`Pointless' red tape is still hampering schools, report says

20th March 2015 at 00:00
Follow-up to 2013 research finds action still needed at local level

Scottish schools are still wrapped up in "pointless" red tape resulting from assessment, self-evaluation and planning, a government report finds.

In November 2013, an initial paper on reducing bureaucracy concluded that unnecessary paperwork in schools had to "stop now" (bit.lyRedTapeReview). But more action is still needed to address the issue, according to a follow-up document published today.

While progress has been made, areas such as forwardplanning and assessment still require attention, writes Alasdair Allan, learning, science and Scottish languages minister, who chairs the Curriculum for Excellence working group on tackling bureaucracy.

"Everyone in education has a responsibility to root out unnecessary bureaucracy," he adds. "It is essential that we work together to ensure that Curriculum for Excellence focuses on high-quality learning and teaching rather than the fruitless management of pointless paperwork. The best way to do this is through simplifying processes and focusing on key priorities."

The report highlights what action should now be taken by local authorities, schools and individual teachers across the country. "The most significant progress in tackling bureaucracy is through taking a collegiate approach," it says, adding that more professional dialogue is "essential".

Larry Flanagan, general secretary of the EIS teaching union, said progress since the last report had been "patchy", and welcomed the "very clear statement that adopting a collegiate approach is key to tackling excessive bureaucracy".

"From the EIS' own research, we know that there is a demonstrable link between schools having spent time discussing the report and improvements being achieved," he said. "It is essential therefore that this approach is adopted across the board. The exemplification of good practice from places where progress has been made will be helpful to colleagues in other schools as they look towards updating [skills investment plans] and negotiating their working time agreements."

Mr Flanagan stressed there were still many challenges to overcome, including "excessive forward-planning, overly cumbersome assessment, unreliable and frustrating ICT planning and reporting systems, and over-reliance on audits as a form of improvement planning".

Mike Corbett, national executive member of the NASUWT teaching union, said the suggestions for tackling unnecessary paperwork outlined in the previous report had been "ignored" by some schools and headteachers, and welcomed the "renewed focus" on the issue.

John Stodter, general secretary of education directors' body ADES, told TESS the challenges were now largely at the doors of individual schools and teachers, rather than applying across local authorities.

"A lot of the planning workload is created at school level," he added. "I think there is still room for slimming down and for more effective planning. You can understand why teachers want to hold on to evidence, but the emphasis needs to be on the learning."

Today's report recommends that schools and local authorities should "simplify their procedures to ensure that forward planning is high-level and less time-consuming".

"In particular, forward-planning should not be undertaken at the level of each and every experience and outcome," it states, explaining that evidence from Education Scotland and teaching union surveys suggests that inappropriate systems can be "a significant factor".

In the report, the working group, which include representatives from the government, professional associations and parent organisations, stresses that "while progress has been made, there is an ongoing need for [the Scottish Qualifications Authority], local authorities, schools and staff to take more proportionate and manageable approaches to assessment".

There is also "insufficient evidence" that streamlining of self-evaluation and improvement planning, another source of significant bureaucratic efforts, is taking place across the country, it adds, emphasising that councils and schools should review their approaches.

The report echoes concerns in the earlier document about the impact of ICT planning and reporting systems, adding: "Just because such systems can support very detailed planning and reporting does not mean they should be used in that way."

System failure

In Angus, a working group was set up to address concerns about a new ICT planning solution. The system, designed to plan and track learning, had unintentionally led to additional workload for teachers.

As a result of the group's recommendations, schools can now decide how to use the system. Burnside Primary no longer requires teachers to input all their plans; instead, the system is used strategically to plan and track main assessments in literacy, numeracy, and health and well-being.

Fiona Boyle, principal teacher at the school, said the changes had reduced workload. "This system standardised our approach to planning and means that we're all working smarter," she added.

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