Comrades unite against red menace

30th June 2000 at 01:00
Unions join up to fight the scourge of red tape, writes Nicolas Barnard

IT'S A BATTLE against bureaucracy - a war on workload, a red-tape revolution and industrial action with a halo. The cliches have flown thick and fast as the country's two largest teaching unions take to the barricades.

The campaign is unprecedented in one sense, familiar in another. It is the first time the National Union of Teachers and the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers have properly joined forces.

But it also resurrects the - separate - ill-fated workload campaigns run by the unions in 1998. On that occasion, they sniped at each other - each accused the other of jumping on the bandwagon. The campaigns fizzled out after the two unions split over the terms of an agreement with the Government. This time round they began with general secretaries Doug McAvoy and Nigel de Gruchy sitting side-by-side - and the unions promise no end at all.

"Under this action, teachers will not do work that's unnecessary," Mr McAvoy said. "It would be odd for the union to lift the action and say you can go back to doing unnecessary work."

In fact, the NUT never officially dropped the action in began in 1998, although it has became effectively moribund under a welter of new government initiatives.

The Government has said it wants to reduce red tape, and the unions say they are simply taking its guidance and putting it into effect.

Their guidelines to members are based on the Department for Education and Employment Circulars (298, 2298 and 199833 for those keeping track of these things) - and from the DFEE's own "bureaucracy-cutting toolkit". They also draw on advice in a government-funded by Coopers and Lybrand, which said activities such as photocopying were a waste of teachers' time.

It also takes in the recommendations of the Better Regulation Task Force's report - Red tape affecting head teachers - which was so critical of the DFEE.

Members of the unions will boycott administrative activities such as filing or number-crunching. Tey will also limit others activities, such as meetings and writing reports and policies.

Despite the fact that the unions' are using the Government's own guidelines, ministers have criticised the action. Schools minister Estelle Morris said it should be for schools to decide what administration teachers should or should not do.

"It's as silly for Nigel de Gruchy to tell his members from his office not to take on administrative tasks as it would be for me from Sanctuary Buildings," she said.

The unions say no pupil's education will be harmed by the action. Most of the work is simply unnecessary, or, if not, should be done by someone else - administrators, secretaries or teaching assistants.

Keen to preserve their separate identities, they call it "parallel" rather than joint action. Their instructions are complementary - teachers should not create problems for members of the other union by following their own union's guidance. KEY GUIDELINES FOR UNION ACTION

AFTER-SCHOOL MEETINGS

* One hour max, average once a week, essential staff only, proper agenda

* No meetings in weeks with parents' evenings

* No lunch-hour meetings, no minute-taking

WRITTEN DOCUMENTS including pupil reports

* Maximum 400 words

* Pupil reports annual only - max 40 words per subject

INSPECTIONSSTANDARDS

* No practice-runs for inspections

* No re-drafting of policies or documents for inspections

* No targets for pupils or benchmarking except those set by law

* Targetsbenchmarks set annually only

TASKS TO BOYCOTT

* Collecting money

* Chasing absent pupils or analysing attendance figures

* Photocopying, copy-typing, filing, stock-taking, ordering supplies

* IT troubleshooting or commissioning computer equipment

* Administering exams, supply-cover

* Processing exam marks

* Inputting student data

INITIATIVES

* Boycott unnecessary workload and scale down assessments for:

baseline assessments; sex education guidelines; education

development plans


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