Save trees, save heads

7th April 2000 at 01:00
IN THE time it takes to read this page, another dozen trees will have been felled to meet the Government's apparently insatiable desire to ship its latest exhortations into schools. And in the past week, another dozen heads have probably been felled by the demands of the selfsame paperwork.

We all know about the big picture of bureaucracy - stressed heads, stressed teachers - but the true impact lies in the smaller picture. This week, for instance, The TES received a handwritten letter from a teacher mourning the "totally unexpected" resignation of her "liked and respected head". She blamed the myriad educational initiatives, and her feeling of responsibility at watching her staff worn down by the ever-increasing workload. "We are devastated," concluded the writer.

We would like to believe that this week's recommendations from the Better Regulation Task Force will put an end to such letters. But it is hard to be optimistic, even though the task force chairman, Lord Haskins, is close to the Prime Minister.

The Haskins proposals are ambitious and would free heads to concentrate on raising standards: exactly what the Government wants. But all previous buraucracy-busting initiatives have failed - including David Blunkett's. Three years ago he promised a bonfire of red tape, and set up a working party to recommend action. But the matches that were supposed to ignite that bonfire turned out to be duds.

The problems identified by both Haskins and the new NAHT heads' survey are almost identical to those that Mr Blunkett's working party tried to cure. The DFEE's last assault on this problem was a "bureaucracy-cutting toolkit". All 53 pages of it. Since then the workload of heads and teachers appears to have increased, and local authorities (who produce a vast amount of administrivia themselves) are now receiving more than 50 DFEE documents a month.

Perhaps it is asking too much of career politicians who take home a red box of papers every night to understand the anger of the overworked individuals who are trying to realise their electoral promises. However, lack of empathy is not the core problem. The Government machine that produces so much paperwork is being powered by the DFEE's torrent of initiatives. If the flow of reforms abates, the paperwork will dwindle. But don't bet on either happening soon.


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