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Burden of bureaucracy still far too heavy

A bureaucracy-busting watchdog has said schools are still being bombarded with demands for information and have too many forms to fill. It said the new inspection system, primary foundation stage and special needs paperwork were creating even more red tape.

But the good news, according to the government-appointed panel of 12 school staff, is that, so far in 2005, the number of initiatives introduced by the Department for Education and Skills in schools is down by 56 per cent compared with 2004.

The panel's annual report said progress at reducing red tape was slow. It urged heads to refuse to reply to requests for information they do not think important.

It has drawn up principles for schools and organisations working with schools to follow to ease the burden of paperwork. Schools should decide for themselves whether to heed any non-statutory requests for information and challenge requests to duplicate data.

Chris Nicholls, the unit's chair, said: "The amount of time teachers devote to the bureaucratic workload as opposed to teaching has reached unreasonable proportions. We are trying to create a culture where schools are more selective in how they respond to these demands."

The report from the panel, which is called the implementation review unit, said schools should no longer be required to produce termly truancy figures, because they were unreliable. Different schools used different definitions of authorised and unauthorised absence, it said, so collecting their figures was a waste of time.

It condemned the DfES for sending schools "basic and uninspiring" emails and said progress towards a "one-stop" website for schools covering the Government and all education agencies, is slow.

Dr Nicholls, head of Moulsham high, Chelmsford, said Whitehall and local authorities had woken up to the amount of extra work they were placing on schools, but it was too early for those in schools to feel the benefit.

The report said that some organisations were not totally committed to reducing bureaucracy but Dr Nicholls would not name them. The panel expressed disappointment that the DfES had rejected its recommendation that bids for specialist school status should be made through general school development plans.

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