Teachers warn of action over flood of paperwork

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The Independent Online

Teachers raised the threat of renewed industrial action over red tape yesterday as figures showed that ministers are issuing documents to local education authorities at the rate of about three a day.

The Department for Education and Employment issued 580 consultation and guidance documents, letters and requests for statistics last year and 157 in the past three months. The education spokesman for the Liberal Democrats, Phil Willis, who published the figures, said they showed the department had issued a document a day since Labour took office. "LEAs [local education authorities] are being buried under mounds of correspondence. Ministers have sent more than one document per day since May 1997 and the rate has now risen to nearly three per day."

But David Blunkett, Secretary of State for Education, is to move to reassure headteachers that action to cut bureaucracy is under way and that schools can expect a period of consolidation. He is to announce the development of electronic in-trays for teachers to simplify information and moves to streamline the way data is collected from schools.

A task force report, to be published today, is expected to criticise the Government for imposing complex regulations and a plethora of initiatives on schools. The statistics show the Government sent 315 consultation papers, 387 sets of regulations and 437 pieces of guidance to LEAs since May 1997. The figures do not show how many documents are sent directly to schools, but headteachers complained that workloads are still too high.

Mr Blunkett is expected to argue that the weight of documentation was necessary to deal with the Government's fast pace of reform since 1997.

Efforts to cut the number of agencies asking schools for data and moves towards publishing non-essential information on the internet will help teachers to cut through their paperwork.

Mr Blunkett will also say that increases in spending will cut by half the number of initiatives requiring schools to bid for funding.

The teaching union conferences this month are likely to hear calls for action to reduce bureaucracy. Nigel de Gruchy, general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, warned of a return to the union's 1998 work to rule, which forced important concessions from ministers. He said: "Most teachers will think the list has missed some documents out. We will be doing the real count and taking the appropriate action." Doug McAvoy, the general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, also warned that the union would support teachers faced with excessive workloads.

Heads also attacked the "snowfall of paper". David Hart, leader of the National Association of Head Teachers, warned that "something really dramatic has to be done to cut the snowstorm".

John Dunford, the general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, added: "We are just not seeing a reduction in bureaucracy from the Government. Every time there's a new initiative it produces paperwork, so bureaucracy is an inevitable consequence of a Government which has an announcement every day. Headteachers have to take their eyes off the ball to deal with it. Ministers need to set priorities. At the moment, heads are having to set priorities themselves."