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Watchdog protects move to cut red tape

As recommendations for curbing bureaucracy are published, Labour promises to monitor action. Frances Rafferty reports

The Government is setting up its own watchdog to ensure recommendations aimed at cutting down on unnecessary bureaucracy for teachers are implemented.

The new division within the Department for Education and Employment will seek to cut needless administration at all levels.

The announcement coincides with the publication today of the long-awaited report by the working group on reducing the bureaucratic burden on teachers. The group includes representatives from unions, local authorities, governors, inspectors and education quangos.

But Nigel de Gruchy, general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, the second largest classroom union, said solving the problem was impossible given that recommendations could only be made within current laws.

He added: "The working group has done some good work, but it has not addressed the problem identified by Coopers amp; Lybrand: that management in schools is often to blame."

He said his union would be producing a minority report and said if teachers' workloads continued to rise it would support members who refused to complete excessive paperwork. "The report has identified problems and there can be nothing wrong in boycotting what is bad," he said.

The National Union of Teachers is to survey its members in response to the report. It will ask them to grade from 1 to 5 the workload burdens caused by, for example, record keeping for the national curriculum, lesson planning, staff meetings, parents' meetings, inspections, covering for colleagues and chasing absences.

Doug McAvoy, general secretary, said he welcomed the working group's report but would be checking back with his members. He said: "I welcome the Government's announcement on slimming the primary curriculum, but it is the headlong pace of Government initiatives that are putting the burden on the shoulders of teachers."

The National Association of Head Teachers is also satisfied with the tone and intent of the report. David Hart, general secretary, said: "The proof of the pudding will be when we see how the benchmarking and target setting proposed by the Government starts to unwind."

The working group report recommends: * Creating a new division within the Department for Education and Employment to oversee the bureaucracy problem; * Reducing the burden of consultations by sampling the views of a number of schools rather than all on all occasions; * Setting up a pilot to show how schools can run streamlined, administrative systems; * A review of the administrative demands made by the Government; * Simplifying the bidding process of schools seeking more funds from the DFEE and developing materials, published on the Internet, to help teachers and managers reduce paperwork.

Estelle Morris, education minister, said: "Three days ago we announced a substantial change to the national curriculum taught in primary schools. By streamlining the compulsory subjects available, teachers will be given more time and greater flexibility to concentrate on the basics.

"To ensure that its recommendations bear fruit, the department will be creating a new division which will look exclusively at this problem. Teachers should be free to teach, not slaves to paperwork."

Platform, page 22.

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