies for inspections; * run a single, streamlined system for assessing and recording pupils' achievement and join in benchmarking or target-setting only once a year; * not prepare unnecessarily detailed schemes of work, and use published schemes instead of creating their own if they see fit; * slim down unnecessarily detailed individual education plans under the special needs code of practice; * boycott extra work connected with local authority education development plans and any other new initiatives for which no time or resources have been provided; * refuse to annotate pupils' coursework for external exams; * slim down assessment of general national vocational qualifications, according to their professional judgment; * boycott bureaucratic requests to report back to management on lessons.
The National Union of Teachers expects to issue its own guidance to members after Easter, following a closer analysis of the ballot. It could include different advice for primary and secondary schools to address teachers' differing concerns in those sectors.