Union pours cold water on guidance bonfire

1st July 2011 at 01:00
NASUWT says Government is mistaking invaluable good practice for 'red tape'

A programme of "silent slash and burn" of key guidance being undertaken by officials is leaving schools and teachers at risk of litigation, a union leader has warned.

Under the banner of stripping away bureaucracy, the Department for Education has shed pages of guidance from documents on key issues such as how to deal with allegations against staff, and teachers' powers to stop and search students.

NASUWT general secretary Chris Keates has warned that valuable materials and advice built up over a number of years are being scrapped as the result of a "long is wrong approach".

For example, guidance on the use of "reasonable force" in the classroom has been trimmed from 35 pages to just seven. At nine pages, the draft of the latest "screening, searching and confiscation" document - less than half the length of its 23-page predecessor - prompting accusations by the union that it has been "oversimplified".

Ms Keates told The TES that best-practice guidance was often used by schools to protect themselves against litigation, and the Department's move to reduce red tape could leave more schools and employees facing legal action.

"There is almost a silent slash and burn taking place with important guidance, and we are seeing a 'Year 0' effect," Ms Keates said.

"It's nothing to do with length of guidance; it's about dealing with key issues. The Government is recklessly omitting anything other than statutory provision. It's extremely wrong.

"It could put staff and pupils at risk and leave schools unable to defend themselves if they face litigation.

"No-one expects teachers to sit down and read every bit of guidance, but it should be available if they need it.

"We don't want to wait until a school gets sued, and people are asking 'Why didn't you give us proper advice'?"

However, Russell Hobby, general secretary of heads' union the NAHT, said there was a "real opportunity" for education professionals to draw up their own documents.

"There's nothing stopping anyone from creating a list of best practice. We are creating lots of best-practice guidance which will have credibility and be better than the Department's guidance.

"The classroom unions might be realising that they won't have as much influence in the system as they did when they could advise on what should go in Government documents. We will be happy to cooperate with them in putting together new guidance," he added.

Graeme Kenna, a solicitor specialising in education at law firm Weightmans, said: "The admissions code got to 150 pages because of the accumulation of events and cases over a long period of time, and included best practice on the particular issues that have arisen. It was there for a reason."

A DfE spokesman said: "For years teachers have been asking to be freed from the burdens of bureaucracy. We want to cut red tape so that heads and teachers can focus on delivering high-quality education to their pupils.

"That's why we are reviewing thousands of pages of current guidance to ensure it is short and clear so that schools know exactly what they have to do by law, what they should do, and what they can choose to do.

"Our goal is to establish a simple, definitive suite of guidance which can reasonably be read by a headteacher over a half-term break."

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