Ignored once again

26th November 2004 at 00:00
Does the DfES realise its latest move to cut paperwork is causing governors more, hassle, not less? Ben Rooney reports

The Government's latest attempt to replace paper with electronic communication has angered governors who say that their needs are once again being ignored.

The flashpoint concerns the voluminous Teachers' Pay and Conditions Document. The 50-something page document, only a single copy of which is sent to all schools, will now be posted on the Teachernet website for others to download at their own cost.

If governors and clerks don't have access to the internet, then one extra copy can be ordered free, but after that copies will set governors back Pounds 18.50.

Governors have also been insulted by the fact that the pay and conditions document was only marked for the attention of heads, teachers and local education authorities: nothing about governors. Yet it is governors who are responsible for implementing pay awards, And no copy was automatically sent to chairs, who were left to ask schools for the second free copy, or pay for their own.

Geoff Penketh, a governor in Essex, attacked the decision not to send copies to chairs. "As we are responsible for the school's finances and staff pay normally constitutes 85 to 95 per cent of our budgets I cannot see how we can do our job if we do not have the information provided to us on staff remuneration."

The document itself cautions: "LEAs and governing bodies are required to have regard to the guidance, and in respect of guidance on procedural matters a court or tribunal may take any failure to do so into account in any proceedings."

A spokeswoman for the Department for Education and Skills denied there had been any change of policy regarding to the pay and conditions document.

She did say that in previous years two copies of the pay and conditions document had been automatically sent to schools, rather than, as this year, just one with one free copy being made available if requested. Extra copies had always been charged for, she said.

The spokeswoman claimed success in efforts to cut red tape and paperwork sent out to schools, saying that last year the department sent out less than a third of the paperwork it had in 19992000.

"We use the internet to provide an online library for documents that schools may need to refer to from time to time."

But what has angered many is the way the department has shifted to electronic mailing even where this is less convenient. It seems to be giving little thought as to how the various documents will be used. As governors point out, less paperwork may be being sent to them, but they now have the hassle of finding the document themselves and then the expense of printing it out.

Moreover, said Pam Turner, a governor in the East Midlands, finding documents was almost impossible and time-consuming. "There are a number of websites the DfES runs, and you have to look on all of them to be sure. The pay and conditions document was not on Governornet, despite it being our responsibility. It was only because the head told me where it was that I found the document. And then I had to print it out."

This latest move follows the decision to stop providing hard copy updates to the Guide to the Law, which provoked a howl of protest from angry governing bodies, some of which wrote to MPs to get them to exert pressure on the department to reconsider.

Governors are angry at what they see as an attempt to shift the costs on to them. "It is also totally unreasonable for the DfES to expect us unpaid volunteers to spend money on paper and ink to print out what we should be getting free of charge from the DfES," says Penketh.

Devon association of governors recently passed a resolution at its AGM calling for consultation on which documents should be sent electronically and which made in hard copy.

"To be fair to the DfES they are trying to deal with our previous complaints about costs and the overload of paper material going in to schools," says Ivan Godfrey. "I think both parties want the same end result, a minimum of paperwork but all that's relevant."

But there seems little chance that the DfES will change its policy, committed as it is to shifting to electronic communication. In the meantime governors are just going to have to put up with it. And there is one group that is happy with the decision: printer cartridge makers.

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