400 words looks like this;Briefing;Document of the week

12th June 1998 at 01:00
David Blunkett's long-awaited circular on red tape emerged last week after 11 months of negotiations. Nicolas Barnard reports.

In keeping with the spirit of its topic, this article will be 400 words long - maximum.

As of last week, teachers should not write long, tedious documents or attend pointless meetings. The Department for Education and Employment's long-awaited red-tape circular says so.

It's a tribute to bureaucracy that it has taken 11 months, one working party report, numerous meetings, several drafts, industrial action and a spot of inter-union warfare to produce the circular since David Blunkett declared war on red tape last July.

It could have taken even longer had the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers and the National Union of Teachers not taken action over the apparent silence following the working group report in January.

There is some disappointment that the circular gives only guidelines, not rules, and the NASUWT at least is unhappy at a lack of specifics. It had lobbied for a maximum one meeting a week and a 400-word limit on all documents written by teachers. In the event neither appears in the circular (a recommendation on meetings was dropped because unions couldn't agreeon the wording).

But important points are still made: pupil reports should be annual; unnecessary meetings should be cancelled; "teachers should not be expected to draft unreasonably long contributions to documents".

Teachers who slavishly report back on lessons or endlessly rewrite school policies will no longer be able to blame the DFEE - the circular takes a sly dig at those not yet following its advice. Alternatively, teachers criticised for cutting back on paperwork have something to wave in their defence.

This is just the first marker from the working group and the Coopers and Lybrand study it commissioned. More is to come, including reviews by the Office for Standards in Education and others on how they can help to ease the workload and reduce the avalanche of paper reaching schools.

Future government correspondence will say exactly for whom it is intended, and whether it is statutory or advisory. The cost of implementing new policies will be calculated. Samples of schools will be consulted on initiatives and new policies instead of all of them.

Success depends in part on schools having the support staff or systems to relieve the burden on teachers of bulk copying and other administrative chores. Ministers pledge to review that too - although they have a rather touching faith in information technology.

There. Is that short enough?

Reducing the Bureaucratic Burden on Teachers

Selected highlights of the recommendations in the draft circular to heads MEETINGS

* Must be fully justified, with time limits, agendas * Must lead to effective action DOCUMENTS

* Review need for all documents * Keep short for writer's and readers' sake * Concise models should be available before any policies are (re)written PUPIL REPORTS

* Crisp, concise, easy to understand and annual SCHEMES OF WORKLESSON PLANS

* Update yearly if necessary * Keep short, avoid complexity and bureaucratic reporting back on lessons * Non-mandatory schemes may be adapted SCHOOL RESOURCES

* Heads to consider how to allow teachers to concentrate on raising standards and avoid bureaucratic tasks such as photocopying and chasing absent pupils INSPECTIONS

* No "dry-run" pre-OFSTED inspections * Don't revise or prepare new documents unless OFSTED makes clear they are needed TARGET SETTING

* Prepare forecastsreview progress annually * No significant new burden expected on teachers CURRICULUM AND ASSESSMENT

* Reduce burden of assessment in line with QCA advice SPECIAL EDUCATIONAL NEEDS

* Simple model available for individual education plans * No unjustified demands for information PROSPECTUSANNUAL REPORT

* Consultation due on substantial cut in legal requirements

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