Teachers threaten red-tape rebellion

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The Independent Online
THE largest teaching union has voted overwhelmingly to back industrial action over excessive administration in schools.

A National Union of Teachers ballot was 93 per cent in favour of action to cut down onred tape, raising the prospect of a summer of disruption in schools.

The result of a similar ballot organised by the National Association of Schoolteachers/Union of Women Teachers to be released today is expected to give a clear endorsement to a work-to-rule which could include boycotting evening meetings and refusing to write lengthy reports.

Head teachers fear a summer of disruption could derail key Government initiatives such as setting school improvement targets. But the Government said yesterday the size of the NUT ballot - just 28 per cent of members - would render any action illegal. Doug McAvoy, NUT general secretary, admitted turn-out was low, but said the union would issue guidelines outlining what form the union's action would take.

He said: "This is an overwhelming vote in favour of reducing the workload on teachers resulting from bureaucratic activities. The bureaucratic burdens on teachers are caused by lack of administrative support. Bulk photocopying by teachers is made necessary by the lack of that administrative support."

The Association of Teachers and Lecturers, the third largest teaching union, also joined the onslaught on school bureaucracy, pledging to support action to cut workloads. Members will be sent a 13-point questionnaire to help them produce a "bureaucracy score".

The union, whose annual conference opens in Bournemouth today said it would sanction ballots on local industrial action if school managers failed to cut red tape. General secretary Peter Smith said: "It's not just the Government which is responsible for excessive teacher workloads. At long last this Government is attempting to cut back bureaucracy. The problem is that so much bureaucracy is created by local authorities and schools themselves."

The red tape issue has escalated as unions try to seize the initiative at the start of the teachers' conference season.

Education Secretary David Blunkett, who will address the NUT and NASUWT conferences over Easter, has hinted that some Government action may be possible to defuse the teachers' complaints.

Mr Blunkett has already launched one initiative to ease teacher workload, establishing a working group on red tape in schools shortly after the General Election. But teachers' leaders complained that it failed to address the problem, because its remit did not extend to schools' statutory duties.

New legislation currently before Parliament threatens to increase their workload, they say. Mr Blunkett has broadly hinted that he will shortly unveil new moves "arising out of the bureaucracy working group" to address the issue.

Industrial action in schools would be deeply embarrassing for education ministers entering negotiations with the Treasury for more money to spend on education next year.

The Department for Education and Employment said: "The National Union of Teachers ballot results mean that according to its own rules there can be no industrial action.

"The Government does recognise that unnecessary bureaucracy in schools needs to be reduced, that is why after the General Election it set up a working party on reducing bureaucracy.

"Its findings were published earlier this year and its recommendations are already being implemented."