Trivia pursuit;Leading Article;Opinion;News amp; Opinion

19th November 1999 at 00:00
IT SEEMS ironic to us now, but the modern Civil Service was established in the middle of the last century to reduce the amount of paperwork that British Cabinet Ministers had to deal with. Present-day headteachers - and many class teachers - are still waiting for such long-promised relief.

Labour ministers may have tried harder than their predecessors to cut the amount of "administrivia" that Whitehall generates. But the weight of schools' postbags and the number of hours that teachers are still required to devote to administrative responsibilities suggests that the Government's new "bureaucracy-beating tool-kit" is urgently needed.

The teacher unions are right to say that the unending stream of educational initiatives has added substantially to their workload. But whether this represents more "bureau-cracy" is open to debate. Bureaucracy, like beauty, is often in the eye of the beholder. Is the time-consuming preparation for the literacy and numeracy hours, for instance, another needless admin burden or sound educational practice?

One thing is, however, certain: detailed guidelines from on high and elaborate monitoring procedures will always be present in a culture of high accountability and low trust. Unless the culture changes, teachers seem destined to go on ticking boxes.

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