'Say no to data requests'

9th March 2007 at 00:00
School leaders' chief says authorities' appetite for information is a waste of heads' time

Heads should refuse to provide local authorities with data that "isn't available at the push of a button", delegates at the Association of School and College Leaders' annual conference will be told.

John Dunford, general secretary of the ASCL, will offer the advice to members in London this weekend amid claims that the burden of paperwork is increasing for school leaders.

His comments also call into question whether guidance and advice to struggling heads in Wales is being heeded.

Over the past 12 months, ASCL members have complained about receiving requests for information from local authorities on everything from pupils'

physical dimensions to whether they travel to school by bike. Mr Dunford has written on behalf of the association's 13,000 members to councils in England and Wales, warning them that time-consuming demands for information will be rejected.

"Requests for extraneous information which create paperwork for the school are increasing," he will say. "These requests divert already limited time and resources away from the school's key priorities of improving teaching and learning.

"If a school receives a request from a local authority for any information that would incur additional work to collect or collate, ASCL has instructed members to refuse the request."

Heads say local authorities' and other agencies' appetites for detail, down to pupils' eating habits, is distracting them from their most important job of running schools.

Malcolm Trobe, ASCL president, said each time a different agency asked to use information, a letter had to be sent to every parent. "This is a mammoth task, both in terms of sending out information and checking it is returned," he said.

Some schools have struck up agreements with their local authorities to reduce the time wasted finding information. In Wales, the schoolwork advisory panel (SWAP) has already come up with simple rules to help heads who face a daily mountain of paperwork. It recommends binning paperwork that is not mandatory.

Last year, schools in Wales were sent copies of new guidelines, agreed by the Assembly government and the Association of Directors of Education in Wales, summarising nine main principles when dealing with requests for information. It advises that schools should adopt non-mandatory guidance only when it is relevant to them.

The Assembly government and local authorities were told to avoid duplicating requests for information from school, and to develop gate-keeping systems to control the number of requests being passed on.

The ASCL conference is expected to be dominated by discussions about headteachers' workload, funding and how school leadership is likely to change over the next eight years.

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