Colleges unconvinced by red-tape ideas

Colleges this week cast doubt on Cabinet Office claims that proposals to cut red tape would lead to less form-filling.

A total of 26 bureaucracy-busting measures have been put forward by the Cabinet Office's better regulation executive, in partnership with other Whitehall departments.

Despite the increasing number of anti-bureaucracy moves being announced, principals remain sceptical, with colleges reporting little impact at the sharp end.

The Association of Colleges believes steps outlined in a 59-page report will have little effect on workload. It says that as soon as one burden is lifted, another is added.

Julian Gravatt, the AoC's director of funding and development, fears that extra work involved in the administration of education maintenance grants for students alone will wipe out any gains from the proposed changes.

He said: "The EMA system is very well managed but its inherent requirements, involving weekly attendance monitoring, add to the bureaucracy that staff face.

"Action is being taken in some areas to reduce bureaucracy, but other things are being introduced that create new burdens. In general, I don't think this report is particularly good."

He said that work required in assessing students "remains very burdensome", and that attempts to simplify the funding system have "yet to be felt on the front line".

The Cabinet Office report, Reducing Burdens in Colleges of Further Education, is a joint project with the Department for Education and Skills and the Learning and Skills Council.

Its recommendations include reducing the amount of data required of FE colleges by the LSC, Ofsted and the Adult Learning Inspectorate, "thereby cutting demands on lecturers and tutors and freeing them to spend more time teaching".

In the introduction to the report, further education minister Bill Rammell said: "The recommendations will help maintain momentum towards real and lasting change, making it easier for front-line staff, learners and employers alike."

The better regulation executive was set up after an announcement in the Budget in March.

A new bureaucracy reduction group has also been established, and met for the first time in November. Mr Rammell has asked the group to take account of the report's findings in drawing up an action plan for the spring.

The report is the latest in a long line of moves to cut red tape. Three years ago, a bureaucracy task force was set up in response to a campaign by The TES and the AoC. Chaired by Knowsley college principal Sir George Sweeney, it made 39 recommendations, all of them accepted by the Government and the LSC.

But this summer, the Centre for Excellence in Leadership conducted a survey of college principals and managers which found that the measures were having little effect.

CEL's report, "Whatever Happened to the War on Bureaucracy", found little evidence of the increased "trust and transparency" regarded as essential in winning the battle.

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