So this is cutting red tape ..

A scheme designed to free schools from red tape has actually done little to reduce bureaucracy.

Ministers unveiled their New Relationship with Schools initiative in 2004 in recognition of heads' concerns that they were being overwhelmed with bureaucracy.

The move was meant to reduce demands for data and channel all central and local government communications through a single school improvement partner (Sip) - either a local authority official or a serving or former head.

But four years on, only 23 per cent of secondary heads and 11 per cent of primary heads believe the initiative has reduced bureaucracy, according to Government-commissioned research by York Consulting. The Sips and local authority officials were slightly more positive, with 25 and 27 per cent respectively saying it had cut paperwork.

The study also cast doubt over the ability of some Sips to perform their key role of supporting schools - with serving heads seen as having particular problems.

School concerns about target- setting being too "top-down" were uncovered by the study.

Ministers had hoped that by reducing the burden on schools, the new relationship would help to raise standards. But only 49 per cent of secondary heads, 35 per cent of primary heads and 44 per cent of local authority officials agreed this had happened.

Schools were even less positive about the idea of the new relationship increasing their autonomy, something only 41 per cent of secondary heads and 25 per cent of primary heads agreed with.

Many heads were scathing about a reduction in bureaucracy. One complained of "vast amounts of legislation and regulation, which make little real difference to children but require consultation, rewriting of policies and endless production of statistics". The head quoted some examples from the past six months.

But the study said the initiative had seen a move towards more "intelligent accountability" for schools. "The outcomes achieved place local authorities and schools in a good position to respond to some of the challenges set out in the recently published Children's Plan," it said.

'New Relationships with Schools Evaluation' by Georgina Cowan from York Consulting is at: RR050.pdf.

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