Red tape inquiry hits snag

7th November 1997 at 00:00
Publication of a report on reducing teachers' bureaucratic burdens has been delayed by the Government because of a dispute between working group members.

Education junior minister Estelle Morris has called an urgent meeting of the group, which includes representatives of teacher unions, local authorities, business and governors, to patch up the rift before the report is finalised. But her efforts have been pre-empted by the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, which has issued a statement criticising the group and published a minority report.

The disagreement centres on the remit of the group - to look at ways of reducing red tape within the existing statutory framework - and the extent to which heads create extra bureaucracy.

Nigel de Gruchy, the NASUWT general secretary, said: "Unless the statutory requirements are considered then a resolution of the problem becomes impossible."

He accused the report's author, a civil servant, of burying findings by the Coopers Lybrand consultancy, which was commissioned to research the issue. It raised major questions about the management and organisation of schools, noting that in some schools teachers are expected to attend after-school meetings twice a week. Mr de Gruchy said: "For no other reason than the defensive reaction of the headteacher organisations, the interim report ignores this issue."

The NASUWT has made teachers' workloads one of its crusading issues. Its 1992 High Court victory on a boycott of national curriculum tests was fought on workload grounds. Its leaders recently warned the boycott could be reintroduced if the Government's target-setting proposals created too much work.

Its concerns are shared by some other members of the group. The Professional Association of Teachers is said to support the contention that the report plays down school management problems. Others, including the National Union of Teachers, believe it will be impossible to reduce bureaucracy drastically without radically reforming the causes.

But the NUT believes the working group still has value. John Bangs, NUTassistant secretary, said: "The very modesty of the group's proposals could lead to valuable targeted work on removing some bureaucratic irritants. Although the recommendations in the report are small steps, they are small steps in the right direction."

The report investigates the areas which generate paperwork. It looks at how schools can establish common data so that they do not have to duplicate information when reporting to different agencies. And it suggests ways in which the DFEE and other agencies can simplify communication with schools.

David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: "As far as I am aware, the report will be a reasonably balanced document which demonstrates the clear need to take action on bureaucracy. Unfortunately, it looks as if at least one teacher organisation wants to use it as a stick to beat headteachers."

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