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Pilot to reduce bureaucracy adds to red tape

An initiative to cut red tape in schools has worsened bureaucracy for some heads, says new government-funded research.

But most schools that piloted the New Relationship with Schools scheme were optimistic it would eventually cut paperwork.

Ministers set up the scheme to streamline relationships between schools and local authorities, and plan to roll it out to all schools by September 2006. The schools involved have a "single conversation" with a school improvement partner (SIP), an adviser who is usually a head, former head or adviser for the local authority.

The project was trialled by 93 schools in eight local authorities between September 2004 and July 2005. But an evaluation by the National Foundation for Educational Research found that one in three of the heads thought it created unnecessary bureaucracy.

Most said a new self-evaluation form was more onerous to complete than previous paperwork. But 62 per cent thought that the new approach would help to cut red tape in the long-term.

The report found widespread confusion among heads and other school staff about what the "single conversation" was supposed to be. Heads who best understood the scheme said the title was misleading because they had several meetings and regular email and phone contact with their SIPs, rather than a one-off chat.

"It's neither single nor a conversation," one head said.

While schools were overwhelmingly positive about SIPs, some said the advisers would never be able to provide all the support schools needed single-handedly and that there would be difficulties recruiting heads with appropriate training. Many heads thought that the partners were not paid enough.

The researchers also examined new "school profiles", which will replace annual governors' reports and are supposed to be more accessible to parents.

Heads said these were less burdensome to produce but often complained that word limits meant that the finished publication "did not adequately portray the school and its wider context".

Mick Brookes, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said the association supported moves to make more use of school self-evaluation.

But he added: "We do have concerns. The record so far is 108 pages of self-evaluation. What we need to get to is a far more concise document."

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