Education: Teachers needlessly strangling themselves with red tape

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Schools are making work for themselves by over-reacting to government initiatives. That is the message expected from a report by the consultants Coopers & Lybrand. Judith Judd, Education Editor, reports on a row about bureaucracy.

Ministers have delayed publication of the report on red tape in schools after a teachers' union objected to its draft conclusions.

Nigel de Gruchy, general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, said changes were needed in the laws which had imposed new duties on teachers.

Initial findings by Coopers & Lybrand show that many new demands on teachers since the 1970s have not been matched by opportunities to take time out of the classroom. They also reveal "major questions about the management and organisation of schools".

These include unnecessary meetings organised by heads and senior teachers, duplication of policies on subjects such as homework, with each department insisting on its own policy, despite the existence of a school policy, and needless recording of details of pupils' achievement. In addition, preparation for inspections is sometimes over-elaborate, the report, which is still being written, is expected to say.

Mr de Gruchy accused the Government of trying to bury the findings. The working group's draft report had tried to gloss over its findings about school management to avoid offending head teachers.

"The problem is not limited to head teachers. Many classroom teachers have been forced into positions of over-reacting to the pressures generated by the reforms of recent years.

"The two fundamental problems are the prescription from national level flowing from all the reforms and the reaction of management in schools. If the working group is not prepared to face these problems, then no resolution is in sight."

He said the group had been frustrated by the Government's insistence that it must work within the existing statutory framework. Meanwhile, proposed targets for schools and local authorities would impose more burdens on members.

Sources at the Department for Education said that Estelle Morris, the schools minister, wanted further discussions with teachers' leaders. "The minister is concerned to make sure that there is a substantial outcome which achieves the intended objectives and produces genuine gains for teachers."

The working group was set up by David Blunkett, the Secretary of State for Education, to improve relations with teachers.