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Watchdog bites through red tape

William Stewart reports on how a few teachers with the Government's ear are reining in its enthusiasm for classroom initiatives

A bureaucracy-busting watchdog has cut by a third the number of government initiatives aimed at teachers.

The ideas shelved include schools drawing up more than half a million learning plans annually for Year 9 pupils.

The cuts in red tape are revealed in the first annual report of the implementation review unit, an independent panel of practising school staff charged with helping ministers to cut bureaucracy.

The panel recommended that the Department for Education and Skills assess the impact of initiatives before they are introduced.

Chris Nicholls, the panel's chair and head of Moulsham high in Chelmsford, Essex, said he could not yet give any further details or the numbers of the schemes dropped by the DfES because of confidentiality.

But heads offered a mixed reaction to reports of the reduced red tape, with some sceptical about the panel's claims.

Anne Wallage, head of Newlands primary, Normanton, West Yorkshire, said: "I am amazed to hear that - it doesn't seem to me that there are fewer initiatives coming through."

Terry Creissen, head of Colne Valley community school, Colchester, said:

"Some people will say they haven't seen the effects yet, but statistically it has happened."

He said the DfES was becoming more collaborative and sending out material that schools were not compelled to use.

The panel comprises eight serving headteachers, a deputy head, a bursar and a head of department. It is calling for even fewer initiatives in the future and wants them replaced with "just a few key strategies" to raise standards.

Its report also reveals for the first time that a single school improvement plan is being considered as part of a proposed "new relationship with schools" which the panel has helped the DfES to develop.

It wants the department to replace all the bids, plans and reports which schools must write in order to receive funding through schemes such as the leadership incentive grant, the new opportunities fund, specialist school status and education action zones.

But the panel says its support for the "new relationship" - which also includes more school self-evaluation, shorter inspections and headteachers acting as "critical friends" to work with schools in setting council and DfES targets - is conditional on it achieving a real reduction in workload.

The new relationship will be piloted in secondary schools in West Sussex, Newham in east London, Newcastle, Liverpool, Lincolnshire and Hampshire, and in primary schools in Redbridge, north-east London, Manchester and West Sussex in 20045.

The panel believes that schools with sixth forms should not have to deal with two different funding and inspection regimes. It has also called for the DfES to clarify whether "guidance" it issues to schools is compulsory or not.

The panel wants to hear the concerns of schools and teachers. Call 0207 273 6273 or emailiru.panel@dfes.gsi.gov.uk

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